The U.S. Forest Service is being criticized for their early suppression attempts of the Rim Fire, as well as their lack of transparency about how it was fought and the cause of the fire. Starting on the Stanislaus National Forest but eventually spreading into Yosemite National Park, it became the third largest fire in California’s history, burning 257,000 acres, 11 homes, and 3 commercial structures. As of October 25, 2013, at least $127 million had been spent on the suppression and rehabilitation efforts.
Rumors swarmed about what started the fire, blaming a variety of causes including marijuana growers, the law enforcement officers pursuing them, or even an object falling to the ground that was related to a military operation. The USFS was very tight-lipped about the investigation and finally said a hunter’s campfire was the cause, but provided little additional information.
According to an article in the Union Democrat, the initial attack as well as the firefighting response during the first 48 hours was less than overwhelming. Below is an excerpt from their article:
…Jim Dunn, [a CAL FIRE S-2T air tanker pilot] who retired in November after a 24-year firefighting career , said he was making drops on the fire near Natural Bridges on Aug. 17 when he responded that afternoon to what later became the Rim Fire.
He told The Union Democrat that both air tankers stationed at the Columbia Air Attack Base responded when the fire was first reported. The Forest Service already had planes in the air and initially dispatched the other Columbia air tanker pilot, but grounded him shortly after Dunn began making drops. He said the Forest Service put him on hold as well, after only a couple hours of dropping retardant.
The fire was only about 40 acres after the first day, but grew to about 250 by the morning of Aug. 18.
“The next morning we started early and nobody was on the ground,” Dunn said. “After about an hour or two, we got retardant around most the (fire) line while it was still in the canyon.”
“On the third day, they (the Forest Service) called us and we made two or three drops — but then they put us on hold,” he said. “The next thing I heard on the air was that it had crossed the Tuolumne (river) and was running toward Pine Mountain Lake.
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Johnny.