Map, large uncontained wildfires in the West, August 19, 2015.
This update from Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Randy Moore was circulated this week. The report covers the fire siege update for the U.S. Forest Service’s Region 5.
The personnel working our fires are making significant progress towards containment. Although clear skies did increase fire behavior good progress continues with resources on hand.
Up north the Mad River Complex is on top of our priority list. The complex is being managed by the Northern Rockies IMT1 (Turman). The team is also managing the Route Complex.
Both complexes are experiencing active burning throughout the night with single tree and group tree torching. Containment percentages on both complexes are rising and hopefully this incoming weather will help increase those numbers.
If everything goes as planned we will be demobilizing Area Command over the weekend. All indications are that the Area Command Team was an asset and benefit to the Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers. The coordination between the Forest Agency Administrators, Fire Staff, the Coordination Center, and the Area Command Team worked very well and provided clarity for roles and responsibilities during large incidents.
In South Ops the Rough Fire is our top priority. CA Type 2 IMT (Cooper) remains in command of the North Zone of the fire and CA Type 1 IMT 3 (Vontillow) remains in command of the South Zone of the fire. Unfortunately Hwy 180 remains closed to through traffic and all forest closures remain in place.
In the South Zone, efforts in the Ten Mile drainage have significantly reduced the structure threat to commercial and residential structures in the Hume Lake area. Critical line construction is near completion from Hwy 180 to the Kings River. The fire does continue to spread east and into the Boulder Creek drainage. In the North Zone, the corner of the fire at the confluence of the Middle and North Forks of the Kings River has been secured. The fire reached the river mid-morning Wednesday.
This fire is receiving a lot of attention from many interested individuals and groups. I think it’s important to remember that all fires on NFS lands in California have protection objectives, and none are being ‘managed’ specifically for additional resource benefit Forest Plan objectives. Safety and fiscal risks relative to strategies and tactics with low probabilities of success are not being pursued: all fires have suppression strategies, including the Cabin Fire on the Sequoia NF which is using a ‘confinement’ suppression strategy. The Rough Fire on the Sierra NF, and now on the Sequoia NF, from its inception has had a suppression strategy, as have all fires on the Shasta Trinity and Six Rivers National Forests.
We have been quite successful in implementing salvage efforts for the past few years. We have completed the NEPA process for several large projects in less than a year and although litigated we have prevailed in both District Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. With the experience we gained, the region has worked to develop a streamline approach to request and get approvals for Emergency Situations Determinations from the Chief. We have received approval from the Chief on 100% of all ESDs (possibly Ecological Site Descriptions) requested in the last three years, which effectively shortens the time from planning to project advertisement.
In addition we have been successful with requesting and obtaining approvals from the Council of Environmental Quality for alternative arrangements. As a region, over the past 2 years, alternative arrangements have been granted by CEQ for the Rim Fire (Stanislaus) and King Fire (El Dorado NF).
With this emphasis on fire salvage, we do have some challenges that we are working to overcome. One item that has been an issue is industry capacity, especially due to the amount of salvage available from private land. Another issue has been capacity of personnel; currently we have most of our resource specialists serving as resource advisors or they are on Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation Teams. This other priority work for our specialists does have an effect on our startup time for the salvage analysis efforts.
Although, these challenges exist, the region will continue to emphasize salvage as this tool is vital to making our communities, roads, administrative sites and trails safe for our publics. However important, we must balance salvage, reforestation and proactive forest restoration treatments in order to recover resilient forests. To achieve timely and legally defensible projects, we will use all the tools (ESDs, Alternative Arrangement, and Categorical Exclusions) to restore our nation’s forest. Your voice and written support for these salvage efforts will strengthen the rationale and importance of these projects.
As I close I want to mention that many of the out of state resources that came to help us have been returned to their home units to supplement thinly stretched firefighters in their local unit suppression efforts. We really can’t say “thank you” enough to all those who responded during our time of critical need. I am sure we will be returning the favor down the road. I am also sure we can all remember what it felt like to be working on a fire and knowing that your town back home was threatened. It shows some real professionalism and grace to keep working while you’d rather be back home.
As might be expected all of the complexes have postponed repair work for now. The R5 GACC’s have made resources typically held for repair work available for reassignment in the other geographic areas with critical needs. When fire activity has calmed we will get the crews back for repair work and I am anticipating we will be hosting them for some time.
Pacific Southwest Region