NPR interviews locals and Forest Service employees about fuels treatments and the Caldor and Radford Fires

Caldor Fire map
Caldor Fire map showing the location of Grizzly Flats. The white line was the perimeter at 8:20 p.m. August 18, 2021. The red areas represent heat detected by an aircraft at 6:44 p.m. PDT Aug. 19, 2021. The fire continued spreading east, coming very close to South Lake Tahoe.

National Public Radio is publishing a series of at least two short audio stories about treating fuels to reduce the chance of large fires spreading into populated areas.

The first episode, only four minutes long, examined what the US Forest Service promised the residents of Grizzly Flats the agency would do to treat the fuels close to the community. But last year the Caldor Fire destroyed about two-thirds of the town’s structures as it burned to the edge of South Lake Tahoe.

Randy Moore, Chief of the US Forest Service, was asked in the episode if the Forest Service had any responsibility for the outcome in Grizzly Flats.

“Well, I mean, I don’t know what kind of question that is,” he replied. “I mean, you know, do anybody bear any responsibility for not having the budget to do the work that we need to do?”

Episode 1, Sept. 26, 2022. Four minutes.

Transcript of Episode 1.

In the next episode, a local Southern California Burn Boss explains some of the challenges she faces in scheduling a prescribed fire.

The reporter says the San Bernardino National Forest refused to disclose its budget after months of “multiple asks and a Freedom of Information Act request.” The Burn Boss, however, gives a hint.

They also talked with a local resident who evacuated from the Radford Fire near Big Bear earlier this month.

Episode 2, Sept. 27, 2022.

Transcript of Episode 2.

Update Sept. 28, 2022. Cap Radio, which may have collaborated with NPR on the above segments, has a detailed article published August 16 about the proposed fuel reduction project the US Forest Service proposed to lessen the risk to the Grizzly Flats community. It walks us through the ambitious project from conception to completing only 14 percent of the planned work before the Caldor Fire wiped out the town. One of many stumbling blocks were complaints from Chad Hanson, co-founder of the John Muir Project, a nonprofit that aims to protect biodiversity in national forests and fiercely opposes tree removal. One of Hanson’s primary concerns was the California spotted owl, which is designated as a “sensitive species” by the Forest Service.

Our take.

We’re not sure how often this has occurred in Washington over the last 20 years, but Chief Moore’s predecessor in April 2021 squandered a softball opportunity to tell the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies that the Forest Service needed more funding in two very important inadequately budgeted areas, fuels treatment and aerial firefighting. In a June 9, 2022 Congressional hearing Chief Moore squandered a similar opportunity, giving an incoherent response when basically asked, “Do you have enough firefighting aircraft?”

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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.

12 thoughts on “NPR interviews locals and Forest Service employees about fuels treatments and the Caldor and Radford Fires”

  1. Doesn’t have the budget, yet receives 100% of the budget request? How do you square that?

    Randy Moore was the R5 regional Forester and presumably was allocating funds for that region. Now he’s the chief. At some point, the buck stops at him. The budgets need to be posted online with line items spending details.

    It’s pretty clear to me that land management/firefighting on the cheap is actually more expensive monetarily and also takes a massive toll on those impacted by the fires. Nobody is winning, except line officers showing their budget stayed flat.

    Fund the workforce, pay a good wage, build capacity, then let’s get to work. Talk is cheap, and at the end of the day the folks in DC haven’t done anything that wasn’t mandated by someone else to improve the situation.

    People say that more money wouldn’t stop these communities from burning up, but the experts here seem to differ.

  2. Ten plus years as a Regional Forester, you would think our top official would be better versed at interviews and public speaking. All those “you know” and “I mean”. I hate to pick on a subtle thing but it lacks so much command presence. It makes me sad. Maybe he can take some L classes.

    It’s hard to see us as a successful agency. Have Forest Service employees always felt overworked, under appreciated, and unsuccessful? Is that just the agency we are? Do folks on the ground keep doing the work they do as management burns them?

    Keep it real out there boys and girls.

  3. Thanks for putting these links in your blog. The first story references the Sierra Framework and the landscape plans for all NFs in the Sierras designed to reduce the impacts of large fires. The FS failed miserably to implement their plans – not for lack of money, but because of poor leadership, litigation, and bureaucracy. Chief Moore was R5 Regional Forester for 14 years during this time. Just sayin.

  4. What is needed is a better STRATEGY. And a willingness to try something different. And a willingness to listen to and apply the work of wildland the fire scientists and researchers. More aircraft and more strategic basing, even perhaps TRYING some flying of sorties by both trained volunteer and professional spotters and even tankers if that will reduce response times, especially during “Rx” burning.

    There are at least two gigantic elephants in the room. One is failure eliminate conditions within communities that permit ember ignitions; the other is pig-headed refusal to depart from tradition. If it’s broke, fix it.

  5. I enjoy working for an agency that has no accountability at the highest levels of management. It serves as an object lesson for what *not* to do as a firefighter, and life in general.

    Randy Moore was the Regional Forester during this debacle, and is the current Chief. He doesn’t even have the moral courage to say “this is a failure of leadership, and I take responsibility”. That’s not calling for his job; it’s not anything that isn’t common knowledge, and it isn’t unfocused rage – it’s a plea for statements of fact from the Chief and his Deputies that match up with what everyone sees on the ground. We desperately need for these people to do their jobs in a competent, accountable and transparent manner if we’re going to move forward as an Agency.

    Here’s my first suggestion: we require 90 days of fireline experience for every GS-5 job: primary fire, fuels, even dispatch – why don’t we demand the same experience of our highest leadership? I understand that there is great value in academia, and in specialization, but *how* are any of the Regional GS fantastic and Washington Office ES series personnel supposed to understand – let alone advocate – what the job is like if they have zero experience or background to draw from?

    My second question is a multi part one: where did all those fuels treatment dollars go? How were priorities assessed? It’s common knowledge that every step of a treatment plan counts acres – how many of those acres were doubled or tripled up? How many frivolous lawsuits had to be fought off that were by “Friends of…”, and why aren’t we doing a better job of educating the public at large?

    Thirdly: what are we going to do to get out of this mess? If *any* other organization lost 40% of its labor force in two years, the alarm bells would be sounding. The Agency just shrugs its collective shoulders and doctors recruiting and retainment numbers while whistling past the graveyard. Poor pay, almost zero seasonal housing options on most units, decrepit equipment, a lack of successional planning and low morale have all come home to roost; where is the plan? Firefighters with 15 plus years are leaving in droves – they can’t be replaced by 2nd and 3rd year candidates. There are answers to be had if the WO chooses to listen, and pressure is applied to the useless body known as Congress. We need the fortitude to do so, and it starts with a mea culpa from the Chief and his Deputies.

  6. Over a decade as a Regional Forester and now in the Chief’s desk, Randy is so hopelessly and irreparably out of touch that it’s nauseating.

  7. Thank you for the 8/28 update, Bill. Without it I would never have found this-
    (Scroll down to and click on the 6th ‘self-serving’ link. It’s worth the trouble.)

    When Chad Hanson first set up shop 25+ years ago with his John Muir Project he was living near my home and regularly wrote op-ed pieces to the local paper. I knew immediately he was a fraud. He later went on to get his PhD in Fire Ecology (after ten years of appealing every timber sale he could) in order to give himself credibility and continued to submit opinion columns to whatever big city newspaper would print his ‘science’, most of which was based on nothing but what he thought a gullible, naive public might buy.

    I was thrilled to see that his ‘science’ is being called out by many in the scientific community for being the ‘self-serving garbage’ that it is.
    It does my heart good and at the same time makes me wonder why it took them more than 20 years to figure out what I knew after reading his first ‘opinion’ piece, which was in the late ’90s.

  8. Update-
    Apologies. Now that it’s posted the ‘self-serving garbage’ article came up without having to scroll down and click on a separate link.

  9. It was originally published by the Sacramento Bee, which has a paywall. You’ll notice under the article’s title they give attribution to both the Bee and the two authors, Ryan Sabalow and Dale Kasler.

  10. IIRC, in the beginning he started with letters to the editor of the Grass Valley Union. It wasn’t long before he was writing his opinion pieces that would be printed in The Union (around 2000, when I bought my first computer) and I would occasionally notice they were also printed in other metropolitan newspapers. This was during a period that he and his lawyer wife lived in a little town outside of Grass Valley.

What do you think?