60 Minutes investigates the initial attack on Caldor Fire

60 Minutes, Grizzly Flats, Caldor Fire

Last year’s Caldor Fire and the community that was heavily damaged by it, Grizzly Flats, has been in the news recently. The latest is a piece aired on CBS’ 60 Minutes yesterday (see video below) about the fire southwest of Lake Tahoe, California. On August 16 Cap Radio wrote about the fuel treatment program the US Forest Service planned to conduct around the town, but barely started. Then on September 26 and 27 National Public Radio published articles about the failed project and difficulties in conducting prescribed fires.

The 13-minute piece on 60 Minutes concentrated on the initial attack of the fire, which was first reported at about 7 p.m. on August 14. One of the first challenges was gaining access, complicated by a washed out road and others that had not been maintained. According to a dispatch log the Incident Commander ordered everyone off the fire at 1:42 a.m., about seven hours after it started. The reason stated in the log was for “accountability.” 60 Minutes said the Forest Service told them it was for the safety of the firefighters. Later on day 2, according to 60 Minutes, the agency  “dismissed a half dozen CAL FIRE engines and crews, letting most of them go before their replacements arrived.”

As you can see on the map below, about 29 hours after it started the fire was mapped at 781 acres. After another 44 hours it had burned through Grizzly Flats, growing to more than 55,000 acres.

Caldor Fire map, Aug 15 & 17, 2021
Caldor Fire map, August 15 & 17, 2021.

Our take

I strongly believe in aggressive initial attack “with overwhelming force using both ground and air resources, arriving within the first 10 to 30 minutes when possible.” But it is difficult to criticize, especially a year later, an Incident Commander’s decision to pull everyone off a fire due to concerns about safety. Obviously the burning conditions were in favor of the fire that first night, not the firefighters. In 44 hours it grew from 781 to 53,465 acres while spotting more than a mile ahead according to mapping data from infrared aircraft.

If the Forest Service had completed the huge fuel treatment project they had promised around Grizzly Flats, that does not automatically mean no structures would have been destroyed in the community. Would the treatment have been a mile wide, reducing the number of burning embers landing in the town? Probably not. And it only takes one — landing in a leafy gutter, on a deck, on wooden steps, in a vent, on firewood, or dead grass near a structure and the home can be destroyed. When one home ignites, it becomes another ember generator, showering the rest of the community with ignition sources, resulting in the fire growing exponentially.

In September of 2021 Jack Cohen and Dave Strohmaier wrote about the Home Ignition Zone on Wildfire Today:

“Surprisingly, research has shown that home ignitions during extreme wildfires result from conditions local to a home. A home’s ignition vulnerabilities in relation to nearby burning materials within 100 feet principally determine home ignitions. This area of a home and its immediate surroundings is called the home ignition zone (HIZ). Typically, lofted burning embers initiate ignitions within the HIZ – to homes directly and nearby flammables leading to homes. Although an intense wildfire can loft firebrands more than one-half mile to start fires, the minuscule local conditions where the burning embers land and accumulate determine ignitions. Importantly, most home destruction during extreme wildfires occurs hours after the wildfire has ceased intense burning near the community; the residential fuels – homes, other structures, and vegetation – continue fire spread within the community.”

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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.

72 thoughts on “60 Minutes investigates the initial attack on Caldor Fire”

  1. The people of Grizzly Flats might want to consider the environmental and budget voting record of their congressional representative – Tom McClintock – when they wonder why the FS doesn’t have funding for mitigation projects and/or firefighting resources, as well as his stance on climate change. Just sayin’…


  2. Pretty easy to play armchair quarterback and analyze an IC a year after the fire especially, when they had firefighter safety in mind. I think the bigger controversy is why pointless lawsuits by the John Muir society halted fuels treatment and thinning projects year after year and why the 15 year regional forester, now chief, can’t explain why we don’t have the funding or workforce to complete work. Also, how many examples do these people need before they prepare their own lands? Its insane. Its also not lost on me that the same public that is outraged by “mismanagement” will call their local district to complain when a prescribed burn is planned.

  3. COMPLETE agreement, Bill!

    Don’t they know that the products of mastication and other small bits of dry wood make for excellent ember firestorms and are easily ignited?

    Don’t they know that the new growth that comes back after “clearance” of any kind, and is <1/2 inch in diameter, thus highly combustible fuel that will be consumed quickly by any ignition source?

    Don't they know that fuel classes larger than 1/2 inch in diameter, rarely if ever burn, even in the hottest wildland flame fronts?

    Don't they know that fuel separation is less costly and more effective?

    Don't they know that emerging forest trees and other forest plants can be killed by such "ground" fires?

    Don't they know that wildland vegetation grows back and matures quickly after "clearance?"

    Don't they know that these facts have been known by USFS fire scientists/researchers for more than fifty years? (Western Region Fire Lab/Riverside/Eamor Nord, 1970)?

    Don't they know that such projects are known to be ways to shuttle taxpayer's money into the "right" hands?

    Why do so many trees survive around burned structures/communities?

    Are plant barriers against fire and/or embers worthy of consideration?

    Are on-site, water-based, independent, automatic fire suppression and ember interception systems a better expenditure of government money than "made-for-TV," futile/dangerous/deadly lines against large wildland fires in the outback?

    What other questions seem to be persistently ignored?

    Follow the money?

  4. And residents might want to ask what oversight did he perform? He was in office since 2009.

  5. The way this article describes how house fires create a community firestorm is exactly what happened during the 2018 Camp fire in Paradise, Ca. I totally agree that aggressive initial attack “with overwhelming force using both ground and air resources, arriving within the first 10 to 30 minutes when possible” is the best way to prevent towns from catching fire.

  6. What about personal responsibility of building towns and houses in a landscape affected by fire for centuries? Fire wasn’t a problem before we put houses in the way. Always the Forest Service’s fault….total BS! The Interagency fire workforce is extremely capable and I’m sure these guys did everything they could. Fire went to 53k+ the next couple days means they didn’t have a chance to start with.

  7. Yeah, but do they have the resources, the will, and the strategy to pull it off?

    Bill, was my first post offensive or did something go wrong in cyberville?

  8. I couldn’t agree with sick of this more! It’s easy to point fingers from the safety of a newsroom a year after the fact, from people with exactly zero knowledge on the subject. The public, in general, has no idea what an initial attack I.C. has going through his or her mind as they arrive on scene. Size up, anchor points and safety zones, topography, weather conditions, fuels, and most importantly, making sure their crew gets home safe at the end of the day! Here’s a thought for all those who want to critique……………….. next time there happens to be a start in a forest near you, here’s the keys and we’ll see how that works out!

  9. There are thousands of “Grizzly Flats” around our nation and around the world that are equally at risk and often the residents are not aware, for if they were aware they would surely take action to reduce the wildfire threat to their property, wouldn’t they? Starting my career in the Amador/El Dorado Unit of CDF (old head for Cal Fire) and my father as an Engine Captain on the El Dorado NF I am not surprised by the magnitude of the Caldor Fire and the end result of that event. One of my last significant fires as a seasonal was the Pelican Fire (1973?) in the same region of the El Dorado, a devastating fire primarily in the forested area and not achieving the size and magnitude of Caldor. But we should take a moment to look at fire events on the El Dorado, my own recollection is from Dad’s assignment to the Ice House Fire in about 1960, this same area burned in the Cleveland Coral Fire in the 1990’s and few can forget the King Fire that has the point of origins around Pollock Pines. Of course there are many more significant events in this area that deserve attention as well!

    It all gets down to the fact that people must take responsibility for the survivability of their own property and carry out those functions that Jack and so many other researchers and investigators have discovered as reasons for property to be lost. There is simply not enough money to mitigate every inch of WUI in our nation, but we will always continue to hear “the Forest Service should do it”, and “It’s a government responsibility” and the famous “oh well, it’s insured” which is becoming more of a questionable fact as we progress with intense fire activity.

    50 years in wildfire, the tactics do not change, strategies have not changed and staffing has not significantly improved to meet the demand, but those responders continue to give the good fight and sacrifice to protect our communities, keep up the good fight but do not hesitate to stop for your safety. My hat is off to the IC who pulled the line for accountability, the staff at 60 Minutes and the public do not understand this is for safety purposes!

  10. I’d like a Chief (or someone) that can stand up with facts and defend our firefighters and policies. Saying “no comment” just makes it worse for us on the ground and erodes public trust further.

  11. F Tech- spot on. No Chief with FS has had any primary Wildland firefighting experience. It’s a land management agency. Time is overdue. We need aircraft and fire response.
    Makes our job hard to be happy -as we see the disconnect- But we do it because we love our job- low pay and all. A Catch 22. No doubt.
    We and others – fight for what we want. But we struggle with lack of fire leadership who understand us and our jobs.
    Maybe someday this will change and we will have a National Wildland Firefighting Agency.
    Massive change- which land management agencies may not want. It’s the future. Change is good. Pay us what is right for this job!!

  12. The Forest Service has a recent history of taking the night off (literally and metaphorically) during the early phase of what should be an overwhelming initial attack. You’ll recall the Rim fire of 2013; the Donnell fire of 2018; and the Tamarak fire of 2021, to name three. Each with tragic consequences for communities, commerce and natural resources. The Caldor fire scenario described in the report seems pretty much par for the USFS course.

  13. Since Thirtymile many fires have escaped IA due to crews being released to mitigate work rest in the first 24 hours when they didn’t need to be. The tragedy of Thirtymile and the resulting criminal charges against the IC crippled the FS. Instead of focusing on catching the fires by aggressive intial attack FMOs and line officer’s worry about CYA and ham string the crews. I couldn’t believe it being sent home to sleep in my bed while the fire we should have been fighting got bigger. And resulted in more injuries and greater cost.

  14. There is a lot to unpack in this piece..
    – The FS IA IC certainly had their hands full and second guessing what they did or didn’t do, a year after the fact, is cowardice. They were clearly focused on firefighter safety and making good faith calls.
    – Why Cal-Fire is complicit in what amounts to a hit piece on the FS reeks of an ulterior motive, DPA over FS land perhaps? They already have DPA over all Cen Cal BLM lands.
    – The residents of Grizzly Flats didn’t exactly take care of their own properties. I’ve been through there many times. It was wooly with manzo, deep duff and generally in disarray. Their is some negative contribution by the residents, but I sympathize.
    – I’m willing to bet that the Tressle project was mired in litigation and faced a steep climb from the original public meeting.
    – The FS seems to severely stymie itself with it’s own self-imposed flavor of “everybody on the district” gets a say instead of having a project manager that has a delegation and can take command of a project.
    – Why doesn’t the FS roll out boxes and boxes of bureaucratic red tap (and legal filings if they exist) to show the public the difficulty of trying to execute a simple fuels project?? Shine a light on it!
    – Randy Moore should resign, his handling of every controversy to date has been nothing short of utterly abysmal. His “no comment” speaks to his ineffectual leadership.
    – With the fire behavior (the following morning) it wouldn’t have mattered how many engines you had. If they were in Griz flats at the time of the run, they would have either pulled out anyway or been burned over. That was a 97th percentile event, it wasn’t going to stop and would’ve almost certainly dictated a defensive posture.
    – I do agree with absolutely furious IA when the area has been identified with numerous values at risk but it is a fine line. You want to get organized as fast as possible so that you can bring “shock and awe” but if you get it wrong you will kill firefighters, an unacceptable outcome.

    I support the IC but, by and large, think the Fs is a lost and ineffective agency that is in need of a serious perestroika. Spin off the fire function and house them in a National Firefighting Agency lead by firefighters, not Parks and Rec leading firefighters as is the current model. Lets just be candid, wildfire is exponentially becoming more and more of a public safety, homeland security mission profile than it is a natural resources, forest management mission.

    Press on.

  15. It’s too easy to blame the last person or entity involved when a bad outcome results. What about all the others along the way who made decisions and are responsible for setting the stage? Congress and it’s members for barely-adequate budgets to support staffing and hazardous fuels work, State agencies and individual regulators for lack of encouragement and difficult permitting processes for industry to tackle the incredible biomass volume that comes from fuels work (and/or is required to be burned on-site), and environmental requirements or judicial decisions (likely initially developed with the best of intentions) too often used by some to stymie such work. We need to also include local government for lack of courage to adopt/enforce adequate planning and zoning standards and interface fire codes, an insurance industry who too easily underwrites these developments and behaviors, and lastly home and property owners who too often fail, despite being warned, to reduce the risk to their own investments and lives. Examining the role of the land management agency or the responders is OK but only if done so alongside everyone else who played a part.

  16. The Tragedy of the loss of structures in Grizzly Flat Should not be a time to point fingers but a time to learn what needs to be done to prevent the losses of forests and homes. I have worked in the area of GF for 40 years. The community had one of the best Fire Safe Councils in California and had done a lot to reduce the fire hazards. The terrain around the community is extremely steep and difficult to do effective fuels treatment. Prescribed fire is difficult to implement for many reasons from the lack of public support to difficult to implement. That said Jack Cohen’s research hits the nail on the head the most important thing to prevent structure loss is the home ignition zone and home hardening When you have homes in the forest or vacant property you have a responsibility to keep it safe and managed properly. Jack C often said that you can treat all you want in the surrounding forest but the home ignition zone is the most important area to protect structures from igniting.

    All you need to do is drive around GF and you can see how difficult it can be to protect GF under the weather conditions and steep terrain that existed August 2021 ripe for the perfect storm. The early 1980s was a time of timber harvest and prescribed fire use and that all stopped in the early 1990s.

    The Forest Fire problems does not have a simple answer and takes a commitment by the public, land managers, and fire agencies

  17. Tamarak wasn’t a a case of taking the night off. It was not attacked at all, just monitored until it blew up. Donnel I’m not familiar enough with to comment. Rim started late afternoon, with point of origin in the bottom of a canyon with serious safety problems for any forces committed to that terrain. Was Rim truly a situation where a successful attack could have been made during the night, or was it too much of a roll of the dice with the lives of the crews who would be committed? I wasn’t there until two weeks later but the sense of the people I worked around was that it was a loser from the start.
    On the other hand, I’ve heard enough wildland professionals lamenting the lack of night work on fires that do show tolerable fire behavior in acceptable terrain. Night work is minimized to reduce risk. But aren’t we sometimes just exchanging one risk for another? Less apparent hazard of night work, but a different hazard due to working around more intense fire behavior during the day and larger incidents with more hours of exposure to risk?
    Either way, the initial attack ICs have my respect for taking on the job in the current political and regulatory climate.

  18. Serial litigation (by multiple
    “environmental” groups) is why a lot of
    these fuels reduction treatments get hung
    up over many years. Until congress
    changes what constitutes a legitimate
    objection to these projects, expect to see
    more fires. As for the armchair qb
    -mr Ingram, pretty easy to second guess an IC from behind your scanner. With out
    knowing what challenges they faced that
    night, that season. Staffing challenges,
    experience. You should have opted to stay
    silent on any judgment.

  19. I have been on a few fires that extend after sunset. Although nothing will change in the future, crews will leave the fire after sundown and Mother Nature will raise havoc. Cal Fire doesn’t have that protocol. CalFire “go as hard as you can as long as you can” got headlamps and batteries. Although the Southern California Quick Reaction Force seems to be having some success (fire aviation) I would not eliminate this type of program from a possible solution for fire season 2023..Contract type one helicopters that have night suppression capability. There was eighteen type one’s copters on contract with Cal Fire, non were night capable? Would have the Calder turned out differently if two 2000-gallon helitankers started “working” the fire within the hour after it started?

  20. The USFS is a FAILED AGENCY, period !
    Their own study showed Grizzly Flats would burn one day. Yes, funding and workforce was a problem but not ordering sufficient resources in time to save the town IS COMMON across the west. That agency did the SAME thing on the forth day of the East Troublesome fire in Colorado in 2021 and did not order sufficient engines and crews to protect the towns of Granby and the historic resort town of Grand Lake on the westside of Rocky Mtn National Park. They had been warned of a HUGH front approaching with very strong winds. I personally spoke with the Ops Chief and inquired if he had placed orders for sufficient engines to protect these two towns, his answer “ if I want your FUCKING advise , I’ll ask for it” and drove away !!! Three hours later the winds came up to 119 miles per hour , burning approx 350 homes and approx 128,000 acres of timber in the next 12 hrs, in and around those two towns, and for THE FIRST time in recorded , jumped two miles across the Continental Divide, burning approx 800 acres near the Town of Estes Park.
    If it had not been for the Hero’s of these local volunteer and paid fire departments, the home loss would have been many, many times more, possibly eliminating both of these towns. What they accomplished was absolutely nothing more than a MIRACLE and it sure wasn’t due to anything the FS did. These men and women will always stand as HEROES in my book, thank you all!!!

    I spoke with Ms Heather Abbott, the producer of this show from CBS 60 mins approx 3 months ago before this showing for 30 mins or so and gave her MANY examples of the “lack of initial attack” or just plain “lack of firefighting by the FS “ over the last 20 yrs or so to help her understand that the FS of today , is not the FS of 25 or 30 yrs ago. It is a failed Agency and certainly are no longer a firefighting Agency.

    Now don’t get me wrong , FS firefighters are just as Great as they ALWAYS have been, but their fire leaders or their Fire Management Teams suck !

    And as someone above stated and is correct, THIS ALL STARTED WITH THE THIRTY MILE FIRE IN WASHINGTON STATE almost 30 years ago, they are CORRECT!

    Firefighting is Dangerous, No Shit, but you know this when you sign on, and you sure as hell don’t go home at night when it’s THE BEST time to put the fire out !! Unless you just don’t give a damn anymore about doing your job , knowing that you will not suffer any consequences for your lack of action. That certainly is NOT what firefighters DO !
    And don’t even give me the crap about FF safety, thats pure HORSESHIT !!!!

    Do I have strong opinions on the FS, you bet your ass, but only because of 32 yrs of watching and “working beside them.”

    They have failed, Chief Randy ( I use that title lightly) , needs to resign and a new NATIONAL FIRE AGENCY needs to be created, one that does the job !

    We are the landlords, they are ONLY the tenants, and We need NEW tenants !!!!

  21. Jay, look at 2021 compared to 2022 fire season, and you will see a huge change in response times and aggressive tactics which have resulted in smaller fires not getting to gargantuan size in the first place. I credit that to the new Cal Fire Chief, and his promise of policy changes to Wildfire response. Also better cooperation on Interagency fire incidents. The USFS Management needs to do the same.

  22. Mac,
    “lamenting the lack of night work on fires that do show tolerable fire behavior in acceptable terrain.”

    It’s not always a function of fire behavior or terrain. Many years ago there was section of line on the Umpqua NF in OR. A particular piece of line was looked at for days and nobody would engage. After an impatient and new DIVS showed up he took a walk in and saw what everyone else saw, an easy pick up from a fire behavior standpoint. What the DIVS DIDN’T see was the reason nobody would touch it, 200’+ snags burned out at the roots. He engaged a crew in there and within 30 mins, an unfortunate 3rd year firefighter was struck by the top 10′ of a 190′ tall Doug Fir and met his gruesome end right in front of his friends/crew-members. I’ll take vacant burning structures over an event like that 12x out of 10. There is a LOT of BIG cedar in the Caldor area, I wouldn’t have wanted to be in there at night, that sh__ will send you to Valhalla.

    Anyway, I know you likely know, but these Cal-Fire dudes get tunnel vision on structures, structures, structures some times. Personally, I’d rather not get someone greased because everyone is spooled about structures and gets riled up like a dog humping a couch cushion.

  23. This is just the beginning of 60 Minutes exposing the failures of FS . 3 months ago, I gave the producer Heather Abbott many instances from the last 25 yrs of their failures.
    Oh, yes, this is just the beginning of the light shining down and exposing this Failed Agency.

  24. I have lost a bit of respect for 60 minutes. This was a one sided hit piece. Most the SME’s were Ca-Fire folks, who historically do not fight fire in the river canyons of the SierraNevada Foothills, especially at night. Not to say that the USFS does not suck…Anyone that has ever spent any large amounts of time on wildland fire would say thatFederal wildland firefighters have the most grit and and work ethic of any other firefighter on the line. However our line officers, who have no Fire experience, continue to make bad decisions. OUR PIO’s are horrible!! How the hell could you not comment for a story like this, and just throw your whole organization under the Bus. Due to budget constraints and litigation Land Managment agencies are mediocre at managing land, but they are horrible at managing their fire personnel… how come this piece did not mention that the entire federal budget for the BLM and USFS is much less than CAlifornia budget for Cal-Fire. If I was the IC of this fire, I would turn in my resignation today. You have someone that has decades of wildland experience, that has made a lifetime of sacrifices to the agency, that is making less than first year firefighters with CalFire that’s agency willing throws him under the bus.. Hopefully if there is one positive take-away from this story is that the USFS does not deserve, nor are they capable of managing their fire workforce.

  25. I’ve been doing some research on the effect of vegetation cover near structures on structure loss rates in wildfires in Northern California. The vegetation cover within 50 feet of homes in the Grizzley Flat area averaged over 70%, the highest of any of the 10 high-structure-loss fires I have looked at. (The next highest was the Camp fire at 58%). Fuel treatments outside of town might have helped the situation, but the biggest need was for fuel treatments in town near structures.

  26. It still must return to first principles: We’ve allowed people to build and live in high fire prone areas with the expectation they can be rescued and their property protected. We can’t. Even with the billions we spend nothing will stop a fire in the right conditions. That expectation is akin to building below the levee on a river and complaining about flooding. Blaming people who have imperfect knowledge as the responsible agents is nothing more than scapegoating for the utter insanity we’ve let happen. The billions spent are a welfare system for owners and developers. We are essentially trying to extinguish fires by smothering them with gold.

  27. Cal Fire folks do not fight fire in the river canyons of the Sierra Nevada foothills especially at night? What? Of course they do. And not only on SRA, but especially FRA (at night) after the federal agencies down staff. I can’t believe I read this. Don’t get me started on my thoughts of the tactics and strategy of some of these fires. One thing is clear, these failures (regardless of cause) are eliminating affordable home owners insurance here in California. The Tamarack debacle is a classic example of the consequences for failing to act appropriately. Period.

  28. So much of what is being said here goes beyond armchair. It’s far worse and ignorant, so many of the what if arguments are assuming conditions were favorable to take specific actions that may or may not have been possible at the time.

    This way of thinking only opens the door for scrutiny and rumor mill creation because random people who read this believe it to be something accredited.

    The manner in which alot of these posts are worded I can tell they are not fireman or not the fireman who would be making the calls or taking command in a situation like this. Think twice next time we want to pretend to play fire investigator.

  29. I was there the night the caldor rolled through grizzly flats. We initially on day shift moved to swing. We were informed by a cal fire battalion/local fs bc to hold the road next to Leilani flat two type 3s and one type 1 crew . It was a a no win situation by the time we told them we would not engage due to risk of holding the road fire jumped the road with 100+ flame lengths and was spotting half mile. Hundreds of spots.(cal fire bc and FS bc almost entrapped) We pulled back to resort where a municipal structure group leader decide to leave Leilani flats and evacuate grizzly flats. This time fire had burned to the “green barrier mentioned in article throwing thousands of spots anywhere from one to two miles . We then began mass evac of grizzly flats at two in the morning. Informing residents there was only one way out of community. Fire took approx one hour to get to the community in full crown fire.

    Btw this fire was a FED fire managed by a Cal Fire team.

  30. “… if I want your advice, I’ll ask for it”
    That was the exact response a logger I know got from a Fed incident commander at the Cleveland Fire in the El Dorado in 1992. He had been logging that area for two years, thinning and chipping biomass on the 12,000 acres of private ground that burned up in the 24,000 acre fire. When he approached the man and offered to help answer any questions the IC might have he was told to get lost.
    This logger had a couple of pieces of equipment burn up it the fire.

    My feeling has always been ‘how are you going to learn anything when you already know everything’?

  31. I can see there is a crown fire of discussion. We should have done this, we could have done that? There are several names I recognize which have decades of experience as wildfire and (all-risk) firefighters, there comments have validity. In my full four decades of firefighting, there were many times I have seen the Calder Fire scenario. Some of these fires we “hooked” others, not so much. “If we could only get another few drops in here before aircraft cut-off” we have a chance for containment. Someone mentioned CalFire doesn’t fight fire at night. I wish someone had told the crew and I that when we were miles from a road in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Yuba River canyons. (just a few examples). 2023 fire season, I mentioned after sunset HEAVY (2K) helicopter air drops within the first hour after detection., The private contractors will rise to the occasion if give time to enter this program. Other old fire horse’s thoughts?

  32. Sorry CA1980, not to take away from a lot of things that Cal-Firw does well, but tackling complex pieces of line in steep canyons is not one of them. Charlie strike teams are going to go down as far as their hose lays will go before they start blowing hose or losing pressure then they go back to their trucks. And everyone knows inmate crews, while hard working are not conditioned for steep river corridors with rapid fire potential. In my experience if it’s too steep for dozers, Cal Fire will let it burn to the ridge or the bench and aggressively hit it at the top. I do think your paid handcrews will continue to get better, but they are definitely not their yet. Fact of the matter is Grizzley Flats was poorly developed and poorly maintained, like many communities in California and the West.

  33. The 60 Minutes segment was not a hit piece or armchair quarterbacking…it was a legitimate investigation into why another California community burned to the ground. The fact is the USFS did a poor job of initial attack and the result was a disaster.

    People who live in rural communities don’t care what color fire engines respond to the call…or what Agency. They have the right to expect full service comprehensive fire protection.

    Whenever the USFS is questioned about fire tactics it falls back to two tired excuses…” We’re not a Fire Department, we’re a Land Management Agency”… or Safety…”we can’t work at night.. the fire was burning too hot, etc “.

    The public deserves better than this.

    The USFS motto is “Caring for the Land and Serving the People”…it is failing on both counts.

  34. People who live in rural communities don’t care what color fire engines respond to the call…or what Agency. They have the right to expect full service comprehensive fire protection……..Ummm really? if you live in a rural community you should hug your local volunteer firefighter. There isn’t any comprehensive full service fire protection in rural America and there shouldn’t be an expectation of one either. The public should pull their proverbial “head out of their BUTT” and understand where and how they are living if it is outside the servicing limits of any municipal fire authority. If the USFS were staffed and funded like a fire department perhaps there would be enough resources for your “full service comprehensive fire protection”, but that is not the case. Sheesh….talk about some unrealistic expectations…..I think your situational awareness might be lacking.

  35. Royal Burnet..This was not investigative reporting. 60 minutes totally ignores the fact that the community of Grizzley Flats and the resident’s themselves did little to prepare their community or their individual parcels, which were vastly overgrown, and the defensible space was non existent throughout much of the town. Not to mention it was PL5 in September and the state and the country’s fire resources were in historically high demand…These are “State of Jefferson” communities. They overwhelmingly support politicians like Tom McClintok, who continues to support stripping the USFS’s budget. They are against government spending but then they complain about the USFS not doing their part, because they are underfunded ….The entire budget for the USFS and BLM in the COUNTRY is less than CAL-Fires annual operating budget, does that seem crazy to anyone else… The USFS is failing, but not for the fault of their employees. The Fuels reduction piece is failing because there is no long term funding for staffing and projects. Their Fire program is failing because they do not have the capacity to support their workforce. People with 10 years in are making less than Target Employees. If communities in the Sierra Nevada foothills that border federal land were serious about protecting their communities and their Forests they would vote to fund USFS to the way it should be, and we should be looking at moving the whole federal fire program out from under land managers that are not firefighter’s.

  36. Yeh, and ai’m still not going to get myself or my people killed in a situation that can and does kill firefighters. Full stop. Fade to black, roll credits…The F_____g End.

  37. Having worked on the Eldorado NF for many years, I would have to say the Forest Fire Managment on the Eldorado is one of the most incompetent I have ever been around. From having married couples in Fire Management, to covering up a sexual assault cases with the former Hotshot superintendent and trying to complete a prescribed burn during a wind event (Caples fire 2019…yes, that actually happened). There is so much distrust and deceit on the Eldorado that it’s borderline insane. You have district Fire Management officers that can’t PASS the pack test, to one that impregnated their subordinate and others I wouldn’t trust as a gs-4 on a type 2 crew. Between Fire Management and the agency administrators/line officers on the Eldorado, this disaster was in the making for a very long time.

    I just hope ENF employees that still have brain leave for greener pastures. The firestorm from the Caldor is just beginning. There is alot issues on this mismanaged forest than just a fire from 2021.

  38. I completely disagree. The USFS responds immediately to fires when called in. Not sure where you’re looking for response times. Two different years 2022 being far less busy than 2021. Smaller fires doesn’t mean faster response. Maybe slower response is due less availability being in PL5 all year.

  39. time to leave, wow a new reality show in the making, unfortunately nothing will change, it’s a Fed agency. For homeowners living within or twenty miles from a national forest, keep the car headed out and don’t forget the pets.

  40. Hey Johhny Coldwater,

    That is literally just the surface…the forest supervisor just “happened” to get a new job a few weeks ago in Washington DC. He spent most of his 2021 Fall season on a parade tour saying how much the fuels work in Myers, CA saved that community. Meanwhile, he did nothing on his home unit to save places like grizzly flats. typical line officer. Never let a tragedy go to waste and say how awesome you are.

    By the way, I don’t care what they say about the firefight in Myers, CA. What stopped the destruction up there was 10 interagency Hotshot crews(Tahoe,Truckee and Del Rosa to name a few) and 20 dozers working all night and the next day. Not some goofy fuels project. The winds also subsided that evening in Myers and was a great time to go direct and the resources took full advantage.

  41. time to leave, are you okay? I truly mean this. There is so much hate within your words it makes me feel like you might be living with a lot of stress and pain. The wrong doings of others are no doubt felt by people who are within the environment of experiencing their actions, but does it help to continue the slandering of people? All this does is push the suffering and pain onto others that might not be aware or even disserving of this. It is no doubt that mistakes were made at many levels, and at many times during all moments of every incident, and moments of life but we must find ways to learn from our mistakes. I would bet everything I have that the parties involved feel deep pain and remorse for what happened in Grizzly. You say you have many years on the Eldorado and have mentioned crew names, fuel breaks, and weather patterns. I would assume you have a great understanding of fire and might have many years in the game, please correct me if I’m wrong. If my assumption is correct, then how can you truly believe some of the things you are saying of others?
    I’m sure you have been there, have felt the pain when all your efforts on a fire are challenged and may miss the mark. If you have the experience, I bet you have, why not choose compassion instead of putting all ENF people in the same hate box? They are just people.

    time to leave I hope you find your peace someday. I don’t condone the horrible things you might have gone through while you were on the ENF but I do know this. If you ever want to heal from your suffering, you must let go of the wrong doings of others and push on. People make mistakes, including you. The best thing for us to do is to forgive them so we can release ourselves from this pain and become an advocate for others, not through violence but with compassion. It starts with us changing the cloture from within ouorselves.

  42. I have to scratch my head a little bit when some folks say that the forest service disengages fires at night in the IA phase or doesn’t agressively IA fires in general. That just does not reflect my lived experience across the country. If there was a chance of success you better buckle up for an all nighter. If the resources were available they were put on a fire.

    As for the fire in the article I have seen resources released from fires when it is going big but not caught yet. Often that is so there is some kind of IA resource available and if the IC doesn’t have a plan where those resources can do any good. It was almost SOP for calfire engines to go back to IA as soon as possible even if the fire was going up the hill. Long term resource needs would be filled via dispatch rather than only with local cooperators. If structures were about to get impacted they would of course stay. But if it’s heading up into the wilderness and hotshot country everyone would get ansty about having engines committed while the WUI lacks protection for new starts. Also aircraft get reassigned from fires going big all the time if they aren’t being effecrive. So long way of saying lots of reasons resources could be released while a fire is blowing up.

  43. Hello Time for compassion,

    There is no hate at all in what I say…it is just a slice of what has happened there over the years. Everything I state is Fact. I feel horrible for the community that lost there homes and was actually there for many weeks assigned to the fire…to bad the rest of the Fire managers would rather hang out in the uniforms shirts at the supervisors office rather than get out and actually fight fire. Sorry to you if it comes across as hate…it’s just a slice of the dysfunctional fire program that leads to tragedies like this.

  44. Can you explain to me please how “Fire managers would rather hang out in the uniforms shirts at the supervisors office rather than get out and actually fight fire.” be seen as anything other then something negative? With your years of experience, is it not facts that there is a level of management that needs to take place that doesn’t require them to be on the actual fire? Do you believe the forest supervisor should be out there with a shovel?

    We must be impeccable with our words and recognize the weight they have. Do you believe the way you are speaking is helping us get towards a solution? You are no doubt better then this. I know this to be true without knowing you. How does it feel to push this message? Are you better for it, or does it create more pain?

  45. Amen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Shots and dozers, THAT is how you go offensive and stop fires. Goofy fuels projects don’t do sh__ during a 97th percentile event at 1400. None of them do, and anybody that says otherwise is higher than giraffe balls.

  46. “Should the Forest Supervisor be out there with a shovel?”

    Sometimes, yeah, they absolutely should. Part of the agency’s problem is it has more than a few “leaders” with little understanding of implementation work and the challenges facing their employees. Some got hired in high and never worked in the woods.

    Overhead of all disciplines need to step away from the computer and get in the field more often. Spend a day or two a month helping your field folks. Dig some line, paint some trees, fix some trail, swamp for the fuels crew, check on some grazing allotments, maybe even clean the odd SST. Spend time with the troops, be accountable, be a leader.

  47. And complain when the fire department asks the home owners to clear 100 feet. Clean rain gutters. Suggest stuck siding and less combustible roofing.

  48. Our agency is going down the drain, we can’t “positive vibe” our way out of this situation. The troops are angry and they have every right to be. We don’t need to resort to slander, but we do need to demand more from our leadership. At the very least that they go to bat for us where they can… And Hell yeah they should pick up a tool when they can…

  49. Jay, Download the app Flightradar24 to your computer. Next download the WatchDuty, and Calfire Incident websites. With Flightradar24 you can see every aircraft, helicopter, glider, drone, and even military jets flying in real time in California, and the entire earth. I am a retired Military Aerospace Engineer, and have been using this tool about 10-12 years as a way of observing not only military and civilian aircraft but also Cal fire air assets, and USFS air assets. WatchDuty app uses air radio traffic and ground communications to post a running log of an incident in near real time. They also get updates directly from the Incident Commands themselves. To make a long story short, I watched the huge fires in Northern California as they developed and the early air response to the Caldor Fire. Then my wife and I were evacuated from our house, about 3 miles from Grizzly Flats, at 2am. I spent hours watching and observing all the fires for 2021, while evacuated as a way of finding some comfort that we hadn’t lost our house. I would give my wife a running report of when I would see any new aircraft coming into California to help battle the fires. I saw the 6 Military C130’s arrive, fitted for fire fighting, and they did some of the first night operations till 10pm. Also witnessed the Canadian and Australian assets arrive. I was ecstatic to see military spy planes using IR to get intel and mapping on the fires at night to plan the next days air assaults, as well as the ground attack. The parallels of a military assault on an enemy are very much alike to an attack on a wildfire. Even the structures of the organizations are similar. My point being that military technologies will be the change that is coming to Firefighting. Imagine for a second that an Incident Commander has “INTEL” in real time before he arrives at an incident. Precise location, size, contour mapping, weather, rate of spread, vegetation type and density, and a GPS map of all his Engines current locations updated in real time, in his hands. All of that will help him make safe and effective progress against the Fire. The next logical step will be putting military technology in the hands of all the firefighters on site, via a new infared night vision helmet. See through smoke, see hazards, and hot spots. As a final project for 2023, modify all the bulldozers by removing the operator cage, then mount a 1500 gallon water tank on its back, a large fire pump, and suitable motorized water monitors. Then convert it for Remote Satellite Operation (Drone). Fitted with multiple cameras for day/night vision, angle sensors, programmed with Machine Vision to aid terrain following and hazard identification(human). Fuel it up, fill it with water, send it on its mission, return it back to home, and repeat many times, all day all night, low risk.
    And my Deepest Thanks to all the Firefighters Out there. Be Safe.

  50. time for compassion,

    When you have a 220k acre fire on your forest and you have a ton of unable to fill orders at the Division group supervisor level,Taskforce Leader and multiple other important functional areas then YES…EVERYONE should be engaged…what are you waiting for??? A new initial attack??do forest supervisors and line officers need 10 people around them to help with WFDSS to make them feel warm and fuzzy? The operational area of The Caldor was covering 75% percent of the forest. We also had more aircraft than all the pigeons hanging out in the New York subway system. Good luck if there was a new start..it would of been crushed within minutes…

    Additionally, Most effective forests keep the local resources assigned to the incidents because of the local knowledge. They don’t rat hole them in stations waiting for the next “big one” when 2/3 of your forest is on fire..

    And once again…I’m not bringing hate…it’s the reality of the working environment on the ENF. sorry if it stings. You also shouldn’t assume I’ve left…

  51. Glad to see that P.F. (above) presented credit for those who went after the fire near Myers. Mother Nature did give the folks of South Lake a break. However, lots of hard work finished the job. goofy fuel project, funny

  52. Since the conversation is now about how much the FS sucks, as many of you seem giddy to point out, I figured I’d throw my 2 cents in.
    True, the FS does have some issues (and some serious ones, no doubt) which tend to start at the GS-8/9 level and up, and those at GS-7 on down know all to well what they are, me being one of them. Some of you out there need to check your criticisms before the diarrhea starts otherwise you just sound like a dumbass.
    Let’s clarify a few things, shall we….
    US Forest Service Fire and Aviation is not, never has been, nor claimed to be, a department equipped or trained for structural response, however (just as your “paid” or volunteer departments), if time allows, will follow the guidelines for structure triage.
    If, in your criticism, reference a particular fire’s observed behavior such as the East Troublesome, make sure to include the important things, even if they do not fit your narrative. The East Troublesome fire started in an area of Colorado experiencing widespread drought, during red flag conditions, critically low live fuel moisture, and, in a forest where 60 – 80% of the stand was bug kill. The daytime RH levels and extremely poor nighttime RH recovery already present combined with high winds on Oct. 20th – 23rd was all the gasoline it needed. The actual highest rate of spread on this fire occurred during the afternoon on Oct. 21st through early afternoon Oct. 22nd at 87,093 acres. On Friday Oct. 23rd the fire had pushed to the western edge Of Estes Park (under mandatory evac, at that point) and yes homes were threatened, but as I recall, it snowed for the next three days, didn’t it? Personally, I would not call what they accomplished a Miracle.
    For Mr. “don’t give me the crap about FF safety, that’s pure HORSESHIT” ……. Tell you what John Wayne, the next time we IHC’s stand down because of a running crown through half a forest of bug killed snags, you can bump in front and we’ll let you knock your dumbass self out.

  53. CalFire is funded from the General fund. All taxpayers in California contribute… those who live in State Responsibility Lands (SRA) get full service 24 hour a day protection. Those who live in Federal Responsibility Lands get less than full service for the same tax dollar.

  54. Wow!…nice mic drop by time to leave..sounds like the ENF needs to do some real soul searching…and completely start to replace the incompetent leadership

  55. I’ve definitely been on fires that we stopped where we did because a bunch of fuels work had already been done on the holding road.

  56. Keith, Respectfully, you fail to take into account the impact of red flag weather conditions. It’s the hurricane weather of fire season, and firefighters cannot get the upper hand until the weather changes. The dry wind gusts (60mph) and flame lengths are what made the Caldor so unsafe they had to pull firefighters back. 2022 had very few days in red flag conditions (zero in the Sierras for the first time since 2011). If you fail to take account of the weather, you have no understanding of fire. The Mosquito Fire was California’s largest fire of 2022, a fraction of the size of the fires we’ve seen in the last five years, because it was fuel driven, not wind driven at all. Camp Fire, Dixie Fire, Tamarack Fire were all during extensive red flag weather conditions paired with drought and no rain all year. Policy changes are not why 2022 was different; it was a huge rain event that impacted most of northern CA for several days in September (the wettest September on record in many regions), and no red flag weather. We will see policy changes that are necessary, the new CalFire chief is going to do great things – firefighters are always implementing lessons learned – but 2022 was simply a break from mother nature.

  57. There was a time when the Federal land management agencies were held in high esteem and it was a very desirable career. Those days are long behind us. We have a level of incompetence, toxic leadership and apathy like never before. We cannot find employees and many have no housing so they leave or the positions remain vacant. There is no longer a career path, and now you have to move around to get the training and experience necessary to succeed. Many do not get the training they need and are promoted beyond their capabilities. The public is only concerned about what they can see, and will often ignore the advice of others in regards to being ‘fire-wise’, living in the ‘wildland urban interface’, the effects of climate change, drought, limited resources and changing conditions. After a disastrous event they point their fingers and blame whomever they can and wait for a handout from the state, fed and/or insurance. The USFS uses an inordinate amount of its limited budget for fire fighting to the detriment of its other project areas. Roads, trails, campgrounds, recreation, etc., all suffer. The emphasis needs to change from the top down, and we still need fuels projects, prescribed fire, timber programs, trails, housing, training, and equipment to be but a few. Night flying helicopters require special training and equipment, are very expensive and may not be available. Do we want to fund 2 hotshot crews, 4 engines with crews or one Heavy helicopter that no matter what still can’t fly in high winds or limited visibility. The USFS, NPS and BLM, all need to get their act together and work towards a common goal and work together to fight fire in the future.

  58. Last comment on this subject for me so here it goes!
    First of all. its pretty sad to hear all the crap being said. I spent 12 yrs on a Shot Crew on the Angeles from ’88 – ’00. and CDF was still the three lowest grades you could get. You were legs back then and still are today…..a catchy name and fancier hotel is just that. It’s disheartening for all the men and women on F.S engines and crews as it is, knowing everyone else ( including contract crews), gets paid far more for doing far less and still work circles around them all. Last thing, the IMT’s run the show, they make the decisions, they make the IAP’s and they are almost entirely made up of, you guessed it, CAL FIRE, every County with unfounded liabilities in the country, and every other municipal dept jumping on the Fed gravy train, so who’s to blame? Food for thought

  59. Royal Burnett you are Misinformed..According to public data. Cal Fires budget for 2022 is 3.7 billion…, of which 2.7 billion is funded from the California general fund. The remaining billion comes directly from local consolidated communities as I understand. This 3.7 billion is payed for by CAlifornia taxpayers. The USFS’s budget for the ENTIRE COUNTRY is much less than that,there is no special state tax to cover Federal firefighters.

  60. Literally nothing Time to leave said is incorrect. I worked on the ENF for 7 years and can confirm the dream team husband (BC at the time) and wife ( C2 at the time) combo. As well as the engine captain that was banging and eventually got his gs7 preggers even though he was married with kids.

  61. EansamesJ is spitting straight truth..now one is the ch1 and the other is a div chief.. no nepotism there. You can make this stuff up..and that engine captain is also DIVS chief..such a professional atmosphere on the ENF..it’s the model every place should follow..just kidding…

  62. Completely agree with all that new technology. I think we’re on the brink of getting much better at it. Appreciate the point of view.

  63. As have I but, with the kind of furious fire behavior Caldor was spewing at the apex of the burn period, no feuds treatment so much as would’ve made it stutter. Fuels treatments work if it is a 60-80th percentile event however; when it’s a 90-97th or 99th percentile they get run over like a squirrel in front of a cement truck. I’ve watched it happen time and again.

  64. Thank you WildFire today for this website. It’s a great way to share information and ideas around the community..

    After reading all the comments I’m beyond repulsed..if even a 1/10 of was said is true about fire management on the Eldorado, it’s completely disgusting. I can’t believe every employee there would just be quite about that type of BS in there work environment. So much for duty, respect and the most important integrity.(seems to be sorely lacking there) Does everyone on the ENF realize you get fired from jobs if you have inappropriate relationships in the work place in the private sector. (Especially with subordinates you lead)who actually promoted and hired these people??? I’ve spent 25 years working for the federal land management agencies and has seen some BS, but this stuff takes the cake…I hope 60 minutes goes back and does some more reporting..the local communities like grizzly flats need to be told the truth about how inept fire management is on the ENF.

    And to all the ones still there….SPEAK UP!! if you see bad things happening around you, say something. Report it to your congressmen or congresswoman. Get it out of the agencies hands because all they will do is cover it up. You are protected by whistle-blower laws…and any lawyer will take your case if they tried to fire you..and you will win….

  65. That’s BS, I’m no fan of USFS managment, but a Chief 1 being married to a division chief on a district is nothing new and it is not nepotism. I’m embarrassed that this issue is even in the conversation…The way the USFS is structured Chief 1 does not supervise individual districts or the district Fire managment officer. We all work for line officers, including the chief and all the FMO’s. If USFS was a legitimate fire organization than we’d all be stovepiped under Chief1, like every other fire organization in the country.. I spend more time with the people I work with than I do my wife and kids, I know many firefighters who have met there significant other at work because we are working with each other 24-7. Also here’s a news flash, people are not beating down the door for these jobs..A Chief 1 in the USFS is making less per year than a first year firefighter with local fire departments, if you want to dictate who she can marry pay her a comparable wage, who knows maybe that would bring more competition for these high level jobs… Don’t let this issue distract you from the real problems we’re dealing with. People aren’t leaving the USFS because of this issue, they are leaving for many other reasons like pay, benefits and the fact that we do not work for Fire Chiefs we all work for line officers, who most of the time have no real knowledge of fire and are disconnected from the issues of their fire personnel.

  66. So your saying it’s professional to have married couples in your management who have direct oversight of a program.?…oh nothing could go wrong there…give me a break…no prefential treatment here….and if you want higher pay…go to a local gov or PG&E…it’s not like the land management agencies will figure it out…

  67. Um..time for compassion..spoken like a true line officer.Your proabably one of the pathetic ones that are still employed
    by the ENF. Apparently, you chose not to see that there is some real issues below the water line with ENF fire management. Your probably one of the ones that would cover up the sexual assault with the IHC supt or the caples lost prescribed burn during a PG&E power shut off..I don’t see any hate in anyones remarks here. They are bringing up the reality that they live in everyday, and I feel horrible for employees that deal with that. Fire is a tough enough job without all the self-inflicted drama from terrible fire leadership.

What do you think?