The National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook issued today by the Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center for June through September indicates that many areas in the western United States will have above normal potential for wildfires. In July the increased fire danger is expected to affect significant portions of California, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Arizona.
The wildfire potential in the southern states is predicted to be below normal.
The data from NIFC shown here represents the cumulative forecasts of the ten Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.
An excerpt from the NIFC narrative report for the next several months;
More of NIFC’s monthly graphical outlooks;
NOAA’s three-month temperature and precipitation forecasts;
Keetch-Byram Drought Index.
“June through early July is the peak of the fire season across the Southwest. Expect for the normal fire activity across the region to increase through the period with some areas experiencing Above Normal significant large fire potential, especially across Arizona. As the monsoon begins in mid-July, activity across the Southwest will diminish. Activity across Alaska will also diminish as the rainy season begins. California, central and northern portions of the Great Basin, the Pacific Northwest, and the Northern Rockies will begin to enter their peaks.
“Above Normal significant large fire potential is expected in the areas shown on the maps due primarily to increasing drought conditions, early loss of mountain snowpack, anticipated lightning activity, and overall hot and dry conditions that should persist through August. As is typically the case, the peak season fire activity across the northwestern portion of the country should diminish by mid-September as the seasonal transition begins and allows for wet fronts to bring precipitation to impacted areas.”
The Bureau of Land Management will open a 30-day period during which it will accept public comments on their plans to remove some steps that are required before cutting timber following a fire.
The agency intends to no longer require Environmental Impact Statements or Environmental Assessments on what they call “salvage” operations of less than 5,000 acres — cutting dead or dying trees which can result from insects or wildfires. They would use a Categorial Exemption (CX) to skip some environmental review steps that are usually required.
The BLM’s press release about their plans did not include information about how the public could comment, just that, “[A] a public comment period on the proposed CX closes 30 days after the proposal publishes in the Federal Register. The BLM will provide additional information about when and how to comment when the proposed rule is published. ”
The BLM has completed a review of scientific literature and previously analyzed and implemented actions and found no evidence that salvage harvest at the levels proposed would have a negative effect on forest health. To the contrary, removing dead and dying trees can accelerate forest succession and benefit native wildlife species that rely on successional habitat, while reducing the potential for catastrophic wildfires.
“Some of the impacts we have outlined may be different from or additional to the effects of traditional forms of logging that are not preceded by large, natural disturbance events. This is because the conditions preceding, during, and after salvage logging may differ from those in areas subject to traditional logging. Moreover, the ecological benefits derived from large-scale disturbances (such as the creation of charred trees and coarse woody debris) can be lost or severely diminished by salvage operations for decades and even centuries (Lindenmayer & Ough 2006). These problems have often been overlooked or poorly understood by conservation biologists, foresters, and other natural resource managers. In some cases salvage impacts may have been so substantial that past interpretations of ecosystem responses to natural disturbance may need to be reexamined. That is, ecosystem processes and biotic responses may have been more influenced by salvage logging than by the initial natural disturbance event. This may be true for hydrological regimes in the northeastern United States following the 1938 hurricane (Foster et al. 1997), aquatic macroinvertebrates in the western United States (Minshall 2003), and arboreal marsupials in the forests of Victoria, Australia, after the 1939 and 1983 wildfires (Lindenmayer et al. 1997).
“Whereas most documented effects of salvage logging are negative from an ecological standpoint, others can be neutral or positive, depending on the response variables measured. Effects are likely to vary over time and among and within vegetation types in response to the type, intensity, and periodicity of natural disturbance and disturbance by salvage logging. Therefore, there can be no generic recipes for salvage logging that can be uncritically applied in all landscapes.
“Perhaps one of the problems associated with the lack of appreciation of the impacts of salvage logging lies in the terminology itself. Dictionary definitions of the term salvage associate it with “recover or save” or “saving of anything from loss or danger” (e.g., Delbridge & Bernard 1989). Although salvage logging removes wood from burned areas, such practices generally do not help regenerate or save ecosystems, communities, or species (but see Radeloff et al. 2000) and often have the opposite effect. Hence, in many respects, the term salvage is inappropriate and misleading from ecological and conservation perspectives. An alternative term might be postdisturbance logging.”
Shawna Legarza announced that she will be retiring from her position as Director of Fire and Aviation for the U.S. Forest Service. In an email message to other employees she said it will be effective on June 30th.
“Now, the next chapters of my life will continue as I have accepted a position with local government as the Emergency Management Coordinator in Durango, Colorado,” she explained in the email. “A place very special in my heart, built upon the practice of the 4 P’s and closer to my friends and family.”
She was selected as the national Director of Fire and Aviation in June, 2016, taking the place of Tom Harbour who retired at the end of 2015. Previously Ms. Legarza was the regional Fire Director for the Forest Service’s California region.
Ms. Legarza launched her federal career with the Bureau of Land Management in 1989 as an engine crew member in Elko, NV. A short time later, she joined the Forest Service and worked as a hotshot crew member in Carson City, NV, and a Hotshot Superintendent in Durango, CO. She subsequently took on a number of leadership positions in fire and aviation that include District Fire Management Officer on the San Juan National Forest, CO, and Forest Fire Management Officer on the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California.
The first time that the 11-person Durango, Colorado helitack crew all assembled in the same place they realized they were one person short. That May 7 morning one crewmember had called from home saying they had run a fever overnight. This initiated a response in accordance with the COVID-19 protocols established by the U.S. Forest Service.
Since the crew started their wildland fire season 25 days before, they had been following the COVID-19 procedures — the 11-person crew, a “Module as One”, was split into two Squads. One staffs the helicopter from its base of operations with the three-person contract flight crew (Pilot, Mechanic, Fuel Truck Driver). The other half is on call from their places of residence on ordered standby and responds if activated on a delayed response. This schedule switches every seven days, with a day off for each squad every 13 days.
The crew had self-isolated for 14 days prior to working with each other.
On May 5 and 6 five of the crewmembers were on the 84 Fire in southwest Colorado, along with approximately 95 other personnel. The Helicopter Manager flew to the fire with three of the five Helitack crewmembers, while the other two drove in separate vehicles.
Manager+3 is the minimum staffing required for a Type 2 Helicopter and they flew to the fire with the minimum during the COVID-19 conditions. Within the confines of a Type 2 Helicopter, there can be no social distance spacing of 6 feet unless only the pilot is onboard.
They spent two days on the fire, sleeping on the front lawn of a nearby fire station after the first day. At end of shift the next day the five Helitack crewmembers got into the two vehicles that were driven to the fire, two in one vehicle and three in the other. People stayed in the same vehicles throughout and the drivers didn’t change.
The individual that called in May 7 with a fever was one of the five who spent the night on the 84 Fire. That morning 10 of the 11 crewmembers gathered in a physical setting and did an AAR on the 84 Fire. This was the first time they had gathered as crew — it was 25 days after the first onboarding of seasonal employees.
The person with the fever took two COVID-19 tests, on May 8 and 9. The requirement for the agency is that the individual with symptoms must remain at home until three things have happened:
They no longer have a fever (without the use of medicine that reduces fevers); AND other symptoms have improved; AND they have received two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart.
Both tests results, on May 11, found that the firefighter was negative for COVID-19, however the clinic took another nine days to give the results to the individual, on May 19 — 14 days after reporting that they had a fever.
The crewmember self-isolated at their home while waiting for the test results. They are feeling better and believe they had allergies and cold symptoms.
This crewmember is still in the same pay status as the rest of the crew. A CA-1, CA-2, CA-16 was discussed being filed—but wasn’t. No other crewmembers have reported any symptoms and all appear to be very healthy.
Below are some of the lessons identified in the Rapid Lesson Sharing document:
A well-defined notification system should be established so Duty Officers, Line Officers, and various Forest entities are aware of individuals on crews who become sick or ill—to prevent causing a “panic” situation.
We shouldn’t hit any panic buttons if someone becomes sick. Rather, we need to take the necessary steps with everyone’s well-being in mind during these heightened times.
Symptoms that look like COVID-19 could well be the flu, a cold or seasonal allergies. But as a Supervisor you have to take the “better safe than sorry” approach if adverse health symptoms do arise
Expect an employee to be out for at least 7-14 days in self-isolation if they get symptoms and longer if a COVID-19 test comes back positive. It took 14 days from the crewmember’s first symptoms to finding out testing results.
Are our Best Practices actually the Best Practices? In an effort to limit people at the Durango Tanker Base we told a mechanic for the helicopter to stay in town. And when ordered for a fire, a minor mechanical issue occurred, and it took 30 minutes for the mechanic to get back to the Tanker Base to deal with it.
Forest Leadership needs to reinforce to their Forestry Technician Fire personnel that regardless of being sick or not, they will be paid for their respective crew’s readiness ability as a “Module as One”. This can be as simple as knowing your time will have the approved button clicked.
COVID-19 information sharing from the Washington Office to the Regional Office to the Supervisors Office to the District Office is at best a fluid mess of forwarded emails, chain emails, conference calls, and Microsoft Team meetings with unmuted participants and all manner of disturbing background sounds.
Information needs to be quality over quantity. We need to flatten the curve on an overabundance of excessive information that nobody doing their real job has time to read.
Questions that need to be addressed and answered:
What do we do with employees in government housing who come down with symptoms? For that matter, SW Colorado is high COLA (Cost-of-Living Adjustment). What about employees who share housing with other people and who may become sick? Are we authorized to put these people into a safer hotel situation and on per diem? What about the 1039s who camp in parking lots and elsewhere? What about local AD Tanker Base Employees?
Do we have a blank check on Maintaining a Healthy Workforce in terms of funding?
Is there a clear crosswalk for Supervisors and for employees about the reality of being exposed to COVID-19 and how well our agency will really support us? CA-1, CA-2, CA-16 OWCP, how’s this going to happen and occur?
Honestly, what are we going to do if an employee tests positive? How do we react? How do we respond?
Last week the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released the COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season to help emergency managers and public health officials best prepare for disasters while continuing to respond to and recover from coronavirus (COVID-19). In a news release, FEMA said that while the document focuses on hurricane season preparedness, most planning considerations can also be applied to any disaster operation in the COVID-19 environment, including no-notice incidents, spring flooding, wildfire seasons, and typhoon response.
Specifically, the guide:
Describes anticipated challenges to disaster operations posed by COVID-19;
Highlights planning considerations for emergency managers based on current challenges;
Outlines how FEMA plans to adapt response and recovery operations; Creates a shared understanding of expectations between FEMA and emergency mangers; and,
Includes guidance, checklists and resources to support emergency managers response and recovery planning.
The 59-page document does not have a lot of details, for example specifics of how to set up an evacuation center, but there are lists of items to consider.
As an example, here is the section on Evacuation Planning:
State, Local, Tribal & Territorial (SLTT) organizations should review evacuation plans and consider:
Assessing community demographics and identifying areas facing high risk, including considerations for those under stay-at-home orders, at higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19, individuals with disabilities, and others with access and functional needs.
Reviewing clearance times and decision timelines, with COVID-19 planning considerations, such as mass care and sheltering plans.
Considering impacts of business closures/restrictions along evacuation routes; limited restaurant/lodging availability will place extra stress on state and local officials and may require unprecedented assistance to travelers.
Maintaining availability of mass transit and paratransit services that provide a transportation option for those individuals who are unable to use the fixed-route bus or rail system for evacuation of people with disabilities in accordance with CDC guidance and social distancing requirements.
Using EMPG-S funding to modify evacuation plans to account for limited travel options and increased time needed for evacuation of health care facilities.
Targeting evacuation orders and communication messages to reduce the number of people voluntarily evacuating from areas outside a declared evacuation area.
Developing communication plans for communities likely impacted by hurricane season or other emergent incidents for any updates or alterations to evacuation strategies, and ensuring communications are provided in a way that is accessible to people with disabilities and limited English proficiency.
Reviewing available alternate care sites and federal medical stations as potential evacuation sites or longer-term solution for hospitals and medical facilities, if needed, and considering staffing needed to support facilities.
Determining logistics and resource requirements to support government-assisted evacuations.
Reviewing, expanding, and/or establishing agreements with NGOs, agencies, volunteers, and private sector vendors that will be needed for evacuee support and ensuring partners are prepared to deliver services in a COVID-19 environment.
Engaging with neighboring states and jurisdictions to coordinate cross-border movement of evacuees in large-scale evacuations.