Report issued about East Slide Rock Ridge fire

The East Slide Rock Ridge fire received the Wildfire Today award for the Worst Fire Name of 2008. We covered this northeast Nevada fire back in late August, and now a report has been released.

It started on August 9 and was managed as a Fire Use fire until August 23 when it was declared a suppression fire when Paul Summerfelt’s Type 1 incident management team assumed command.

Here are some excerpts from an article in the Elko Daily Free Press:

The report claimed there were a shortage of rangers and staff with Wildland Fire Use experience; the one ranger with training to administer the fire was handling three additional wildfires hundreds of miles away; analysis of current and predicted fire weather, behavior and fuels indexes was lacking; weather and fire potential predictions were not considered in the decision process to use the wildland fire strategy; and the fire’s management area was not defensible.

“Because of the lack of critical information, it is not clear from reviewing the documents if the East Slide Rock Ridge fire met guidelines for (Wildland Fire Use),” the report said.

Edward Monnig, Humboldt Toiyabe Forest supervisor, said the report identifies a number of management and process steps that could be improved in the future fire management.

“However, I would also add that few of those items identified in the report would have significantly affected the outcome of the East Slide Rock Ridge Fire,” he said.

Monnig said the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest will take a “hard look” at how it conducted 2008 operations, but will continue to use fire as a tool to manage the “ever increasing amount of fuels in our forests.”

[…]

The August blaze began in steep, rugged terrain. Summer winds quickly spread the fire beyond where it was originally anticipated to stay, eventually encompassing a 60,000 acre area — the equivalent of 94 square miles — although it left large pockets of unburned area within its perimeter. It escaped the forest and burned more than 2,000 acres of BLM land and 1,661 acres of private rangelands.

The Forest Service has secured about $160,000 to reseed these private areas and speed the natural recovery process.

[…]

Elko County Commissioner Sheri Eklund-Brown, who participated in a team that reviewed the fire, said there were lessons learned from the East Slide Rock Ridge Fire.

“The problem with this fire in particular was it was a new process being used by the Forest Service here and we had an interim district ranger and a new district ranger in charge who were not completely familiar with the process and the area,” she said. “Mistakes were, unfortunately, imminent in that kind of situation with the weather changes that occurred. … All agencies will work together to try and remedy those types of situations in the future.”

HERE is a link to a Google Earth map of the perimeter.

Colorado: Bark beetles, and a dinner honoring firefighters

Colorado is in the wildfire news again today.

Beetles

The bark beetles that are devastating large areas of Colorado expanded their infestation by 400,000 acres last year, bringing the total number of affected acres in the state to 2 million.

More Beetles

The Colorado Independent created a kerfuffle when the newspaper ran an article on January 9 criticizing FEMA for not taking action in Colorado to mitigate the ongoing bark beetle problem and the threat of fires in the infested areas, saying in the article:

FEMA, for the most part, turned the same deaf ear to the problem that the margarita-quaffing (former FEMA Director) Brown offered Hurricane Katrina victims.

Ouch!

The Colorado Independent’s Ready, Fire, Aim article got the attention of FEMA. Today the newspaper published a rebuttal article written by Derek Jensen, an External Affairs Specialist for FEMA in their regional office in Denver. Here is an excerpt from Mr. Jensen’s article:

We have forged close ties with various fire agencies, including West Metro Fire District and the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, which coordinates resources to battle wildfires within the Rocky Moutain region. We certainly acknowledge we have areas and relationships where we have a role, and we are actively participating in the preparations and discussions about the catastrophic wildfire threat.

However, the article failed to recognize that under current law, forest health is not FEMA’s charge, nor would it be legal for the agency to reduce fuels on federal forest land. Well-intentioned individuals and organizations have approached FEMA in the past suggesting the agency eliminate the wildfire threat by simply declaring a federal disaster and removing the bark beetle infested lodgepole pines. This is not a legal option since FEMA has no statutory authority to address long-term, large scale forest management issues in undeveloped wilderness.

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act does allow FEMA to focus on mitigation projects that directly affect the built environment and reduce the costs of all hazards. FEMA funding for such mitigation projects are typically provided on a nationally-competitive basis. Colorado Springs received such a grant in the past for a successful fuels reduction project along the city’s Wildland Urban Interface.

While we do not have the legal authority to remove the beetle kill fuel load in the National Forests, we have used a broad set of mitigation alternatives to prevent losses from wildfire and we will continue to work with our local, state and federal counterparts to prepare for this inevitable disaster. To suggest otherwise is simply ignoring the facts.

A Thank-You Dinner for Firefighters

Community groups and businesses in the Boulder area are organizing a dinner Saturday night to honor the firefighters who worked on the January 7 Neva fire. The dinner is open to the public and anyone affected by the fire. Several businesses are donating kegs of beer, cases of wine, and platters of sushi. This is certainly a very nice gesture. I have not developed a taste for raw fish, but I have learned to appreciate beer and wine, and even more so when it’s free.

Colorado senator criticized for fighting fire

Colorado state Senator Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, (in picture on the right) is being criticized by one of his constituents for helping to fight the 3,000+ acre Neva fire near Boulder on January 7. Gibbs, who has been a qualified Type 2 Wildland Firefighter since 2007, missed the second day of the legislative session while he was working on the fire.

The criticism was in a letter submitted to the Summit Daily News by Breckenridge resident Jason Kaufman. In part, Mr. Kaufman said:

If you did miss a day of work or more, for which you were elected, to fight a fire, then I’m a little confused. Obviously your priorities are not in order and I’m having a difficult time understanding your actions.

Sen. Gibbs, in case you didn’t notice, there is a huge inferno engulfing many of us. We don’t need any more tough guys or heroes, what we need are people who will show up for work and do the job they were elected to do. I know your pal Gov. Ritter gave you a pat on the back for you outstanding job on the front lines of a devastating wild fire. But like I said, that’s not the problem at hand.

In the fall of 2007 Senator Gibbs traveled to California to work on some of the fires that devastated areas in the southern part of the state.

The Art of Fire

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, pilot

The wife of the pilot who made the incredible “landing” in the Hudson River yesterday was interviewed on TV. She of course is stunned and proud of her husband, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, as many of us are. It must take a massive amount of training, skill, and experience to safely glide a powerless airliner down to a safe landing into a river adjacent to New York City. And of course all of the passengers and crew evacuated safely while the huge airplane floated slowly down the Hudson River. Just freaking amazing.

In the interview, Mr. Sullenberger’s wife said:

“He is a pilot’s pilot, and he loves the art of the airplane.”

He is indeed an experienced pilot, having flown F-4’s for the Air Force. He is graduate of the Air Force academy, a flight instructor, a licensed glider pilot, a consultant in risk management, and has investigated several aircraft accidents for the Air Force and the NTSB.

He also was instrumental in the development of the guidelines for Cockpit (or Crew) Resource Management (CRM), training that has been used extensively by the airlines. CRM has been adopted by the fire service and is used in our wildland fire leadership courses.

I was intrigued by the “Art of the airplane” comment. I am not a pilot, but can imagine that many high-risk occupations, including pilots and firefighters, require not only formal training and years of experience to be successful at a high-performance level, but these occupations also require something more. Call it common sense, plus the ability to be situationally aware throughout your career and absorb knowledge as situations unfold before you.

I have known people who were otherwise “smart”, but did not have the ability to turn an otherwise insignificant event into a learning opportunity. Those who can wring knowledge out of experience, and develop “slides” upon which they can draw as needed later, become artists in their field. They love the “art of the airplane” or the “art of fire”.

The behavior of fire is based on the laws of physics. It is not a “dragon” as some say, but a natural process that can be predicted. Some people are better than others at predicting what a fire will do. When confronted with a fire situation, we don’t have time to pull out a computer and run fire behavior models. The fire artist does it in his head in seconds, matching the situation in front of him with the slides filed away in his memory bank saved from previous, similar experiences.

An example that comes to mind is igniting a prescribed fire. Anyone can carry around an ignition device and set vegetation on fire. But it is a joy to watch an artist with a drip torch. There are dozens of factors to consider when you have the responsibility of setting the woods on fire, but you can’t really think about them all at the same time. It requires skill, knowledge, and matching what you see in front of you with your slides.

The drip torch artist, practicing the Art of Fire, can confidently ignite the vegetation knowing that the result will match one of those slides, not only seconds and minutes later, but even years later as the long range objectives are considered.

Firefighter Eye Candy

Photo by Spencer Weiner, LA Times

There are not very many wildland fires burning right now, so to remind you of what a retardant drop looks like, here is Aero Union’s Tanker 00 performing a drop on July 4, 2008 in southern California. It is an actual un-Photoshopped image…. probably taken with a very long telephoto lens, making it appear that the air tanker is very close to the structure.

Rocket-launched nozzle

Some “rocket scientists” have designed a device that supposedly would use compressed gas to launch a nozzle with a connected fire hose into a burning building, after which the hose would be charged and the nozzle would flop around destroying everything in the room before finally being pulled out the window by the weight of the charged line, causing the firefighters below to run like hell.

Firing that thing right next to your face, and then having 100 feet of fire hose dragged at Mach 3 across the side of your head, would no doubt give you a story to tell around the fire house for years to come. At least the guy in the photo is wearing SOME personal protective equipment… GLOVES!

I especially like the way the “firefighter” is carrying the hatchet, slipped casually through his belt, ready to put out the fire with a few swift chops or perform a do-it-yourself kidney biopsy.