Residents of the 463 homes in the Peak 7 neighborhood near the Peak 2 Fire north of Breckenridge, Colorado were able to return to their homes Friday night for the first time since the fire started July 5. The fire has burned 74 to 84 acres, about the size of an 18-hole golf course, but no one would ever build a golf course on terrain this steep (see map above).
Todd Pechota’s Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command at 6 a.m. Friday.
The resources assigned to the fire include 8 hand crews, 15 engines, and 8 helicopters for a total of 362 personnel.
The U.S. Forest Service announced that Todd Pechota, Forest Fire Management Officer (FMO) on the Black Hills National Forest, is the recipient of the 2015 National Forest FMO of the Year award. He received the honor during a recent ceremony at the U.S. Forest Service Regional Office in Colorado.
The Black Hills National forest is in the Black Hills of western South Dakota and northeast Wyoming.
The award recognizes the most outstanding fire manager in the U.S. Forest Service each year. It has a long and prestigious history of honoring fire managers who have exhibited exceptional leadership in Forest Fire Management leadership as a Forest Fire Management Officer.
“Todd is an exceptional leader in wildland fire,” said Craig Bobzien, Black Hills National Forest Supervisor. “This award is a testament to the work he has accomplished. It underscores the relationships he has developed locally and across the nation, and the special care that he has shown for all those that have worked with him.”
In addition to his position as FMO on the Black Hills National Forest, Pechota serves as the Incident Commander for the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team and is past Chairman of the Great Plains Regional Dispatch Board of Directors.
When I heard this morning that the Black Hills National Forest was going to conduct a 94-acre prescribed fire today I looked out my window at the snow in my yard. Curious about how they were going to accomplish this I departed on a expedition to answer this question. It being close to lunch time I stopped at the Dew Drop In for a burger and their wonderful homemade fries, and then again at the TurtleTown chocolate shop for, obviously, a bag of chocolate turtles.
Passing near the Crazy Horse mega-sculpture I saw two bald eagles on the ground in a pasture. I pulled over onto a nearby side road hoping to get a photo, but they were pretty skittish and rudely flew away. But I still grabbed a few not very impressive photos.
By the time I made it to the Whaley prescribed fire near Hill City, South Dakota, I was no longer hungry and was ready to see how the the U.S. Forest Service fire folks were going to pull this off.
It turned out that there was almost no snow on the south facing slopes and they were about 75 percent done with ignition when I pulled up. But there was still snow in some of the flat lands and shaded areas, enough to make it pretty easy to find snow fields, in addition to roads, to serve as control lines.
At the Elk Mountain weather station the temperature was in the 40s, the relative humidity in the low 30s, and the sky was partly cloudy. As it turned out, a good day for being out in the woods with a drip torch.
The video at the top of the article includes still photos, video clips, and an interview with Todd Pechota, the Fire Staff Officer for the Black Hills National Forest.
The following article was contributed by Frank Carroll.
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.
The Rough Fire east of Fresno, after burning for more than a month, will be transitioning from a Type 1 incident management team to a National Incident Management Team (NIMO) from Boise (Reinarz) and a Type 3 team. This new organization “will manage the entire incident”, according to South Zone News and Notes. Pechota’s Type 1 IMT “will be transitioning into command [Friday]” on the south part of the fire, South Zone News and Notes reported on Thursday.
The fire is being staffed by 1,901 personnel and has grown to 81,549 acres. The Team is calling it 25 percent contained.
Below is an excerpt from an update on the fire, provided by the incident management team the evening of September 2, 2015:
“The SCSIIMT (Cooper) will be transitioning to a Sierra National Forest Type Three Organization who will be assuming responsibility for the continuing fire suppression and support activities. In addition, a National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) will arrive during this transition.
Fire crews continue to gain ground on the fire in the Crown Valley trailhead area. Containment lines are being established in conjunction with mop up operations along the fire line. Fire suppression repair work is underway on some of the fire affected areas. This work will help with possible soil erosion in case of a water event.
The Wildland Fire Modules are finishing their backfiring operations in the John Muir Wilderness supported by a pack string of mules to limit helicopter flights in the wilderness. In addition, the High Sierra OHV crew continues to support fire personnel with deliveries and removal of hose and tools in difficult terrain.
Weather during the morning and early afternoon prevented firing operations from taking place in the south zone. Crews continued to reinforce lines in the Hoist Ridge and Buck Rock areas in preparation for burn operations tonight, weather permitting.
The fire has continued to push east along the north side of Highway 180. It is currently about two miles from Cedar Grove. Vulnerable structures in this area have been wrapped, and hose lines placed in preparation for the approaching fire. Crews are working to bring the fire north toward Stag Dome in an effort to keep it away from the lodge area.”
Fire Aviation has a video in which Bill Monahan, an Air Operations Branch Director, describes the management of aviation assets on a large wildland fire. He was working with California Interagency Incident Management Team 3 on the Rough Fire.
The Okanogan Complex of fires was very active again on Friday as a cold front with strong winds passed through the area. According Incident Commander Todd Pechota (via Joe O’Sullivan) more than 227,000 acres have burned since the fires started on August 15. Additional evacuation orders were issued as the portion of the fire west of Okanogan spread south and approached and in at least one area crossed Highway 20, which is closed.
On Friday, President Obama signed an emergency declaration, ordering federal aid to assist in battling Washington state’s wildfires. The declaration allows FEMA to coordinate disaster relief efforts in Asotin, Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Klickitat, Okanogan, Pend Orielle, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, and Yakima counties. It also brings aid to the Colville, Spokane, Kalispel, and Yakima tribes.
For the first time, volunteers are being asked to fight the fires. More than 3,000 people have called and emailed in response to the state’s request for volunteer help with wildfires.
Dino sent us this link to four webcams in the Methow Valley between Twisp and Winthrop, Washington. He said they refresh once an hour. When I checked them Saturday afternoon they were shrouded in smoke.
(UPDATE at 9:47 a.m. PT, August 21, 2015)
The Okanogan Complex of Fires consumed another 40,000 acres of vegetation on Thursday and now covers 124,083 acres, crossing the 100,000-acre threshold to obtain megafire status.
(Originally published at 2:58 p.m. PT, August 20, 2015)
The Okanagan Complex, comprised of 11 fires, some of which grew together, quadrupled in size on Wednesday. It added 60,282 acres and as of 11 p.m. Wednesday night it was 83,441 acres and still growing rapidly (see map above). The Twisp River Fire, on which three firefighters were killed Wednesday, was added to the Complex this morning. A Type 1 incident management team will inbrief on Thursday.
The fire is near Omak, Riverside, and Okanagan in north-central Washington.
The area is under a Red Flag Warning through Friday (see map below) for continued warm temperatures, low humidities and strong north winds on Friday that could reach 50 mph — possibly downing power lines that could start new fires.