Fort Collins brewery partners to thin and prescribed burn forest

Anheuser-Busch and the 15 craft breweries in For Collins, Colorado depend on clean water to produce their beer.

In 2012 the High Park Fire west of the city burned 87,000 acres and 259 homes. One resident was killed, $38 million was spent on suppression, and the insured losses totaled $113 million. But much of the damage occurred just after the fire was contained when summer thunderstorms washed ash and debris into the Cache la Poudre River, turning it black. Fort Collins and Greeley obtain much of their drinking water from the river and temporarily turned off their water intakes. Flooding in 2013 following 15 inches of rain in Rist Canyon created more problems.

Anheuser-Busch is contributing $110,000 to help The Nature Conservancy protect the watershed in the Cache la Poudre River watershed. The funds will enable the organization to improve forest conditions on a demonstration area, allowing for treatment testing and informing future, larger-scale restoration projects to reduce catastrophic fires and improve water security for the people of these communities. The plans include thinning and prescribed fire.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Mother Nature Network:

…The Nature Conservancy’s prescription instructs those who wield the chainsaws on which trees to leave untouched and which trees to cut down. For example, old trees, trees with flat tops, and those that have visual nesting cavities or favorable conditions for nesting are left alone. Old species are left untouched, too. Trees are left in small clusters to give safe haven to squirrels who might become prey if they came down on the ground to get to their next tree.

The trees that are the most undesirable are Douglas firs. The prescription calls for removing 90 percent of them that are less than 10 inches in diameter. Why do Douglas firs get the chainsaw? The same thing that makes the species great-looking Christmas trees also makes them “ladder fuels” in the forest. They carry fire from the grass into the treetops via their low branches. Once the fire gets up into a tree, it then gets into other trees, even those that are adapted to fire with a lack of low branches and thicker bark. Before humans started suppressing forest fires, Douglas firs would be taken out in natural low-intensity fires and the more fire-intolerant trees would often remain. But now, it’s not unusual for all trees to burn in a forest that has become overly dense…

National Ecological Observatory Network studies the High Park Fire

(This video was published June 6, 2013.)

In response to one of the worst wildfires in Colorado history, scientists from the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University (CSU) are leading a first of its kind, large-scale wildfire impact study on the High Park Fire in partnership with Colorado’s newest research facility, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The study will provide critical data to communities still grappling with how to respond to major water quality, erosion and ecosystem restoration issues in an area spanning more than 136 square miles.

Supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) RAPID grant, the collaboration will integrate airborne remote sensing data collected by NEON’s Airborne Observation Platform (AOP) with ground-based data from a targeted field campaign conducted by CSU researchers. RAPID, short for Grants for Rapid Response Research, are used for proposals having a real urgency, including quick-response research on natural disasters. This effort is the first time a comprehensive airborne remote sensing system of this caliber will be used to enhance research on wildfire causes and impacts. The system will be able to detect remaining vegetation, identify plant species, ash cover, soil properties and other details to help illustrate how the fire burned–over the span of the entire fire scar.

“The NEON Airborne Observatory is transforming research by providing data to researchers and resource managers at temporal and geographic scales that could not previously be captured,” says Elizabeth Blood, NSF program director for NEON. “By combining ground measurements with data gathered from cutting-edge instruments in NEON airplanes, scientists are gathering potentially pivotal information about small scale and large scale processes that affect the spread of fires through forests and subsequent forest recovery.”

NEON will be to ecological health what an EKG is to heart health. Like an EKG generates snapshots of heart health by measuring heart activity at strategic locations on a patient’s body, NEON will generate snapshots of ecosystem health by measuring ecological activity at strategic locations throughout the U.S. Resulting ecological data will enable scientists to generate the first apples-to-apples comparisons of ecosystem health throughout large regions of the U.S. and the entire country over multiple decades.

Some of NEON’s data collection and educational operations have already begun, and others will begin incrementally until NEON becomes fully functional in 2017. All of NEON’s data, synthesized data products and associated educational materials will be made freely available on the Internet. These materials will thereby provide grist for groundbreaking analyses and educational activities by researchers, students, decision-makers, educators and the public.

NEON will be fully operational for some 30 years.

Articles at Wildfire Today tagged “High Park Fire”.

Cost of Colorado wildfires

Colorado, insured losses from wildfires

When lawmakers and citizens refuse to adequately fund wildfire prevention, mitigation, and suppression programs, sometimes they don’t consider the unintended consequences of their actions. The graphic above, by InsuranceDay.com, illustrates the insured losses in just one state, Colorado, from wildfires since 2002. The numbers do not include the costs of suppressing the fires or the rehabilitation of the burned areas. For example, the $9.8 million spent on stopping the Black Forest Fire is not included.. If the Waldo Canyon, Black Forest, Fourmile Canyon, or High Park fires had been stopped when they were small, the suppression and insurance costs averted would have equaled what it would take to build a professional quality fire management organization — many times over.

Colorado has taken some steps in the last year to improve their response to wildfires, building a small aerial firefighting fleet, and organizing in some areas on the front range to more aggressively implement mutual aid strategies.

And we don’t mean to pick on Colorado — it is just the low-hanging fruit, the state that best illustrates the fallacy of save money now, but increase the costs 10-fold later. The federal government as well as some other states and local governments fall into the same trap.

In 2012 we wrote:

Dr. Gabbert’s prescription for keeping new fires from becoming megafires:

 

Rapid initial attack with overwhelming force using both ground and air resources, arriving within the first 10 to 30 minutes when possible.

Some of us remember when this was standard operating procedure, at least in the federal government. CAL FIRE still understands and practices this strategy.

The cost of saving money on wildfire suppression

Myrtle Fire
Myrtle Fire north of Hot Springs, SD, July 19, 2012 Photo by Bill Gabbert

Maintaining a wildfire suppression infrastructure is expensive, but as the saying goes, “you can pay me now or pay me later”. Wildfires are going to occur, regardless of the number of fire suppression resources that are funded by the government. An adequate number of firefighters on the ground and in the air can implement a prescription for keeping new fires from becoming megafires:

Rapid initial attack with overwhelming force using both ground and air resources, arriving within the first 10 to 30 minutes when possible.

The current paradigm of cascading federal budget cuts for fire suppression has reduced the capability of putting out wildfires while they are small. An aggressive initial attack on an emerging fire may cost $10,000, or $50,000, or even $75,000. But when the fire is put out quickly, the firefighters become available to attack the next fire with overwhelming force, rather than being tied up on a huge fire that may take six weeks to wrap up.

And that huge fire may cost $30 million to $50 million to suppress.

Suppression costs of seven fires in 2012:

  • Mustang Complex, Idaho, $38 million
  • High Park, Colorado, $38 million
  • Chips, California, $54 million
  • Wenatchee Complex, Washington, $32 million
  • Bagley, California, $37 million
  • North Pass, California, $30 million
  • Trinity Ridge, Idaho, $41 million

But the suppression costs can pale in comparison to the property damage for an urban interface fire. In 2012 insurance companies in Colorado paid an estimated $450 million for damage caused by two wildfires, primarily for structures that burned.

Estimated costs to insurers for property damage on wildfires:

  • 2012, Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado, $353 million
  • 2012 High Park Fire, Colorado, $97 million
  • 2010, Fourmile Canyon Fire, Colorado, $224 million
  • 2007, Witch Fire, California, $1.142 billion
  • 2003, Old Fire, California, $1.141 billion
  • 2003, Cedar Fire, California, $1.240 billion
  • 1991, Oakland Hills Fire, California, $2.687 billion

In 2012, according to the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, wildfires in the state destroyed more than 648 structures, killed six people, burned more than 384,000 acres and caused at least $538 million in property losses

Fighting fire on the cheap can be very expensive in lost lives, megafires, and property damage. Investing money up front to reduce the number of megafires can save money. The current strategy of fewer federal firefighters and large air tankers is not working. In the decade of the 1990s the average size of a wildfire in the lower 49 states was 30 acres. In the three years of the present decade the average size is 93 acres. In 2012 almost half of the time when wildland firefighters requested an air tanker to help slow down a wildfire, the call went unanswered because none were available.

We need to restore the initial attack capability that we had in the 1990s. More firefighters and large air tankers can help to keep fires small. In 2002 the federal government had 44 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. By 2012 the fleet had atrophied to nine. Some wildfire experts recommend that we need 30, 40, or even 50. The U.S. Forest Service has been trying to contract for approximately seven additional “next generation” air tankers, bringing the total up to 16. The newer aircraft would be turbine-powered, be able to cruise at 300 knots (345 mph), and preferably have a capacity of 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of retardant. The USFS issued the solicitation 1 year, 3 months, and 2 days ago, but no contracts have been awarded.

The USFS-funded RAND air tanker study found that a 3,000-gallon air tanker costs approximately $7.1 million a year without the costs of retardant. In fiscal year 2010 the USFS spent $10.3 million on retardant. Using these figures, a fleet of 30 large air tankers for a year would cost about the same as the property damage and suppression of one large urban interface fire, the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire near Boulder, Colorado — or about one-fifth of the property damage on the 2003 Cedar fire in California.

Firefighters on the ground and in the air will never put out every fire while they are small, and air tankers alone can’t do it either. Aircraft don’t put out fires — at best they can slow them down temporarily, allowing firefighters on the ground to stop the spread. Going forward we need a complete palette of resources, a tool box of complementary weapons, each with their niche, working together.

Firefighters who lost homes in High Park fire rebuilding to beat deadline

At least five and perhaps as many as eight volunteer firefighters lost their homes in the High Park Fire west of Fort Collins, Colorado in June. Most of them were fighting the fire while their homes burned along with one of the Rist Canyon Fire Department’s stations. Now some are facing a deadline imposed by insurance companies to have the structures rebuilt within a year.

Helping to meet the deadline are volunteers of another type, wielding hammers and saws during winter weather — providing assistance to people they have never met. The Denver Post has more about theses volunteers.

More excellent National Guard photos of High Park Fire

Minden's Tanker 48 drops High Park fire June 19, 2012
Minden’s Tanker 48 drops on High Park fire June 19, 2012. Photo by Colorado National Guard.

The Colorado National Guard continues to supply great photos taken at the High Park Fire west of For Collins, Colorado. Keep up the great work, folks! (I hope they remember to include the photographers’ names with the captions.)

High Park fire, June 19, 2012
High Park fire, June 19, 2012. Photo by Colorado National Guard
Firefighters walking to dinner at the High Park fire
Firefighters on their way to dinner at the Incident Command Post at the High Park fire. Photo by Colorado National Guard.
Burning timber at the High Park fire
Kansas crew members observe the area as they fly to their designated location with a Bambi bucket full of water to help at the High Park fire in Larimer County, Colo., approximately 15 miles west of Fort Collins, June 19, 2012. (Photo by Sgt. Ryan Kohlman, Company G, 2nd-135th General Support Aviation Battalion)