$50 million in claims over escaped prescribed fire reportedly denied

Pautre Fire origin

USFS photo from the report on the escaped prescribed fire, the Pautre Fire, in North Dakota and South Dakota.

The Associated Press is reporting that the Department of Agriculture, in a letter signed by Department Secretary Tom Vilsack, is denying $50 million in claims filed by sixteen ranchers and landowners over a prescribed fire that escaped and burned 10,679 acres in North Dakota and South Dakota.

The “Pasture 3B” prescribed fire was planned to be 210 acres on the Dakota Prairie National Grasslands, but strong winds on April 3, 2013 caused by the predicted passage of a cold front pushed the fire across a mowed fire line into tall grass and ultimately burned 10,679 acres, (3,519 acres federal and 7,160 acres private). The wildfire, named Pautre Fire, was stopped at 11 p.m. that night.

In explaining the denial, Secretary Vilsack said the Forest Service relied on forecasts from the National Weather Service in Rapid City, South Dakota, that ultimately proved inaccurate.

In February, 2014 the US Forest Service released a report about the fire, called a “Facilitated Learning Analysis. The issues listed by the document included:

  • Improved weather forecasts are needed.
  • Consider additional research on methods to predict effects of drought on fire behavior in grass fuel models.
  • The nearest remote automated weather station (RAWS) is more than 90 miles away.
  • The project was conducted at the critical edge of the prescription.
  • Consider gaming out worst case scenario “what ifs” during the planning process, and discuss with participants during the on-site briefing.
  • There were problems with radio communications [note from Bill: I don’t remember EVER seeing a report like this that did not cite radio communications as being an issue].
Share

Comparison photos, 6 days and 39 days after escaped prescribed fire

Cold Brook Fire

Highway 385, which can be seen in the distance, was supposed to be the boundary of the prescribed fire. Only the land on the far side of the highway was planned to burn.

Wind Cave prescribed fire

These photos were taken by Bill Gabbert in the area burned when the April 13 Cold Brook prescribed fire escaped in Wind Cave National Park. In each pair of pictures, the first was taken on April 19, 6 days after the fire, and the next was taken on May 22, 39 days after the fire.

Cold Brook Fire

Looking east from the planned burn area to Highway 385 which did not serve as an adequate fire line under the conditions that day.

Wind Cave prescribed fire

Cold Brook Fire

Wind Cave prescribed fire

Cold Brook Fire

The north end of the fire, east of Highway 385.

Wind Cave prescribed fire

Related articles on Wildfire Today:

Cold Brook prescribed fire escapes in South Dakota
Wind Cave National Park bounces back from escaped prescribed fire

Share

Wind Cave National Park bounces back from escaped prescribed fire

With copious rain over the last five weeks since the Cold Brook prescribed fire escaped control in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota on April 13, the additional 5,000 acres outside the planned burn unit is in serious green-up. Most of the “bonus acres” had been treated at least once with previous prescribed fires, so there was not a heavy build up of fuel within the timbered areas. The escape, even though it was pushed by a strong wind, did not have high mortality in the Ponderosa pines. Most of the areas we saw near U.S. Highway 385 look like a typical prescribed fire in the park, however there were a few patches of pine that were taken out.

All of the photos below were taken by Bill Gabbert on May 22, 2015, 39 days after the fire. Click on the photos to see larger versions.

Wind Cave National Park prescribed fire

The bison are enjoying the nutrient-rich fresh green grass in the burned area. The one in the foreground is wallowing in dirt.

Wind Cave National Park prescribed fire

The lower branches on these Ponderosa pines had been burned off in a prescribed fire about 15 years ago, so they were virtually unscathed this time.

Wind Cave National Park prescribed fire

Wind Cave National Park prescribed fire Wind Cave National Park prescribed fire

Wind Cave National Park prescribed fire

One objective of most of the prescribed fires in the Park is to remove some of the pine reproduction that is encroaching into the prairie. The brown seedlings here indicate some success in that regard.

Wind Cave National Park prescribed fire

Related articles:

Cold Brook prescribed fire escapes in South Dakota
Comparison photos, 6 days and 39 days after escaped prescribed fire

Share

Minnesota DNR slash pile escapes after nearly 5 months, starts large fire

A slash pile ignited by employees of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in November continued to burn over the winter and started what became last week’s 4,500-acre Palsburg Fire nearly five months later.

The slash piles were left after a logging operation on state forest lands.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Duluth News Tribune:

[Forestry Division Director Forrest] Boe said DNR Forestry personnel ignited the slash pile that started last week’s blaze Nov. 25. Foresters checked the pile again in December and found embers but determined they didn’t pose a problem because it was winter. A subsequent check March 16 determined the fire was cold.

Then came the hot, dry, windy conditions of April 15, which fanned up a spark that had lingered nearly five months. A DNR detection plane spotted the fire that afternoon.

Share

A UTV burned in the escaped prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park

A 72-hour report on the Cold Brook escaped prescribed fire disclosed that a Utility-Terrain-Vehicle tipped over and was immediately overrun by the wildfire. The report is dated April 23, 2015, ten days after the April 13 escape. We are not aware of a 24-hour report that is often released within a day or two after an incident.

Below is the Narrative from the report:

On Monday, April 13, 2015 the Cold Brook Prescribed Fire at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, escaped prescription and was declared a wildfire. During the wildfire suppression actions, a Utility-Terrain-Vehicle (UTV) with an operator and passenger, tipped over. The two individuals were not injured and escaped safely, but the UTV was immediately overrun by the wildfire and declared a total loss. The loss of the equipment classifies this incident as a “Wildland Fire Accident”.

We were not able to find any reference to a burned UTV in the press releases or the posts on InciWeb about the Cold Brook escaped fire.

This is not the first time an ATV or UTV has burned in a Wind Cave prescribed fire. During the Highland Creek prescribed fire, October 19, 2002, an ATV was destroyed.

Highland Creek ATV burnover

An ATV burned during the Highland Creek prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park, October 19, 2002. NPS photo.

Share

Cold Brook prescribed fire escapes in South Dakota (updated with post-fire photos)

(UPDATED at 4 p.m. April 19, 2015)

Cold Brook Fire

Highway 385, which can be seen in the distance, was supposed to be the boundary of the prescribed fire. Only the land on the far side of the highway was planned to burn.

After being out of town for a while, today we saw the Cold Brook escaped prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota for the first time. Our initial impression was that a very small percentage of the Ponderosa Pine trees lost their canopies to the fire; the mortality was very low. This is largely due to a series of prescribed fires that were conducted in the area about 13 to 16 years ago. Those burns eliminated some trees and “raised the canopy” on many; that is, some of the lower limbs were burned off reducing the ladder fuels that could later carry a fire into the crowns.

Approximately 5,420 acres burned outside the prescribed fire unit, all within the National Park.

The fire would have burned private land outside the park if the Casey Ranch south of the park had not been added a few years ago. The fire burned quite a few acres east of Highway 385 and south of the former park boundary.

In that area, a residence that remains on private land had the fire burn right up to their back yard, as you can see in the photo below.

Cold Brook Fire

The fire burned up to the back yard of a private residence near Highway 385. A blackened area can be seen on the left side of the photo.

When the fire escaped, it ran to the east for about four to five miles.

Cold Brook Fire

Looking east from the planned burn area to Highway 385 which did not serve as an adequate fire line under the conditions that day.

All of these photos in today’s update were taken by Bill Gabbert. Click on them to see larger versions.

Cold Brook Fire

Cold Brook Fire

The north end of the fire, east of Highway 385.

Cold Brook Fire

****

Continue reading

Share