Has society chosen to have fire under the most extreme conditions?

Lolo Peak Fire
Lolo Peak Fire at 6:25 p.m. MDT August 19, 2017 as seen from the Missoula area. Photo by Dick Mangan.

An article by Rob Chaney in the Missoulian quotes a research forester and a Type 1 Incident Commander talking about the characteristics of the wildfires we have been experiencing in recent years. Below is an excerpt:

…“This has been a choice society has made to have fire under the most extreme conditions,” Mark Finney, a research forester for the U.S. Forest Service Fire Sciences Lab, told the Missoula City Club on Monday. “There are alternatives if we choose to use them, instead of waiting for fires to start and then responding to them.”

Greg Poncin, incident commander for both the Lolo Peak and Rice Ridge fires of 2017, added that 12 of the 30 largest fires in the past decade all occurred last year…

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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.

6 thoughts on “Has society chosen to have fire under the most extreme conditions?”

  1. With 52 yrs of marriage to a now old and retired ODF Forester, a southwest Oregon native whose career also was mostly in southwest Oregon, I’d like to point out that the agressive fire suppression policy of ODF has given THAT agency a pretty empressive set of numbers when when compared to USFS.

    This problem with USFS isn’t new. My husband came home from incidents 50 years ago, when he was a grunt on an ODF Hotshot crew, growling then about the ego trips and screw-ups of USFS. ALSO, about 30 years ago he became something of a hero within the ODF Overhead ranks for having enough chuzpah to go nose to nose with USFS people on project and complex fires. The feds consistently disregarded the knowledge and experience of the local management people – who had worked daily on the land. (Apparently “burn-out” wasn’t in their fire manual.) The degree in Forestry didn’t matter – just the correct patch on the sleeve.

    Our family is now on a 4th generation working for ODF on summer fires – the grandkids tell me that nothing has changed since Grandad first complained. Seems to me it’s time USFS learned that fighting wildland fire in SWO simply will not fit their “watch it burn” style of forest management.

    So called “controlled burns” won’t do the trick … but then maybe the idea is to burn it all, sterilze the ground, and leave nothing but knee-high madrone, buck brush, and manzanita. Who knows?

  2. Really? I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that simply changing our way of thinking about fires ISN’T going to prevent them from burning down our towns! I’m wondering too if this guy’s (Mark Finney) reference to ‘society’ is the eco-terrorist war (of lawsuits in federal court) on SANITY in forest management.

    Given that he’s an employee of the USFS, his determination that it’s simply been our choice “to have fires under the most extreme conditions” (that sounds like we WANT megafires!), I suppose his conclusions aren’t too surprising. They (USFS personnel) do stick to their party line.

    As a resident of Brookings, Oregon, and having lived through the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire, I know for a fact that I/we were NOT consulted on choices or options, and I certainly don’t recall EVER filling out a multiple choice questionnaire on the topic of whether I/we WANTED a megafire to blast through 191,125 acres of our forest in 2017.

    THAT was the result of BAD forest and fire management of the Rouge River-Siskiyou National Forest (RRSNF) over past 40 years, along with the USFS ‘MIST’ policy, and NOBODY in this town had the ‘choice’ of any of those options.

    The RRSNF 1987 Silver Fire (150,000 acres), the 2002 Biscuit Fire (500,000 acres) and the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire (191,125 acres) were NOT the result of OUR choices or what WE here in Brookings were thinking at the time. Those fires were the result of the USFS mismanagement and incompetence, and OUR society had nothing whatsoever to do with THAT!

    1. Rob Chaney’s article seems to indicate that USFS fire managers are a bit up in the air as to what course to take when it comes to addressing the fire issue in our forests.

      He is correct that “This has been a choice society has made to have fire under the most extreme conditions”. Note, however, that society is not obligated to pay the very personal and extreme price for these “fires under the most extreme conditions”. It’s the local citizens only that must do that.

      Those of us having experienced such fires up close and intimately know it is imperative that local people with local expertise run these fire operations. The one-size-fits-all incident command system now used is wholly inadequate to meet the risks these fires subject us to.

  3. “It’s important that people realize that the choice is not between prescribed fire and no fire, the choice ultimately is between prescribed fire and wildfire.”
    William Tweed

    My FMO had a poster with this quote hanging on his wall. It’s from the PBS NOVA special “Firewars”

    1. “Fire Wars” is a really good film. I show it every semester to the students in the class I teach about natural disasters. I also show them the Big Burn about the 1910 blow up.

  4. Mark Finney and his team are certainly very knowledgeable on the fire issues. I see repeatedly that congress is considering or will fund or will fund in 2019 instead of immediately. Senator Feinstein and hub own a chalet in the Tahoe basin. She voted against Tahoe funding earlier this year and in a senate hearing on March 13, 2003, stated ,”An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We need to spend more money on hazardous fuel reduction and less on fighting fires after they have started”.


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