Forest Service burned hundreds of acres of piles in the general area where the Calf Canyon Fire started

There is very little fire history out in front of the Calf Canyon – Hermits Peak Fire in Northern New Mexico

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9:09 p.m. MDT May 13, 2022

About three months before the Calf Canyon Fire was reported April 19, 2022, employees of the Santa Fe National Forest ignited hundreds of acres of debris piles which were created during fuels treatment projects. The piles were “approximately 17 miles west of Las Vegas,” according to a notice posted at the New Mexico Fire Information website on January 26, 2022. (See below) The name of the project was Gallinas Canyon wildland-urban interface (WUI) prescribed pile burn. In January prior to the notice crews had already completed 266 acres of the 374-acre unit and planned to continue burning more piles “as early as January 27.”

Pile burning Calf Canyon Santa Fe National Forest escaped fire
Screenshot from the New Mexico Fire Information website posted January 26, 2022. Accessed May 13, 2022.

Fires are usually named after a geographical feature near the point of origin. Calf Canyon Road intersects with Forest Road 263 which is in Gallinas Canyon.

On September 27, 2012 a 300-acre hazardous fuels reduction mechanical thinning project was finished just north of Calf Canyon Road, which likely left hundreds of piles to burn later.

This project and Calf Canyon Road are broadly within the general area where the Calf Canyon Fire started. There have also been other fuels treatment projects in that area over the last 10 years.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak Fires, including the most recent, click here

The US Forest Service has already identified an escaped prescribed fire as the cause of the Hermits Peak Fire, but lists the cause of the Calf Canyon Fire as under investigation.

Wildfires, prescribed fires, and pile burns are known to have smoldered for months, sometimes under snow and through an entire winter, before being discovered months later when smoke becomes visible. The burn piles were at approximately 8,000 feet, so the snow reported in the notice may have kept the vegetation cold and wet for a couple of months if the pile burning was completed in February. We are not saying that is what caused the Calf Canyon Fire, but investigators have no doubt evaluated that possibility and ruled it in or out.

Three days after the Calf Canyon Fire was reported strong winds and low humidities combined to caused it to merge with the Hermits Peak Fire and spread 10 miles to the northeast through dry vegetation in a 24-hour period.

What is next for the Calf Canyon / Hermits Peak Fire?

Fire history map, Calf Canyon - Hermits Peak Fire May 12, 2022
Fire history map, Calf Canyon – Hermits Peak Fire May 12, 2022.

While the Calf Canyon / Hermits Peak Fire has been churning through more than 270,000 acres on its march to the north, at least 90 percent of those acres have burned in areas with no recorded history of previous fires in the national database, going back decades. If that spread to the north and north-northeast continues there is limited significant fire scars in the records out ahead that will slow the fire. (Update May 14, 2022: The NIFC database does not include two fires north of the Calf Canyon / Hermits Peak Fire; the 2020 Luna Fire (10,100 acres) and the 2018 Sardinas Canyon Fire (2,300 acres), according to the link provided in a comment by SE.)

The overall length of the fire is 45 miles as of Thursday night May 12. From the origins they ran north for 32 miles, and south for 13.

There are also no large completed fuel treatment projects in the national database north of the fire that could serve as barriers, except for several near US Highway 64 west of Angel Fire near Valle Escondido 14 miles away. But there are other fuels treatment projects at what is now the southeast corner of the fire in the Barillas Peak area. It has just started to burn into the 2,534-acre “Wildfire Commissary 2015” fire use fire, but it is possible that without too much trouble it could work its way around it, another smaller fire use incident, and a 600-acre prescribed fire conducted in 2004.

At the end of the day on May 12 the north end of the fire was 14 miles from US 64, 19 miles from Taos, 11 miles from the Cooks Peak Fire, and 25 miles from the Philmont Scout Ranch.

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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.

49 thoughts on “Forest Service burned hundreds of acres of piles in the general area where the Calf Canyon Fire started”

  1. I don’t want to jump to any premature contusions here, but it looks like these fires are burning largely cow-burnt (aka “range managed”) land with a lot of low flash fuels mostly involved, and a good fire just might do it some good. Anybody who knows the country better than I do care to comment?

  2. Well.Isn’t.that.just.a.shocker?

    Glad it’s finally coming out publicly.

  3. Someone owes me a beer, I prefer Montucky Cold Snacks but will settle for a 40oz of Mickeys.

    FS has been sitting in this knowledge ab initio.

  4. So what’s with burning piles of slash anyway? I remember covering piles with plastic in the summer in preparation for burning once the snow flew during my Hot Shot days in Colorado in the late 60’s. It just occurred to me with a couple fingers of Bulleit in my glass that the piles provide habitat and a growing ground for seedlings around the perimeters. What is the guiding principle for burning slash piles? Carbon remains sequestered in the piles, ultimately decaying into the soil versus being spewed into the atmosphere as smoke. Do piles in themselves present a fuel source for wildfire? If so, wouldn’t piles versus a stand of trees be less conducive to rapid fire spread? Seriously, what is the logic in “pile-burning”? Piles of slash don’t look pretty? Snowmobiles can’t navigate over the piles? Really, what is the logic? LR

  5. Hazardous Fuels Buildup Reduction to rearrange horizontal and vertical continuity?

  6. Not really. Probably plenty of cows as it is basically New Mexico’s official state invasive animal, but this is mostly forested terrain, with, as the article says, no remotely recent fire history. It will be interesting to see the burn severity map some day. There might be some beneficial effects in some areas, but it’s not looking great overall. With the insanely dry conditions and incessant wind, guessing lots of stand replacement.

  7. LR,

    June 2007, Angora Fire, South Lake Tahoe.

    A 3200 acre fire burned down 242 homes and 60+ commercial buildings. The main carrier of the fire?????? Endless hand piles.

    Times have changed since you were on Pike on the 60’s. 200k acre fires are almost casual, 100k is utterly normal.

  8. The piles must be burned first to lessen the fuel loading before a broadcast burn can take place. If they aren’t burned first, the unit will burn waaaayyyy too hot when the broadcast rx burn happens and kill all the trees that were left. It’s an imperfect system buts it’s the best one we have for steep terrain and heavy fuel loading, ie the western US.

  9. TWO escaped RX’s at the same time!!! What an absolute train-wreck of a disaster. I hope the people that are victims of this egregious incompetence get justice. Randy and Jaelith need to be fired/removed (the buck stops with them) and the FS need to take a HARD look at just what the hell it is that it’s doing, it’s miserably failing on ALL possible fronts. Every one.

  10. Thanks SE. The NIFC database also does not include two fires to the north. I modified the text in the article to note this. It is unfortunate the NIFC database is so incomplete.

  11. The incident report on these fires describes the dominate fuel type as Ponderosa pine stands with a heavy dead and down in the understory. Most likely insect and disease outbreaks.

    A similar fuel type exists in old burns that are left untreated.

  12. Is it just recent fires that are missing from the database? I think academic researchers use the database and if so, it could lead to misleading conclusions.

  13. Without speculating a lot, I do know that piles can sit for a long, long time smoldering in some instances.

    I’m just rewinding the way burns look in my slideshow: the staffing is often thrown together to meet the plan, it is early or late season, so people either go back to day job or get laid off, once it is done someone babysits a couple days, it starts to look quiet and people leave.

    We aren’t treating RX like the same kind of fire. We don’t have the resources, support or funding to do so. In some instances there wasn’t an aircraft on yet to do anything if they did get out.

    People that come help implement from other places are kind of on their own for logistics, the hours aren’t as good, there is no H, it’s right around the time you are either onboarding or laying people off, the weather is at its’ worst for trying to camp out.

    I think the biggest difference between a prescribed fire and a wildfire is the fact that we are initiating one of them. After that, the toothpaste is out of the tube, especially for big PSD units.

    Are we intiating them in favorable conditions? Usually. It depends on the prescription. Are we staffing them with enough resources and do we have the workforce and support to do it? Sure, retrospectively, when they don’t escape and go out on their own later. Does a burn plan get into the long term contingency possibilities for an escape? Do conditions change after a week or a month?

    Do we have MAPs in place for an escape? Do we even want to treat an RX like a fire that can escape and/or become a long-term fire? Develop suppression contingency plans for a larger scale than the unit ahead of time? I haven’t seen that, not personally on the burns I have been on. Not enough people, not enough money, not enough priority.

    So, we don’t even have all this new funding in place, it is a finite amount of money that is clearly taking forever to figure out what to do with. Why is the chief talking about all this extra burning that needs to happen before anyone has even figured out how to spend the funding, while we are still bleeding staff? This just looks like a big slow trainwreck.

  14. You ain’t seen nothing yet as far as escaped prescribed fires. Imagine what will happen if the Intermountain Region 4 Forests go through with all of these “Condition-Based Management” Prescribed Fire EAs: Salmon-Challis, Sawtooth, Humboldt-Toiyabe (largest Forest in the lower 48 all of FS managed land in very arid NV a bit of E CA), Manti-La Sal, Fishlake, Dixie, and latest to scope an EA – Ashley Forests) – wherein the USFS gives itself carte blanche to burn millions of acres of the intermountain West any time of year it wants, with no further public environmental review.

  15. Instead of discussing the pros and cons of burning burn piles why aren’t we discussing the lack of due diligence and safe practices ? We expect private landowners to patrol their fires until dead out and mop them up if necessary. Drought is not an excuse.

  16. Hiya Sharon,

    H = Hazard Pay.

    Again, in my personal experience, RX fires are often where there is the most smoke, more so than a “wildfire”. There is a lot of firing and holding in somewhat wetter conditions. You have probably seen the posts regarding OWCP coverage of presumptive illness…. Also, if there are areas that are considered a problem for holding, or even later down the road, say a burning stump starts getting calls from the public, it is common practice to send some fire people in to do suppression-type-activities. Which, as far as I can tell are just as hazardous.

  17. Carbon in slash piles does not enter the soil. Microbes eat wood and turn it into co2. The vast majority of soil carbon is derived from roots and root turnover….

  18. That’s insane and I have a feeling that, after this, R4’s CBM plans may get canned.

    The Pike wants to “manage fire” under a “full suppression” obfuscation…On the Denver Front!!!!! Ironic that the folks wanting to do this are from the Santa Fe. It shows a complete lack of understanding of how things work there.

  19. Couldn’t agree more with Royal. I wonder if it would make more of a difference if the USFS actually OWNED the land instead of managing public lands? Ownership seems the make a big difference.
    There is no excuse for the lack of patrol. If you don’t have the staffing to patrol your RX then don’t light it.

  20. Hi Blessures. Thanks for your reply. You’re right on the Pike but in ’67 we were on the Roosevelt, moving to the Pike the next season. BIG fires back then certainly are dwarfed by our current increasingly large “normal fires”. I was never on a fire in NM. AZ & CO but never NM. Back then it seemed it didn’t burn. Regarding the burn piles carrying the Angora I presume it was a fuels reduction project in an area of hazardous fuels intended to afford the nearby neighborhood a greater amount of protection. Poor timing on when or how that project was carried out I’d guess. With more information that could open a topic on WUI fuels reduction techniques, the hazards they produce and their timely removal. Anyway, it seems slash piles should be given more thought/study. LR

  21. USFS leadership Randy Moore and Hall – Rivera( the don’t the facts gal) have no clue to how to conduct a prescribed fire let alone how to deal with the consequences. That’s our leadership. This is who we are!!! Get your little. Ok out and read it folks!

  22. “We are not saying that is what caused the Calf Canyon Fire..”
    So….this isn’t a story, this is just drumming up controversy for clickbait. God, this site is getting more and more like Fox News everyday. As if the Santa Fe NF doesn’t have enough to deal with right now.

    Bill, please go back to just reporting facts and verifiable information. This kind of hyperbole is hurting those of us who still have skin in the game and are actually trying to move this profession forward.

  23. How amazing is it that this post of a RX burn is a true fact from an actual event that did occur in the Santa Fe forest and is getting people into the riot mode. This article is just facts and comments are just comments. The SF forest roads were closed for the winter durning that time also. Yes, comment, criticize, and blame all you can. In the end of it all will you really feel good? You all know how the justice system works today. Did you see them, were you there, can you prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. If you can step forward. I am not taking sides, I am just telling it like it is. Just another comment.

  24. Nor does the database show the 2018 Ute Park fire that burned along Cimarron canyon.

  25. The Santa FE NF effed up bad…and now the people who lost homes “have enough to deal with”.

    Look, we’ve known from very early on that Calf was also an escaped pile burn, air tankers dropped on it 3 days before it blew out. Why has the Santa Fe NF kept it quiet and slapped a default “under investigation” label on it? The IC of the ICT3 team that had Hermits even knew it was one of the Forests pile burns the second it started.

    Why are you sympathizing with the forest so hard because, nobody else is!

    Tell the Santa Fe NF to own up so that the REAL victims, the residents with incinerated homes, can get answers and recompense!

  26. Beyond a reasonable doubt is in a criminal proceeding.

    In a civil proceeding, like what will happen here after the dust settles on Calf lost Rx and Hermits lost Rx, the standard of proof is merely by a Preponderance of the evidence.

  27. Yes, there is a big project given draft approval with a condition-based EA, very close to the location of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fires, the Santa Fe Mountains Landscape Resiliency Project (SFMLRP.) This project involves burning right up to property boundary lines in the WUI. Many of us are afraid. My organization,, evaluated the SFMLRP scoping comments, and found that all but a few urged the Forest Service to do an EIS for this project, a project that will have so much impact on the public and on our beloved local forest. We were ignored. We have been warning the Forest Service about the possibility of escaped burns for years. They work together with a collaborative called the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition. I have been hearing from a few of those members that they have learned lessons from the prescribed burn caused Cerro Grande Fire, and prescribed burns are safe now.

    I have heard multiple accounts that on the day the Las Dispensas prescribed burn was set (the burn that ignited the Hermits Peak Fire,) some locals were warning the Forest Service not to burn. Just like what occurred before the Cerro Grande Fire, with the National Park Service. There were red flag wind warnings in areas not too far from the prescribed burn. We were in the midst of ongoing spring winds that were stronger than normal. Apparently lessons were not learned.

    The Forest Service has recently indicated that they intend to continue with their prescribed burn plans, perhaps with some new “lessons learned.” We, who see that massive destruction of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fires do not feel confident the right lessons have been learned.

    The Forest Service is planning two large-scale projects in the Santa Fe National Forest, which will involve burning about 140,000 acres every 5-10 years. Ecologically, it’s over-burning and similar past projects have left behind forest that appears ecologically broken. These projects will put us in obvious risk of escaped burns. The Forest Service is burning more and more, while safe windows in which to burn are less and less. I strongly suspect the reason the Forest Service tried to squeeze the Las Dispensas burn in-between wind events is simply that they have so much burning scheduled to be carried out that they have to use any small windows they can find, even if they are risky windows. Now we have seen the devastating consequences. Here is a view from a resident in the area of the Hermits Peak Fire, about how the fire is affecting there lives and their culture.

    The frequent prescribed burns tend to settle down from the mountains into the Santa Fe Area. It is seriously impacting public health. I personally know of people who have moved away because of it. I consider it myself. We have recommended to the Forest Service to reduce the amount of prescribed burns, not increase them, so they can utilize optimal burn windows, so the public does not have to be exposed to so much PM 2.5, and so they will not be damaging forest ecology through over-burning. So far, they seem to be largely ignoring us. If this fire will not change their institutional culture, I don’t know what will.

    I don’t understand how an agency can do so much harm to local residents, and be able to continue to do so.

  28. Any accurate intel on fire effects on vegetation from these fires, how much is consistent with the fire regime for these landscapes? How much not?

    Tired of the blame game. If we are going to blame somebody, stand in front of the mirror and blame our whole culture for the 120-years of failing to understand the critical, beneficial role of fire in our western landscapes.

  29. Finally, an explanation regular folks can understand!
    We burned gigantic machine piles in R1 when there’s lots of snow on the ground. Fire would sometimes skunk around in them all winter long only to pop up in the late spring and cause a wildfire. The fire wasn’t caused by negligence, it just happens.

  30. DZ,

    You forgot to mention CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC, The Washington Post, USA Today, LA Times, New York Times and on and on and on.

    These same people will be bickering when there’s a natural start that goes big because the FS didn’t do enough management of the forest.

    After this ordeal settles down and the “investigation” is complete, I wonder how many RxB2 or RxB1’s will put themselves and their families lively hood out at risk for $25 an hour?

  31. Consider for a moment a different situation where a huge wildfire not caused by a prescribed burn is consuming hundreds of thousands of acres. I suspect the comments would be strongly in favor of increased prescribed fire on the landscape, because it has been demonstrated to be an effective tool in slowing or stopping wildfire spread and improving post fire survival of trees. We, as land managers, have been dealt a poor hand by our unwitting predecessors. We are decades behind the natural fire occurrence over a still large part of the landscape. How do we get back to something akin to normal without prescribed fire? Thinning and pile burning is slow and enormously costly. Im sorry for the smoke, i dont like it either, but there was recently a study hat showed that smoke from prescribed fires (not escaped, naturally) was less detrimental than wildfire smoke. Im afraid we will have smoke, no matter what, going forward. Which do you want?
    I feel safe in saying that none of us goes out there with bad intentions on burn day. Do you all think that “justice” for the burn boss or line officer will fix anything? I assume that calls like that are for jail time, loss of their jobs, fines they will never have a shot of paying back on their meager salaries. What will that accomplish? You will utterly ruin the lives of people who undoubtedly feel beyond terrible right now. Look back at the Thirtymile Fire. Ellreese faced criminal charges for doing work that the agency said he was qualified to perform, and crew bosses everywhere started questioning whether it was worth it. Fortunately we shifted to more of a learning culture not long after, and im not sure there have been any new forest service fatalities to put implementation of that well intended but worthless PL that brings OIG into fatality fires. “Justice”will only hamper our prescribed fire program further. There is no reward without some level of risk. We are trying desperately to do the right thing and bring things back into line, at a dizzyingly slow pace, without enough bodies, as the climate warms and everything we do is becoming harder, and for less pay than the person holding that stop/slow sign on the highway. Though, to be fair, i wouldn’t want that job. Most of us are going to die earlier than a normal human because of all the things we have breathed in for work over the years, doing work that is for the public good. I dont think “justice” is the answer.
    I do see, nationally, a trend of forests disengaging with constituent discourse. It is enormously time consuming to give that consideration and work with public and groups who care, and some will never be satisfied, but i think it is important that both the agency and those groups be more willing to compromise and each give the other’s ideas a shot, then evaluate whats working and what isn’t. And both sides need to admit when they were wrong.
    My long-winded two cents.

  32. The one element that missing here is a good post fire review that is honest about the conditions that remain after the burn, future risk and a hard look at how tactics and policies, written and unwritten, might have affected the result. Include and assessment of the condition of the landscape and future risk associated with the fuel loads and types. An analysis of how the burn affects vegetative conditions in the present and future would also help. REMEMBER TO ASK ABOUT THE FIRE NEXT TIME.

  33. Thanks for this thoughtful comment. However I have never called for “justice” re any person in the Forest Service. I feel badly for those who are responsible, as from my point of view their lives are ruined. I don’t know how they can ever be at peace again. I personally know some of them and have no desire to make it worse for them.

    I am calling for a rethinking of prescribed burn policy. That a prescribed burn was lit during the windy season with red flag wind warnings nearby, is beyond unacceptable. I think it was done, as mentioned, in order to meet their prescribed burn schedule — too many burns scheduled relative to safe windows to burn in. Now approaching half the forest to the east of Santa Fe is burned, and much of it is likely to be stand-replacing. Small traditional communities have been essentially wiped out, their watersheds burned and the beauty of their homeland gone for their lifetimes. Unacceptable.

    I have noticed that prescribed burn caused fires can be particularly bad fires. The two biggest fires in NM were prescribed burn caused fires, Cerro Grande and now Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon. So it’s hard to compare them with fires from other types of ignitions. If you look at a historical fire map of the eastside of the SFNF, all other fires are very small in relation to the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fires.

    At a Fireshed Coalition meeting about a week ago, a USFS spokeswoman said that the Hermits Peak Fire proves how much fuel treatments are needed. She also stated that although there may be “lessons learned”, they plan to go ahead with their burn plans, just as they have been doing. Given the huge amount of forest burned, I think if one did the cost/benefit analysis of the positive effects of prescribed burns vs. the negative effects, the negative effects on the forests to the east of Santa Fe, would win hands down. And probably over in the Jemez too, where the Cerro Grande Fire wreaked so much destruction.

    In the analysis of the Santa Fe Mountains Project, not once was there a mention of the possibility of escaped prescribed burns. So it was not in any way included in the cost/benefit analysis and received a FONSI. We who live in the WUI now have to wonder if the USFS will decide to burn here, right up to our property lines as the plan to do, on a windy day. They did not listen to local residents and tribal elders who warned them not to light the Hermits Peak Fire sandwiched in-between high winds.

    By burning in a dry spring, and NM is virtually always windy in the spring, they practically guaranteed a months long conflagration if it escaped. Perhaps this should be considered and burning only done in the late fall, when it is less windy and when the winter will slow or stop a fire in not too long. We have windows in the winter now too, where burning could be done. If they have to cut their burn quotas way down to do it, so be it. They have proven they can’t do safe burns in the spring. This may be one fire, but it as an absolutely disastrous fire and should never be repeated.

  34. Sorry, I meant two out of the three biggest fires in the SFNF were caused by prescribed burns. Las Conchas was not, it was started by a down power line, also during high winds.

  35. I fully intend to get rid of my RXB2 qualification the millisecond I no longer need it for my position per IFPM. Until then, I refuse to burn anything for the exact reason you mentioned. DONE with RXB2.

  36. Apologies, i started with a response to your comment but it inadvertently grew to include thoughts on some others without stating so.

  37. Have the courts held any burn bosses criminally responsible for the results of an escaped RX? I know Ellreese was originally charged with manslaughter for 30 mile, but the charges were dropped eventually and it seemed to help drive culture shift into the current learning model.

    We have lost burns before, if you want to count smaller slops that go over the boundary but don’t have a catastrophic result, then we lose burns fairly regularly. We chase them around from time to time. We declare sometimes but houses don’t usually burn. I think investigators would need to find some egregious negligence to try to hang any of it on the burn boss. I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up in an FLA or something. The burn boss is implementing it according to prescription and the information they have available, if they made a sound choice, they performed their collateral duty properly. The burn boss isn’t attached to the burn indefinitely, there are no full-time burn bosses on a given district that I am aware of.

    The FS being held responsible as an agency is quite a bit different as well compared to an FS employee. Public members that accidently start fires aren’t always charged for the cost either. Intent and negligence are factored. I can be proud of my job and proud of the people I work with and still not be proud of how the FS is currently functioning as an agency. Those are different spheres.

    Should the FS be responsible for damages? It would seem fair, but where are they getting the pressure to burn from? That isn’t rhetorical. If congress approves a bipartisan bill that says “burn more” and science supports it and the chief says do it, then who pays for the losses? Are people living in known high fire risk WUI that don’t take the time to make their property firewise or defensible or however you want to say it eligible for the same recompense as people who do? Do we want to pay the taxes for it? Open question.

    Anyone here put even a 1 acre wildfire in logging slash out 100% with 10 people? Pretty sure a lot of people here have. It takes a lot of work to do it, especially dry mopping. Does a typical burn org have enough people to cold trail the edge of a 1200 acre burn and secure it 100%? Has anyone gone around feeling out piles a few months after they were lit? I haven’t, maybe someone has? I’ve gone back to a burn that kicked up way later because it was called in, not because we were coming back out 3 months after to check it every day.

    None of this is really meant to make any case for whether the FS is doing a good job as a whole. I am nervous as hell every time I call any fire out. Any time a DO asks me to make an estimate that will affect a bigger wildfire management decision. Barring a full on season-ending event coming in, it is always an educated guess with a lot of fine print. Calling a fire out is an unequivocal sounding statement that is usually still just a hard guess. Think of heavy pondo needle cast with a small org. You can cold trail hands and knees, monitor, cold trail again and it is still normal to wait out another burn period. Someone might still find some little ember on the last day that turned into a hotspot. It really depends on the fuels. You can have some really motivated, and skilled firefighters and still miss something on another pass.

    So, what I guess is my opinion, is that: if the FS wants to do a lot of RX, meaning as an agency and the public expectation is that we will approach it with same precautions as a wildfire, with the same regard and priority for safety and property *and* we will also now be directed to implement even more of it by 1-4 factors, then the FS needs a much larger workforce and a lot more money. Probably more than the bipartisan bill even comes near. How many people do we staff a 5000 acre wildfire near an urban area with and how much money does it cost? Divide by some LTAN predictions or something for RX? More drones might help a lot, I’ve worked with them doing IR in AK and it was game changing for finding little heats in large areas, but you still need a lot of money and people to run them and someone to work it all with tools or hose or whatever.


  38. Very interesting comments. Yes, be a proud firefighter, you deserve it. The general public blames the FS, but they don’t know who. it started on the SF forest now they blame the Carson. But when they do that they are also blaming the FF on the ground. There is state land and private land involved also. People like to talk about things they don’t know about, a cool song. This ready set go crap gets people crazy and panicky also. As a person who lives and knows the mountains around here, I wonder who in their crazy minds would think that a forest fire would cross into green meadows in the lower elevations. Come on FS, get some common sense and get back your situational awareness and your fire behavior knowledge. Get back some good field observers who know fire behavior, fuels, weather, and all that other technical knowledge, good GPS, stuff. I too know proud firefighters from around here, but the bad rumors going around, seems like a linch mob attacking the FS. I feel like it is most of the older people who still don’t trust the govt. Oh well like everybody knows, it will be put out. Just wait a bit before you cast the first stone. Just another comment from a

  39. Well said! Perhaps an example of how prescribed burns can help mitigate the occurrence of things like HP/CC is the Cerro Pellado fire. Started around the same time very close by, experienced the same weather, but ‘only’ grew to 50,000 acres as it hit multiple old burns, thinning treatments, etc. I hope folks notice the difference between the two, but am worried they will only see this as one of the few times an Rx didn’t go as planned. I wonder how many Rx burns happen that don’t go wrong, and we forget about them! I
    heard it compared to wanting to stop heart surgeries on patients everywhere after one poor outcome.

  40. Hey Firedog,

    I agree, we are losing skilled field presence. I don’t know what it is like for modules nationally, but I know quite a few people in multiple regions running various types of modules or in front line leadership positions and a lot of the problem is HR centralization for the parts of the FS fire org I work with at least.

    We’re doing most of our RX on shoulders, both spring and fall are just a mess of admin. This year for real, I am closing in on a month trying to figure out issues with people I onboarded. Serious issues, like accrued leave vanishing or 1 person on a new 1039 tour but 2 other people who should have had the same start that are still running off a previous tour and getting low on hours. I spent over a year trying to get a lincpass replaced because some person didn’t click the right box approving it before they retired. Shouldn’t be a big issue right? Just paperwork, nothing new. But I needed the card to onboard and it turns out I can’t get a blanket exemption for it. So I can’t do all the new hiring stuff I have to do online, so I gotta dump it in a supervisor’s lap. Then the HR person wants IDs. No big deal there right? Except for some reason I have a different caseworker for each different employee and one of them lost the copy of an ID that was already sent in. There is no CFR indicating they even need to send in IDs…. not one. I can check them as the onboarding supervisor for their I9s but they really want them anyway.

    I have a purchase card, another employee I approve purchases for loses theirs, because they miss some refresher training while on fires last year. They have to re do all their training to get one and I have to re do all mine to approve their purchases. Just because. Someone wrote it down that way.

    Each year, some new system gets added that I need to learn, maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t and gets replaced. Maybe another new one also gets added on top of it.

    Maybe I spend a week just getting my computer to work. Maybe I spend a couple days trying to get some credentials for new perms so they can have laptops, so they can get pulled out of the field to do the same thing.

    Pretty soon, we go from 1 week of onboarding and out to the field to help prep burns, train, thin, learn to work in the woods etc. to over a month of onboarding. Different start dates for temps and perms, different compliance problems etc. etc.

    Now we can nail down a week of critical training, maybe 2 if we are lucky and fuels is mad because they have no one to do work and I am mad because HR/CIO is demanding whatever…. I mean whatever, I don’t understand the value 80% of the stuff they want. My boss is mad because maybe his boss wants us in the field and HR also wants me to do stuff he is completely out of the loop on? Now I have to take time to explain why we can’t support a burn and that is more emails. If all the bosses aren’t on one of the millions teams meetings that seem to just be life now to even track with me. Purchasing tossed in? That becomes my workload. We don’t do nearly as much work in the woods. It went from being sort of an annoyance or a joke to a full on reality. We are getting chained to the cloud.

    So, then the public wonders what the hell we’re doing? Where is the field presence? I have no idea what we’re doing either until we get into solid fire season and I can finally get back to it. When we can blow off the admin because the fires are now “real” enough. I feel bad, like truly bad being a public servant serving myself with HR all the time.

    If they reset HR back to a decentralized system and took those jobs seriously, paid good local admin and tech folks good wages instead having my dumb ass muddle through it all day long with someone on the phone 1200 miles away who has probably the most thankless job in the fs right now, I promise you we would see a drastic change. Not enough to get on/ahead of the curve, but a drastic change in shoulder field work and field skills. I remember doing big WUI projects and burning piles and watching fires slow right down in the summer. It works, it was great, there is no doubt in my mind. But it is a lot of work that we can’t reconcile with admin the way we used to. It is just a flat out waste of time and money to pay people like me to do that job.

    That’s a fragment of a response, but man, I feel the common sense statement you made. We still have viable shoulder seasons in a lot of regions. The big heads keep talking about the “new normal” in regards to fire seasons, that is part of it for sure, but it isn’t just climate, there is some incredible cyberbloat going on that is eating up a lot of productive time.

  41. If one studies the PIO Hermit’s Peak Fire map of 4/10/22 at 1600 hrs. by SWMT4, which was released on 4/11 and is on Inciweb for the Hermit’s Peak Fire, one can see two red dots in the vicinity where Calf Canyon ultimately ignited. These appear to be heat signatures, but I am not sure. The red dots appear on subsequent maps too, up to when Calf Canyon was first acknowledged as a start on 4/19, nine days later. If these dots were indeed heat signatures, I have to wonder what SFNF’s actions were to investigate and suppress these heat signatures during those 9 days before Calf Canyon was declared a wildfire and taken over by the IMT.

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