Ellreese Daniel's trial

As you probably know, Ellreese Daniels was the Crew Boss and Type 3 Incident Commander on the Thirtymile Fire near Winthrop, Washington in 2001 on which four members of his crew were overrun by fire and died. On January 30, 2007 the U.S. Attorney in Spokane, Washington charged him with four counts of involuntary manslaughter and seven counts of making false statements.

On February 20, 2007, the IAWF released a survey of 3,362 firefighters which showed that 36% of the full-time wildland firefighters surveyed will make themselves less available to be assigned to wildland fires as a direct result of these federal charges.

Here is an update from Wildlandfire.com

“I met with Ellreesse’s Federal Public Defender Tina Hunt here in Missoula on Thursday: she seems well prepared for the May 5th trial date, and hopes that the Judge will approve a site visit for the jurors. We talked about many of the issues that are well known to all of us, as well as some tactics and qualifications issues. Tina still expects a 6+ week long trial.

There will be lots of witnesses, especially on the Government side, telling their stories about what they saw, heard, were told, experienced. The 10/18 will be an important focus!
Maybe by July 1st, we’ll have a clearer picture of the impacts of this attempted mis-carriage of justice. Tina was highly complimentary of many of the R-6 Fire Overhead that she has interviewed.

She encouraged firefighter attendance in support of Ellreese at the trial, yellow Nomex shirts and all!

Keep the Faith!

Dick Mangan”

GAO studies moving USFS to Dept. of Interior

This has been talked about off and on for years, but recently a subcommittee told the Government Accounting Office to study the possibility of moving the US Forest Service from the Dept. of Agriculture to the Dept. of Interior. Just because they are talking about it does not mean it’s going to happen, but now the Washington Post has picked up the story:

In Washington, the organizational chart helps bring order to chaos, sorting the many federal agencies of the vast bureaucracy into manageable boxes. Among some lawmakers who hold the purse strings, there is a belief that the U.S. Forest Service is out of place.

The 103-year-old agency, which manages 193 million acres of forests and grasslands, is part of the Department of Agriculture. Its bureaucratic cousins — the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, which manage 84 million acres, 96 million acres and 258 million acres of public land, respectively — are in the Interior Department.

The five agencies have overlapping missions that include fire prevention and suppression, natural resource conservation, fostering recreational uses, and regulating commercial activities such as logging, drilling, mining and livestock grazing.

At the request of the House Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies, the Government Accountability Office this month began examining whether it would make sense to move the Forest Service to Interior’s purview. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over both agencies.

“The public perceives them as being very similar,” said Robin M. Nazzaro, director of the Natural Resources and Environment group at GAO, which is conducting the study. “They’ve just asked us to look at, could any money be saved, and would it result in a more efficient, effective and coordinated management of federal lands and the natural resources?”

One argument in favor of such a move is that the Forest Service no longer is chiefly devoted to managing the harvesting of timber.

“Today the evolution of our forests has gone away from production and more towards preservation, and it seems to me that the natural move has made it over under the umbrella of the Department of the Interior rather than the Department of Agriculture,” Rep. Todd Tiahrt (Kan.), the top Republican on the subcommittee, said at a Feb. 12 hearing on the agency.

2008 Annual Wildland Fire Refresher Training

Wildland firefighter Refresher TrainingHaving returned from Roatan Island, today I had a chance to review this year’s Annual Wildland Refresher Training. As usual, it is well done and of high quality. The sections about the fire behavior, the Alabaugh Fire entrapment, and treatment for burn injuries are very interesting. Several interviews contributed a great deal to the DVD, including those of Dr. Bret Butler, Kelly Close, Dr. Ted Putnam, and Tom Boatner. The DVD even includes a copy of the piece that “60 Minutes” did on “Mega Fires” last summer.

Alabaugh Fire

There are quite a few issues related to the entrapment that could be opportunities for learning related to this fire which burned 10,324 acres and 27 homes. One homeowner died when he went back to try to save his belongings. The fire started from a lightning strike on July 7, 2007.

Some of the issues are mentioned only briefly in passing, perhaps to avoid criticizing the personnel who were involved. Some of the firefighters assigned to the fire were kind enough to step forward and discuss on camera their ordeal. They deserve our thanks for helping others to avoid a similar situation down the road. I hope the facilitators putting on the training this spring can allow enough time for some of these issues to be expanded upon.

Treatment for Burn Injuries

One of the units in the video describes the horrific situation that two federal employees faced after being burned on wildland fires…. and unfortunately I am not only referring to their burn injuries. The injuries are of course terrible to have to experience, but what could have made them even worse were the delays in being able to obtain adequate medical care.

Burn injuries are very complex and can’t be properly treated by a primary care physician, a trauma center, or an emergency room, even if they have access to a plastic surgeon. Burn injuries require immediate treatment by trained specialists who deal with burns every day. Every day. In many cases, burn injuries will not heal properly or the healing will take much longer if the injuries are not treated quickly by the staff at a “verified burn center”. Waiting days or weeks is not acceptable. The American Burn Association has more information about the verification process and also has a list of burn centers that qualify for this status.
Continue reading “2008 Annual Wildland Fire Refresher Training”

Lawsuit against Mark Rey and the USFS is dismissed

From a story at Montana’s News Station.com

A lawsuit that forced the nation’s top forestry official to apologize in a Missoula courtroom is over. The lawsuit by Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics was filed in 2003, and charged the U.S. Forest Service with violating federal law by indiscriminately dropping retardant on forest fires.

Two weeks ago that case reached a climax when Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey appeared before federal judge Donald Molloy, and faced a possible contempt of court citation.

Molloy was angry that the Forest Service missed deadlines for delivering environmental review documents to him, and for generally taking more time than he liked. Ultimately he decided not to find Rey or the Forest Service in contempt, but not before Rey and other agency officials apologized multiple times.

Now, the case is done. Molloy signed an order last Wednesday dismissing the lawsuit. The judge wrote that the Forest Service has complied with the procedures of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, and so there’s nothing left to decide.


The sweet smell of smoke

That was the headline above an editorial in the Payson Roundup in Arizona. They are “giddy” about the Forest Service reducing fuels and burning piles.

Here is an excerpt:

It’s not quite the bracing smell of “napalm in the morning,” but we get positively giddy with the wafting of smoke drifting into town these days from the Forest Service slash piles just over the hill.

This week, the Forest Service concluded the last of its major winter burns to get rid of piles of debris from tree thinning operations on more than 4,300 acres on the outskirts of Payson.

Makes us want to do a little jig — and throw our arms around the nearest stalwart in Forest Service green and give him a big, wet kiss.

Make no mistake — that smoke is wafting of Rim Country’s biggest problem.

Truth be told, every other problem on the list — from meth use to propane bills will some day seem like trivial foolishness if the Forest Service doesn’t get thin the dangerously overgrown forest before the inevitable disaster overtakes us.

Unfortunately, it falls to today’s overburdened and underfunded Forest Service to set right a century of mismanagement.

Once upon a time, fires burned through Rim Country regularly — thinning the trees and creating a network of meadows, aspen groves and open patches. The forest was largely fire resistant, with the big trees relatively unaffected by the frequent, low-intensity ground fires.

Then we turned the forest into a tree farm and spent a century stomping out every fire we could. Crowds of pine thickets sprang up in the clear cuts and tons of down wood accumulated on every acre.

So a forest that used to have 50 to 300 trees per acre and more grass than pine thickets now has 3,000 spindly, overstressed trees per acre across vast stretches. A timber industry geared to profit from the now scarce big trees has been nearly shut down, just when the Forest Service needs to thin the forest on a massive scale.