Prescribed fire escapes in Manti-La Sal National Forest

The Trail Mountain Fire has burned 2,637 acres in central Utah

Above: Map showing heat on the Trail Mountain Fire detected by a satellite at 2:18 a.m. MDT June 12, 2018.

A prescribed fire ignited in the Manti-La Sal National Forest in central Utah has burned 2,637 acres eight miles northwest of Huntington.

U.S. Forest Service personnel began the project on Tuesday June 5 after conducting a test burn the day before. When they had to suppress a seven-acre spot fire on Wednesday they stopped igniting the prescribed fire, but that evening the fire ran to the top of East Mountain. It is now known as the Trail Mountain Fire.

Trail Mountain Fire
Trail Mountain Fire, posted to InciWeb around June 8, 2018.

On Thursday a Red Flag Warning for strong wind was in effect and the fire continued to grow until it stopped temporarily at a high voltage power line. At that time a Fire Weather Watch predicted elevated fire danger on Saturday and Sunday, June 9-10.

red flag warning trail mountain escaped prescribed fire
Red Flag Warning in central Utah June 7, 2018. Screenshot from Salt Lake City Fox 13.

The fire was very active on Sunday, lofting burning embers that started spot fires a mile ahead. At least one cabin and some outbuildings have burned.

fire danger June 7, 2018

Below is information released by fire officials on Monday June 11:

The Trail Mountain Fire moved into Meetinghouse Canyon Sunday after it was hit with wind gusts of up to 55 miles per hour. Winds grounded all air support and caused the fire to run north and east. Currently at 2,637 acres, and 10% containment, the fire has created heavy smoke that has been visible from local communities in Emery, Carbon and Sanpete counties.
The fire is burning in mixed conifer, with large amounts of dead and down timber. It is spotting up to a mile, leaving islands of green aspen and sage untouched. A cabin was burned in the Whetstone Creek area and other outbuildings in that area are threatened. A high voltage line is in the path of the fire, but has not sustained significant damage. The powerline remains off.

There are 259 personnel assigned to the fire, five helicopters and 11 engines. There is Temporary Flight Restriction over the fire. No drones are allowed on the fire.

Tim Roide’s Type 2 Incident Management Team will be assuming command of the fire, taking over from a Type 3 Team.

The Emery County Progress has an excellent article about the fire written by Patsy Stoddard. It is one of the best I have seen about a wildfire — very thorough and detailed.

Smoke blowing into Colorado from the fire is visible from space.

trail mountain fire badger creek 416
Satellite photo at 6:42 p.m. MDT June 11, 2018, showing the Trail Mountain Fire, Badger Creek Fire, and the 416 Fire.

New film released — “Fire: In the Florida Scrub”

Above: Screenshot from the film.

In 2012 when I first heard of Jennifer Brown she was working in the Interpretation Division in Everglades National Park  and her term appointment was about to end. She had just produced for the National Park Service an excellent film about prescribed fire titled “River of Fire”. Now with many other videos about fire under her belt with her company Into Nature Films, she has produced another — “Fire: In the Florida Scrub”. As with some of her other projects, she partnered with the former Fire Management Officer at Everglades National Park, Rick Anderson.

Here is the official description of the film:

Fire is one of the earth’s dominant forces. ‘Surviving Fire: In the Florida Scrub’ features three decades of discovery by Dr. Eric Menges. After watching this powerful short film, you will never look at Florida plants the same away again. This film pays tribute to the special people who dedicate their lives to improving fire management. Join Eric Menges for a 16 minute exploration into the elegant and unexpected ways plants survive fire. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and produced by Into Nature Films in collaboration with Archbold Biological Station.

Like the other “Into Nature Films”, this one is beautifully photographed and very clearly tells the story. It’s impressive how they had video footage to illustrate almost every point brought up in the narration.

Ms. Brown’s other films can be seen at articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Jennifer Brown”.

Prescribed fire near D.C.

Above: NPS photo by Nathan King

On April 6 firefighters conducted the first prescribed fire in Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts west of the District of Columbia. According to the National Park Service it was also the first prescribed fire in Fairfax County, Virginia. (UPDATE April 11, 2018: Katie said in a comment that Fairfax County Park Authority has  been conducting prescribed burns in Fairfax County for many years.)

Fire was introduced to the native meadow in order to help the indigenous vegetation flourish while helping to control non-native plants.

Wolf Trap National prescribed fire
NPS photo by Nathan King

The agencies assisting included Prince William Forest Park, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields National Military Park, and Fairfax County.

Wolf Trap National prescribed fire
NPS photo by Nathan King

The park is about 8 air miles west of the District of Columbia. It was created by legislation passed in 1966 “… for the performing arts and related educational programs, and for recreation use in connection therewith…”

Prescribed fire at Holiday Lake

One of the objectives of the project is to restore the habitat of the Tricolored Blackbird.

Above: Prescribed fire at Holiday Lake. Photo: Jeff Zimmerman

(Originally published at 7:39 p.m. MT March 1, 2018)

Jeff Zimmerman sent us these prescribed fire photos and the article below. Thanks Jeff.


By Jeff Zimmerman

The Los Angeles County Fire Department conducted a prescribed fire at Holiday Lake Thursday near Neenach in Southern California. The area is critical habitat for the endangered Tricolored Blackbirds that nest early in the spring at the lake. Since it last burned four years ago the bulrush and cattails have choked out the nesting areas for the birds.

Tricolored Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird. Photo credit: California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Thursday approximately 100 firefighters from the County Fire Department burned about 15 acres of land operated by the West Valley County Water District to restore the habitat.

I have been following the nesting habits of the birds with Don Groeschel of the Audubon Society. We have noticed a decline in the number of birds nesting in the area and asked for the area to be burned some time ago. Finally, taking advantage of the dry winter, the area was burned today under very controlled conditions.

The lake (map) is now dry and hopefully rain will finish putting out all hot spots overnight. Neenach has very strong winds so it is crucial to not allow the fire to escape control lines, while trying to generate enough heat to get rid of the dead fuel. With low winds and relative humidity at 30 percent this morning the lake was baptized with fire. New reeds will grow rapidly in the nitrogen rich soil now to make better habitat for the birds. Nesting season is quickly upon us so it is crucial to get this burn completed in a very narrow window of time.

Prescribed fire Holiday Lake
Prescribed fire at Holiday Lake. Photo: Jeff Zimmerman

The lake was dry during the migration period of Canada Geese this fall. Hopefully the water master will allow the lake to fill again to restore the habitat.

Of course this dry winter is very concerning, bringing the possibility of an early fire season.

Prescribed fire Holiday Lake
Prescribed fire at Holiday Lake. Photo: Jeff Zimmerman

Jeff Zimmerman photographs fires and writes about them, usually from Southern California.

Fire Management Officer talks about prescribed fire

In this video, the Fire Management Officer for the National Park Service’s Northern Great Plains Area, Eric Allen, talks about the benefits of prescribed fire. The seven NPS parks and monuments within that group are in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

Repercussions of a government prescribed fire that escapes and burns private property

In 2010 a prescribed fire on the Helena National Forest escaped and burned approximately 450 acres of private property.

Davis Fire, Aug. 26, 2010
Davis 5 Fire, Aug. 26, 2010. Photo: markholyoak

On August 26 and 27, 2010 the Davis 5 prescribed fire on the Helena National Forest in Montana escaped control 28 miles northwest of Helena. It happened on a windy day during Fire Weather Watch conditions when the temperature in Helena set a record for the highest ever recorded on that date .

(Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Davis 5 prescribed fire”)

The project that was expected to treat 100 acres eventually burned about 1,600 acres of U.S. Forest Service land and approximately 450 acres of private property.

Today the Helena Independent Record and the Missoulian published an article written by Tim Kuglin that retells the story of the Davis 5 Fire. Mr. Kuglin concentrated on the effects on the private landowners and their battles, largely unsuccessful, to obtain reparations from the federal government.

The post-fire report commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service, as is the custom with federal land management reports about fires that have bad outcomes, did not outline many significant issues or bad decisions that led to the escape.

Davis fire
Firemen line the Stemple Pass Road August 26, 2010, on the Davis Fire. Dylan Brown photo.

Most of Kent Taylor’s 146 acres burned in the fire. After being rebuffed by the USFS he went to court to seek payment for damages. Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell decided on March 22, 2015 that the U.S. is immune from the suit, writing in his decision:

The Court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that the Forest Service was negligent either in conducting the Davis 5 Unit prescribed burn or in fighting the escaped fire once it occurred or that the Forest Service violated any mandatory policy or prescription. In addition, and more significantly, strict liability does not apply and the discretionary function exception applies to bar Plaintiff’s tort claims.

The court decision, the official USFS report, and the recent newspaper article did not seriously consider two issues that we mentioned in 2010:

1. The first was the failure to take notice of the spot weather forecast that was issued at 10:43 a.m. Wednesday on the day of the burn, just before the firefighters ignited the test burn. That forecast predicted stronger winds than in the forecast that was issued the previous day which was for “winds upslope 3 to 6 mph, ridge top winds southwest 5 to 10 mph with gusts to 15 mph”. Here is what Wednesday morning’s forecast predicted for the day of ignition (the all-caps are from the weather forecast):

WIND (20 FT)……..SOUTHWEST WINDS 10 TO 15 MPH WITH AFTERNOON GUSTS 20 TO 25 MPH.
RIDGE TOP WIND……WEST AT 15 TO 20 MPH.

The report says:

The prescribed fire personnel stated they did not note any differences between the two forecasts.

That forecast also stated that on the following day, Thursday, the winds in the afternoon would be 30 to 35 mph.  The maximum wind speed allowed in the prescription for the project was 15 mph, which, from my experience, is quite high for a prescribed fire.

2. The second issue is the fact that they knew on Tuesday, the day before the burn began on Wednesday, that near record heat and a Fire Weather Watch with gusty southwest winds was forecast for Thursday. This Watch was upgraded to a Red Flag Warning on Wednesday afternoon after ignition had begun. Even in a best case scenario, if there had been no spot fires or other control problems on Wednesday, the 30 to 35 mph winds predicted for the day after ignition should have alerted experienced fire management personnel that the winds across the 100-acre prescribed fire could have caused embers to be blown across the lines, resulting in the fire escaping. Control would have been difficult in 30 to 35 mph winds.