Looking back at two escaped prescribed fires on Okanogan-Wenatchee NF

The Wenatchee World has an article that reviews two prescribed fires that escaped control on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington earlier this month, the Beehive and the Preston-Fox fires. Here is an excerpt.


WENATCHEE In early October, when it seemed wildfire season had come to a close, two fires on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest burned out of control.

Intentionally ignited by the U.S. Forest Service as prescribed fires, parts of the Beehive Reservoir Fire southwest of Wenatchee, and the Preston-Fox Fire west of Entiat became uncontrolled wildfires. The agency called in helicopters, hotshot crews and other resources to get the fires under control.

The Forest Service is conducting more and larger controlled burns throughout the Pacific Northwest. In 2002 it burned a total of 34,300 acres in Washington and Oregon, and that figure had more than doubled to about 82,500 acres this year, said regional Forest Service spokesman Tom Knappenberger.

And with more acres to burn, and only short windows in the spring and fall to burn them, fire officials say it’s not a surprise that some of the fires get away.

“You can’t have large prescribed fires without expecting to lose a fire here and there,” said Bobbie Scopa, fire management officer for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

She said the Forest Service is trying to burn more acres without spending more money and the only way to do that is to burn larger units.

“If you think about the forest being 3.8 million acres, and say we were burning 10,000 to 15,000 acres a year, we’re not going to make a big enough impact on the forest by doing that,” she said. “We’re trying to increase the size of our projects so we can make a difference.”

Forest spokeswoman Robin DeMario said it’s tough to determine exactly how much money the Forest Service spent to suppress these fires beyond what the agency was already spending to under-burn the areas.

Only about 45 acres of the 600 acres burned in Beehive, and about 100 acres of 1,400 acres burned in the Preston-Fox were not slated for prescribed fire, she said.

The cost of fighting those fires ranged from $600 to $800 per acre, compared with about $30 it costs to conduct a controlled burn, DeMario said.

“We try to be good stewards of the land. And we try to be cost-conscious with American tax dollars, which is why we try to do prescribed burning. It costs a lot less,” she said.

No homes were threatened by either blaze, but the Beehive fire did burn about 40 acres of Longview Timber Corp. property.

Company representative Steve Tift said much of the fire stayed on the ground, but climbed into some trees which now have orange needles. He said he won’t know until next spring if the trees will survive. “We hate to lose any timber,” he said. But added, “Fire in Eastern Washington is just part of life.”
The Preston-Fox Fire burned about 85 acres of the Entiat Experimental Forest, where Forest Service researchers are conducting ongoing studies. That 1,290-acre fire started as a 10-acre test plot that escaped.

Winds pushed both fires out of control.

Scopa said the Forest Service does all it can to get an accurate weather forecast, but the weather doesn’t always do what’s expected.

“We take weather readings on the site for a few days prior to when we’re burning,” she said. The readings include things like fuel moisture and humidity along with winds speed, wind direction, temperature and other factors. The information is sent to the National Weather Service in Spokane, which comes up with a forecast for the specific site before the controlled burn is ignited, Scopa said.

“Is it foolproof, every time you ignite a burn? No, it isn’t,” she said. “This is not an exact science.”
Scopa said it’s never a good thing to lose control of a prescribed burn, but in both fires, the blaze that escaped acted more like a controlled burn than a wildfire — burning out the understory without burning up into the crowns of trees, thereby leaving the larger, older trees in a healthier ecosystem.

“We’re not happy we weren’t able to keep it inside the line, but the area that burned outside the line was just as beneficial, from a resource-benefit standpoint,” she said.


More information about the Preston-Fox fire can be found HERE.

The Baker River Hotshots Tweeted about both fires in early October.

Prescribed fire at Wind Cave

Yesterday I spent several hours taking photos at a prescribed fire at Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The park has a long history of prescribed fire, with the first one occurring in 1972. This two-day, 652-acre project was called Headquarters West, and was between the campground and the park headquarters.

Photo taken from near the south entrance, about 4 hours after first ignition.
The test burn was at the top of a STEEP hill with lots of loose rock. I only fell once while going back down.

It got a little smoky at times. We used to occasionally carry carbon monoxide (CO) diffusion tubes to monitor the CO levels. Drager, the company that made those now sells a pocket-sized electronic CO monitor that can easily be used by wildland firefighters.

HERE is information about the single-gas, pocket-size monitor made by Drager.

Cooling off a hot area near the line.

Thanks to Jim McMahill, Fire Management Officer, and his staff for their hospitality.

Some of the video that I shot is scheduled to be on the 5:30 evening news Friday on the Rapid City KOTA television station.

HERE is a link to the video.

Pennsylvania reduces liability for prescribed fires

One of the nightmares of wildland firefighters is being sued or charged with a crime when things go badly on a wildfire or prescribed fire. Some of the federal land management agencies have aggressively sought to find a law that was broken when there was a serious accident on a fire. That is why we recommend professional liability insurance for wildland firefighters who are in supervisory positions.

The state of Pennsylvania has taken a step in the right direction by passing a law that will help to protect firefighters involved in prescribed fire.

An excerpt from an article at TribLIVE:

In July, Gov. Ed Rendell signed into law House Bill 262. Sponsored by Cambria County Democratic Rep. Gary Haluska, the bill created the “prescribed fire burning act.” It “encourages the continued use of prescribed burning for fuel reduction, ecological, forest, wildlife and grassland management purposes.”

Most importantly, it provides a definition for a “prescribed burn worker” and removes individual liability from fire bosses who have received proper training and burn according to guidelines that are right now being established.

That liability issue kept agencies from doing much burning in the past because the man who struck the first match — even at the instruction of the agency — was individually as liable for any damages that occurred as was the organization itself.

Now that it’s been resolved, wildlife and habitat should benefit.

“This law will provide guidance and legal protection to land managers who understand the ecology of fire and want to embrace the best practices for managing public and private landscapes,” said Nels Johnson, the Pennsylvania director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy.


Prescribed fire at Bok Tower Gardens

Bok Tower Gardens is a national historic landmark in Florida and maintains the 100-acre Pine Ridge Nature Preserve. Today they posted a narrated video about a prescribed fire they conducted, and I have to say it is refreshing to see a firefighter in full personal protective equipment, with sleeves rolled down, and clean Nomex.


Wildfire news, April 16, 2009

Secondary injuries in cattle after a fire

We hear a lot about post-fire effects on vegetation, but almost never about the effects on domestic animals. By Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M University:

Analyzing injuries to cattle following a wildfire is important to minimize losses, said Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialists.

“It might look like they’ve made it and there was no visible physical damage,” said Dr. Floron “Buddy” Faries, AgriLife Extension program leader for veterinary medicine. “However, it’s important to have them looked at by a veterinarian as soon as possible because there could be secondary problems that lead to infections and further problems.”

Health disorders such as burned eyes, feet, udders, sheaths and testicles, as well as smoke inhalation with lung inflammation and edema, are the most common problems, Faries said.

“One of the immediate problems that has to be dealt with within two or three days is damage to the feet and the coronary band above the hoof,” Gill said. “It may take 10 days to two weeks for the damage to start showing. The cattle will start sloughing the hoof wall and develop secondary infections and become lame and unable or unwilling to stand.”

More at southwestfarmpress.com

ESPN tells how to conduct prescribed fires

Surprisingly, ESPNOutdoors.com has a lengthy article about the benefits of prescribed fire and explains how to plan and execute one.  Here is how the article begins.

prescribed fire

“Man has come to the forest,” declared Bambi’s father as he smelled the smoke from the campfire that was to become a raging wildfire.

The vivid imagery of this Disney cartoon is the first exposure most children have to fire and wildlife. Smokey the Bear has done an excellent job of educating the public on the dangers of wildfire.

Unfortunately, the same message has usually been applied to all fires, even those that reduce the chance of wildfire and play critical roles in natural ecosystem maintenance and function. While catastrophic wildfires negatively impact people and wildlife, prescribed fires are beneficial to deer and many other native plants and animals.

Prescribed burning is fire applied by trained people in a skillful manner under particular weather conditions in a definite, confined location to achieve specific results. When thoughtfully used, prescribed fire promotes quality deer browse and increases soft mast production.

Henry David Thoreau’s fire

The 300-acre fire that Thoreau accidently started while cooking some fish chowder may have changed the direction of his life.  Here is an excerpt from the Boston Globe:

Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau

But there is one curious event in the life of Henry David Thoreau that has received little attention, and which may have been a formative event, influencing not only his decision to sequester himself at Walden Pond, but also the development of his environmentalist philosophy. On April 30, 1844, Thoreau started a blaze in the Concord Woods, scorching a 300-acre swath of earth between Fair Haven Bay and Concord. The fire was an accident, but the destruction of valuable woodland, the loss of firewood and lumber, and the narrowly avoided catastrophe that almost befell Concord itself angered the local residents and nearly ruined Thoreau’s reputation. For years afterward, Thoreau could hardly walk the streets of his hometown without hearing the epithet “woods burner.”

That the father of American environmentalism could have been the scourge of the Concord Woods may seem too ironic to be true. Yet, not only did this unlikely event actually occur, but it seems quite possible that, given Thoreau’s general lack of direction at the time, as well as his growing interest in pursuing a career as a civil engineer, America’s first great naturalist might not have undertaken his Walden experiment at all, had it not been for the forest fire he sparked a year earlier. The fire happened at a time when Thoreau seemed desperately in need of some catalyst to convert his thoughts into action.

Fire Department plaques


When I found out that Fireguysteve was following Wildfire Today on Twitter I checked out his Twitter page and discovered a link to his Firepainter.com site.  Apparently Steve is a firefighter who on his days off carves by hand very intricate and detailed three-dimensional fire department and fire station plaques out of tropical Suar wood.  Some of them are pretty amazing.

Video of fire damage at Midwest City, OK

Investigators have found the cause and origin of the wildfire in Midwest City, Oklahoma that destroyed about 100 houses on April 9.  They turned the information over to the police who are not releasing any of the information “because of the investigation”.

The video below shows some of the devastation in the urban area.  A few of the houses still have their brick walls somewhat intact.