Wildfire news, July 22, 2008

Total suppression or defensible space?

An article in the Red Orbit discusses the effectiveness of suppressing every wildland fire vs. preparing homes to withstand a frontal assault from a fire.

More provocatively, the research suggests that fighting fires on public lands to protect homes is ineffective and, in the long run, counterproductive.

It is also far more expensive.

This is the paradox of wildland fire management in America: Most scientists and fire managers agree that fire is a healthy and needed part of the forest, and that fighting these blazes serves only to build up fuels and boost the size and frequency of catastrophic fires.

But federal agencies keep attacking almost every wildfire, many deep in the woods, and the rising costs of suppression divert money from protecting homes and communities _ which can be saved with the right, often inexpensive, measures.

The result: Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on what most experts agree is the wrong approach. The lives of firefighters are put in danger on fires that don’t need to be fought. And homes are left vulnerable, their fate often decided by wind direction and the availability of federal firefighters to protect private property.

Railroad to pay $102 million for fire

The Union Pacific Railroad Company has agreed to pay $102 million for starting a fire north of Sacramento in 2000 that burned 52,000 acres of the Lassen and Plumas national forests. The government was seeking damages of $190 million, but a settlement of $102 million still sets a new record for the largest damage recovery for a wildfire by the U.S. Forest Service.

Sparks from welders repairing tracks caused the Storrie Fire on August 17, 2000, in Plumas County. The suppression costs were estimated at $22 million. A judge said the government could seek more than $13 million for “damage to wildlife habitat and public enjoyment of the forest,” as much as $33 million to plant new trees, and $122 million in lost timber. More information is HERE.

Basin fire, July 22 update

Firefighters have completed quite a bit of burning from the dozer and hand lines on the north and east sides. From this morning’s report from the incident management team:

Burnout operations over the past 24 hours were extremely successful. Firelines were burned out along Blue Rock Ridge and the lower portion of Chew’s ridge. Today crews will continue burning on Hennickson’s Ridge and Chews Ridge.

Burnout operations will be conducted in the Tanbark area to widen the protection zone around structures.

The fire is 138,220 acres and is 72% contained. The map shows the completed and open fire lines.

Report: Elkhorn II escaped prescribed fire

On June 12, 2008, a prescribed fire was ignited on the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada. Two days later it was declared an escaped fire and eventually burned 3,724 acres outside the project boundary. A report has been released which shows a degree of cooperation and openness by those who were involved, contributing to possible lessons learned. Here are some examples of those from the report:

  • Use normal fire behavior for normal planning but extreme fire behavior for contingency planning.
  • Make your test fire a real “test” of the burning conditions. Put it in a place where it represents worst case burning and in a place where you can put it out if the test tells you the fire will exceed your prescription.
  • I’ll never believe anyone that says, “It’ll stop when it hits the rocks”.
  • My slides failed me. We can no longer rely on Recognition Primed Decision-making.
  • A good snow pack does not mean high spring fuel moisture. Don’t trust the snow to wet your dead fuels.
  • The project boundary for this prescribed fire was identified in the EA and through an interdisciplinary team. The boundary was located along contour lines corresponding with archeological survey requirements and in some cases vegetation changes (Pinyon-Juniper to Sage). Consequently in many areas the boundary was located at mid slope in dense continuous Pinyon-Juniper stands. The boundary did not consider a road (nearby to the north and east), natural barriers or afford the ability to [prevent the fire from] …. crossing project boundaries.
  • Make sure the project boundary is a boundary that you can realistically defend.
  • Make sure your holding and lighting bosses know exactly where that boundary is.

Wildlandfire.com has a copy of the report HERE.

Wildland fire conferences

Three major wildland fire conferences organized by the International Association of Wildland fire and others are on the horizon.

The ’88 Fires: Yellowstone and Beyond, September 22-27, 2008, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The IAWF in association with the 9th Biennial Scientific Conference on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will be sponsoring a major Conference to remember the events of the Yellowstone area fires of 1988. The last day for reduced registration rates is July 25.

Aerial Firefighting Conference, October 21-22, Athens, Greece. This is the first conference to focus its attention on technologies and operations of aerial fire fighting, fixed and rotary-winged.

Tenth Wildland Fire Safety Summit, April 28-30, 2009, Phoenix, Arizona. This conference continues the tradition begun by the IAWF in 1997 to provide a forum for sharing the latest developments in wildland firefighting safety. A call for papers has been issued.

In the mid-1990s, the interagency wildland fire community commissioned the groundbreaking Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study. The final TriData report, released in 1998, made specific recommendations for implementing cultural changes for safety in the areas of organizational culture, leadership, fire management, training, human factors, and organizational learning, to name a few. To revisit the impact of this landmark initiative, a major emphasis of the 10th Wildland Fire Safety Summit will be “10 Years after the TriData Study: What is different?” Other topics will be covered also.

These conferences, historical wildland fire events, and other notable dates of interest are on the Wildland Fire Event Calendar. If you have not seen it, it’s worth a visit.

InciWeb; broken again

InciWeb is only working intermittently again today. The site that is supposed to provide information about current wildland fires is least dependable when it is most needed. The agencies that operate this site should either fix it or shut it down. This has been going on for years. The organizations that are responsible for the web site are:

  • U.S. Forest Service
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • National Park Service
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • National Association of State Foresters
  • U.S. Fire Administration

Supposedly the website is using “version 2.1 beta”. Maybe it’s time, after several years, to take this seriously and develop a version that is not BETA. And, invest a few dollars to ensure the hardware is adequate. Or shut it down.

Wildfire news, July 21, 2008

Oxyoke Fire southwest of Denver forces evacuations


A fire near Decker, Colorado caused evacuations of nearby campgrounds and about a dozen homes on Sunday. Five airtankers and two helicopters were working the 105-acre fire which is northeast of the 2002 Hayman blaze, the largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history. That fire burned 138,000 acres and destroyed 133 homes. As of last night the fire was 0% contained. Here is a link to a map, and more information is HERE


UPDATE @ 1820 MT
As of mid-morning today the fire was 140 acres and 0% contained.


An air tanker drops retardant Sunday on the Oxyoke fire north of Deckers. ( Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Greek and South African firefighters in the U.S.


In addition to the 45 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand helping out with the fires in California, there are four from Greece and two from South Africa in the country. The Greeks are working on the Little Tujunga Hotshots, a crew that has been reconstituted after a 28-year absence. From the USFS web site:

This is the first year of the two-year program for the Greek firefighters from the Hellenic Fire Brigade. This training opportunity was specifically designed to develop hand crews for Greece which had devastating wildfires about a year ago and has similar climate and fuel types with Southern California.


In this photo of the Little Tujunga Hot Hotshots, the Greek firefighters are in blue. Click HERE for a large version of the photo.

The two from South Africa (SA) are senior instructors and crew leaders assigned to the Missoula based Great northern Fire Crew through the middle of September. If fire activity in the Northern Rockies increases, others from SA will be brought over. According to Tim Murphy:

1) 2ea. South African Regional Fire Managers (FMOs) who will shadow state DNRC FMOs in air and ground fire operations


2) Command and General staff personnel from a South African Incident Management Team will shadow our Northern Rockies IMTs to help them continue to implement the Incident Command System in Southern Africa.

3) We also hope to get the Chairman of the Board from the SA Fire Program to look at all risk ICS. He just retired as the SA National Director of Disaster Management.

(Thanks to Chuck for the tip.)


Burn outs continue on the Basin fire east of Big Sur, California

Firefighters are making great progress on the east side, where the only remaining open line is in the Arroyo Seco area, but there is still a lot of work left to do on the north side, east of Big Pines, and in the Los Padres dam area. The fire is 137,260 acres and is 70% contained. From the Monday morning update:

Yesterday afternoon burnout operations were very successful along containment lines on the east side of the fire from Piney Creek south towards Arroyo Seco, and along Chews Ridge.


Burnout operations along Chews ridge will resume this afternoon after the morning’s moist marine weather conditions lift. Burnout of small islands and draws in other east side locations will occur where needed.

Yesterday, burnout operations to reinforce containment lines on the north side of the fire along Blue Rock Ridge and Hennickson’s Ridge were postponed due to wind direction. National Guard C-130 airtankers dropped retardant just outside these containment lines in preparation for later burnout operations. Airtankers with retardant will continue preparation work today, and burnout operations along these containment lines will begin with favorable wind and humidity.