Only you…

Fire in the Lake San Antonio area of Monterey County, California, August, 2009. Photo by Vern Fisher.

The following article was contributed by Frank Carroll.


Only You…

For the United States Forest Service and the other major federal, state and local wildland fire agencies, the music is playing the band.  It worked OK for the Grateful Dead.  It’s a different story when it comes to developing and conducting wildland fire policy.

It may surprise no one to discover that wildland fires are bigger, more costly, more damaging, and more out of control than in any decade before the present, all the way back to 1910.  There was so much large fire on the ground in the 2015 fire season we ran out of superlatives to describe how big and bad they were.  In many cases the fires burned together forming “charismatic megafires” of untold destruction, sometimes because we had no choice.

Author Stephen Pyne, in an often brutally honest book about where we’ve been and where we’re headed with fire management in America, observes that fire is managing us; we’re not managing fire (Between Two Fires 2015).

What began in the late 1960s as a scarcely heard warning siren that wildfire should be left to its own devices on certain wild lands (prescribed natural fire or “let burn” fires pioneered by the National Park Service) became, by 2000, a five alarm screaming wail heard round the world.  Our best laid plans have come to naught.  We are caught in a blizzard of falling ash, awash in a river of flying embers, and blinded by the smoke.  It is clear that no human power will stop the rising tide of flames in wildlands and Red Zone suburbs where 10 percent of our homes are, no matter what the cost.

How we got here is a tale worth reading.  Where we’re headed is into the fog of war, but not without guideposts and markers.  Based on the very sound idea that fire should play a natural role in natural resource management, agencies and scientists spent the past 50 years trying to work out how to get it done.  And they had help.  The Nature Conservancy can field its own firefighters and burn its own ground.  Environmentalists looked for ways to burn without having to pay for the work of preparing and herding fires, and without the expertise to help.  Their grand experiment in the theology/ecology of hope over the last 50 years accelerated the fuels problem. The fuels situation is also exacerbated in places where logging results in activity fuels with resulting backlogs needing treatment and feeding wildfires.

Continue reading “Only you…”

How prior fuel treatments affected the San Juan Fire

San Juan Fire severity
Map of the San Juan Fire “Rapid Assessment of Vegetation Condition after Wildfire”. The fire started at the south end near “San Juan Flat and eventually burned into many treated areas, represented by cross-hatching, where the fire intensity and rate of spread decreased.

The U.S. Forest Service has put together information about how previous fuel treatments modified fire behavior on the San Juan Fire on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona in June of 2014. Below is an excerpt from a report, and below that is a video in which subject matter experts describe the effects of the treatments.

Generally speaking, the fuel treatments encountered by the San Juan Fire were effective at modifying fire behavior. Furthermore, these fuel treatment areas proved to be instrumental in providing fire managers with opportunities to contain the fire in a safe and effective manner while simultaneously limiting the fire’s potential negative effects on natural resources, the surrounding communities and their infrastructure.

Fire behavior observed by firefighters at the scene—as well as estimates of fire severity taken after the fire confirm that the treated areas performed as designed by not supporting sustained crown fire even under extreme burning conditions.

As the San Juan Fire transitioned from untreated mixed conifer to treated ponderosa pine, fire behavior also transitioned from intermittent and sustained high-intensity crown fire in the untreated stands to a low-moderate intensity surface fire in the treated stands.

Thus, firefighters were able to utilize the road system within the treated stands to implement their burnouts. These burnout operations limited the forward progress at the head of the fire the day after the fire started.

Twenty One Individuals and Organizations Honored for Fire Protection Efforts in their Communities

fire mitigation awards

On January 22 the winners of the Wildfire Mitigation Awards for 2015 were announced. Established in 2014 in response to an overwhelming number of wildfire mitigation program efforts across the nation, the awards are the highest national honor one can receive for outstanding work and significant program impact in wildfire preparedness and mitigation.

The Wildfire Mitigation Awards are jointly sponsored by the National Associations of State Foresters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fire Protection Association, and the USDA Forest Service.

The three categories for the awards include:

  • Community Wildfire Preparedness Pioneer
  • Fire Adapted Communities Fire Service Leadership
  • Wildfire Mitigation Innovation

These awards are designed to recognize outstanding service in wildfire preparedness and safety across a broad spectrum of activities and among a variety of individuals and organizations. By honoring their achievements, the award sponsors also seek to increase public recognition and awareness of the value of wildfire mitigation efforts.

The winners of th Wildfire Mitigation Awards are:

Community Wildfire Preparedness Pioneer Awardees
Ann Grant
Nevada Fire Safe Council & Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities
Reno, Nevada

Tom Burns
Warm Springs Mesa Neighborhood Association
Boise, Idaho

Ken & Nancy Hasse
Logtown Fire Safe Council & El Dorado County Fire Safe Council
Diamond Springs, California

Judy Winzell
Falls Creek Ranch Homeowners Association
Durango, Colorado

Fire Adapted Communities Fire Service Leadership Awardees
Chris Barth
Bureau of Land Management
Montrose, Colorado

Colorado Springs Wildfire Mitigation Section
Colorado Springs Fire Department/City of Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs, Colorado

wildfire mitigation
Mechanical fuels reduction as well as controlled burning are priorities for the Florida Forest Service, one recipient of the 2015 Wildfire Mitigation Awards. Photo credit: Florida Forest Service

Florida Forest Service—Okeechobee District
Okeechobee, Florida

Jerry McAdams
Boise Fire Department
Boise, Idaho

Gregory McLaughlin
New Jersey Forestry Services-Forest Fire Service
Trenton, New Jersey

Eric L. Mosley
Georgia Forestry Commission- Oconee District
Milledgeville, Georgia

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program
Reno, Nevada

Thomas Spencer
Texas A&M Forest Service
College Station, Texas

Wildfire Mitigation Innovation Awardees
West Region Wildfire Council
Montrose, Colorado

Saws and Slaws
Boulder County, Colorado

Travis Lipp, Jerry Derr and Lieutenant Tim Weaver
Bureau of Land Management; Meade County, South Dakota; Rapid City Fire Department, Rapid City, South Dakota

Mitigation and Prevention Department
Texas A&M Forest Service
College Station, Texas

Irene Jerome
Grant County, Oregon

Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization
Kamuela, Hawaii

Caloosahatchee Forestry Center
Fort Myers, Florida

Flagstaff Fire Department – Wildland Fire Management Division
Flagstaff, Arizona

Pam Wilson, Executive Director
Firewise of Southwest Colorado & Local Firewise Council
Durango, Colorado