Fallout from the Devils Tower escaped prescribed fire

Two newspapers, at least, are running a story following up on the May 7 prescribed fire in Devils Tower National Monument that escaped during mopup operations the following day and burned 56 acres outside the project boundary. All except one or two of those “bonus acres” were inside the Monument. The small amount that crossed over the boundary unfortunately burned land leased by Wyoming state Senator Ogden Driskill, but did not damage any structures.

The Billings Gazette and the Rapid City Journal published the same article written by Kevin Woster of the Rapid City Journal. Senator Driskill’s wife, Rosanne Driskill was quoted as saying:

Fire is a legitimate management tool. Farmers and ranchers use it themselves,” Rosanne Driskill said. “But you don’t do it in your front yard or on the face of a national monument.

However, the Monument’s Chief Ranger, Drew Gilmour, thankfully disagreed, saying that is exactly where you want to do it in order to control invasive plants and reduce fallen timber and other snags that can fuel future wildfires.

Meadow prescribed fire, Devils Tower NM
File photo of the Meadow prescribed fire, Devils Tower National Monument, May, 2000. NPS photo.

Devils Tower has conducted many prescribed fires without any escapes until this year. But a few of the locals have previously been vocal in their opposition. Around 1996 or 1997, one of the projects burned a little hotter than anticipated and took out a pretty good sized patch of Ponderosa Pine on the east side below the tower —  the most visible aspect that can easily be seen from the main highway and as visitors drive into the entrance road. One local citizen was quoted as saying, “The Monument is ruined for generations!”. Since then many of the trees killed in that fire have fallen, and much of the downed wood was probably consumed in the May 7 prescribed fire.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Fallout from the Devils Tower escaped prescribed fire”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with Jameson’s assessment

    To take it further…..

    Twenty five years ago when I went through Forestry school scenario based education with TRUE interagency dealings was not even on the radar nor was “how to educate the public and politicians.”

    So the LMA’s developed and coddled Smokey Bear into what it has go to today…and we did not even learn much when the infamous 1987 “Wildland Fire Policy” became the rage

    Sure , Sure we got lots of computer programs to keep everyone busy as “four wall foresters” you know….decision making by computer.

    What this reinforces to me, as a pilot, where a lot of technologically advanced aircraft (TAA) has changed many a way of training pilots and forcing newer thought(s) from the FAA on how to conduct flight training with glass cockpits and new ways of teaching people how to make better airmanship decisions.

    How does this relate to fire management, you ask? Well, isn’t there ALOT of borrowing and plagiarizing the aviation industry to form the infamous WO-FAM program?

    Sure there is.

    While the LMA’s have spent so much time and dinero on building their aviation program and along with the many computer programs out there that seem to guide every decision, to include the 1996-1996 NAT study. there seems to be and been a large disconnect on other things.

    Prescribed fire is nothing new…hell our Native American brother and sisters INVENTED that program.

    What the real problem(s) is /are the education that involves the public. What are the Agencies doing to explain away to the most vocal public about Rx Fire that goes off reservation?

    Ya can’t explain Smokey Bear and watching a (well planned ….or NOT!) while holding a drip torch at the same time…or can you??

    Better PAO and PIO training would be a beginning and maybe even the LMA’s start getting with college professors and get moving with scenario based forestry education especially fire and stop lecturing about all those fancy NEPA processes that were apparently started by some of my Bob Marley smoking predecessors in many forestry school around the US.

    We only got ourselves into this trouble and we keep coming around in circular pattern saying “we are learning from each fire!”


  2. If only schools taught basic fire ecology courses at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, the public might not emit such shortsighted comments that are a product of a Smokey Bear-hindered fire culture.


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