Western legislators introduce National Prescribed Fire Act of 2024

Oregon, Washington, and California legislators have reintroduced a bill poised to create a national prescribed burn collaborative program and increase the practice nationwide.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden reintroduced the National Prescribed Fire Act of 2024 [PDF] on Tuesday, three years after the act’s first attempt died in committee. Representative Kim Schrier of Washington, Representative David Valadao of California, and Senator Alex Padilla of California joined the act’s push.

The act would invest $300 million in hazardous fuels management and increase prescribed burn plans, preparations, and practices through both the USFS and DOI. The funds are required to be used to develop a prescribed burn strategy for each USFS or BLM region, implement prescribed fires on federal land, and fund an increase in prescribed burn crew staffing.

Prescribed fire, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore near Ogden Dunes in northwest Indiana in 2013. NPS photo.
2013 RxFire at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore near Ogden Dunes, northwest Indiana — NPS photo

It would also put $10 million toward the collaborative prescribed burn program based on the previous USFS Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). The previous program, one of the first national efforts that encouraged collaborative landscape restoration, ran from 2009 to 2019 and focused on reducing wildfire risk, enhancing watershed health, and benefiting local rural economies. The program reported its results to Congress, saying it successfully restored 5.7 million acres of forest while creating nearly $2 billion in local labor income.

The 2024 act has the support of numerous conservation agencies and fire officials, including The Nature Conservancy, which has been conducting Rx burns in Oregon since 1983.

“Prescribed fire is an essential tool to restore and steward fire-dependent ecosystems, reduce the risk of extreme wildfire to communities, and help many of Oregon’s most iconic natural landscapes adapt in the face of climate change,” said Katie Sauerbrey, Oregon fire program director at The Nature Conservancy. “We are grateful for Senator Wyden’s leadership on the National Prescribed Fire Act — providing a pathway to accelerate the pace and scale of prescribed fire necessary to combat the wildfire crisis in the western United States.”

The bill’s full text is posted [HERE].

Oregon, Washington, and California legislators have reintroduced a bill poised to create a national prescribed burn collaborative program and increase the practice nationwide.

Heatwave elevates fire danger across Western U.S., worsen already burning wildfires

The National Weather Service is predicting the year’s first major heat wave will hit U.S. states in the West starting Tuesday.

NWS has forecasted temperatures at above normal from June 4 through at least June 17, according to its 8- to 14-day temperature outlook.

The heatwave will likely worsen wildfires in Arizona, New Mexico, and California. The temperature spike is expected to significantly affect crews currently fighting the Corral Fire near the city of Livermore outside of San Francisco. Numerous counties in the area are under excessive heat warnings and heat advisories. The fire has burned more than 14,000 acres as of Tuesday afternoon, has caused the evacuation of thousands, and sits at 90 percent containment.

“This morning is the calm before the warm as the first batch of Heat Advisories go into effect in the North and East Bay,” said the NWS San Francisco Bay Area office.

NWS map

The National Weather Service is predicting the year’s first major heat wave will hit U.S. states in the West starting Tuesday.

NWS has forecasted temperatures at above normal from June 4 through at least June 17, according to its 8- to 14-day temperature outlook.

New fire station in Blue River, Oregon

The little community of Blue River, upstream in the McKenzie River valley from Eugene, Oregon, has a brand-new fire station up and running —  almost four years after the Holiday Farm Fire in 2020 burned their station to the ground.

Station 2 in Blue River is part of the Upper McKenzie Rural Fire Protection District, featured in another of a series of stellar reports on KEZI by Noah Chavez. Christiana Rainbow Plews, the well-known and well-loved fire chief called “Chief Rainbow” by the locals, worked with the district both before and after the Holiday Farm Fire. She decided to retire as the chief, but only after the new fire station was fully operational.

Chief Rainbow on NBC News
Chief Rainbow on NBC News

She says the new station compared with the old one is just the difference between night and day. “It’s bigger and the building we had prior to the fire was really just a garage to house the trucks and equipment. It was not like a fire station,” she said. “It was really just a storage building, and the fact that we were able to build something as beautiful as this building with a day room and a kitchen and a chief’s office is just super exciting.”

 

Station 2
The new Station 2 is designed to be both fire-resistant and earthquake-resistant, unlike the old building that didn’t survive the fire. Mike Godfrey, board chair for the Upper McKenzie RFPD, said the building is extremely fire-resistant. “This thing is going to be here until after the apocalypse.”

Taylor Wickizer is one of the newest volunteers at Station 2. Born in Blue River, she and her family moved to Iowa, but Taylor returned after the Holiday Farm Fire. She said everyone in her family felt like they needed to come back to help the community and she has since become devoted to being a firefighter for the district — because of what the community has been through together, they are more than just neighbors.

“Up here it is not even like a community, it is like a family — I mean everybody is here for the people and especially the fire and emergency services,” she said.

The little community of Blue River, upstream in the McKenzie River valley from Eugene, Oregon, has a brand-new fire station up and running —  almost four years after the Holiday Farm Fire in 2020 burned their station to the ground.

Station 2 in Blue River is part of the Upper McKenzie Rural Fire Protection District, featured in another of a series of stellar reports on KEZI by Noah Chavez.

Arsonist sentenced to 5+ years in prison

A former criminal justice professor who set at least seven fires during a record-breaking 2021 fire season — including one fire near the Dixie Fire —  was sentenced last week to five years and three months in prison. Gary Stephen Maynard, 49, pleaded guilty to three counts of arson on federal land back in February, and in his sentencing memo prosecutors wrote that his actions were “wanton and deliberate” and he’d set fires intended to harm people.

Arsonist professor Gary Maynard
Arsonist professor Gary Maynard

The Dixie Fire burned through five counties over 963,300 acres, destroying 1,311 structures and killing one person, according to Cal Fire.

Also, Marcus Pacheco, an assistant fire engine operator for the Lassen National Forest, died of Covid while working the fire, as did two water tender operators, Jose T. Calderon and Cessar Saenz, both of San Diego County.

In a report by the Redding Record Searchlight, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said, “It is only because of the quick response by the U.S. Forest Service — and the actions of civilian witnesses — that those fires were extinguished as quickly as they were.” He said Maynard’s sentence underscores the danger that his fires created. “It serves as a reminder that federal law enforcement takes seriously the threats to life, property, and our national forests caused by arson.”

Dixie Fire at Greenville, California -- photo ©2021 Jay Walter.
Dixie Fire at Greenville, California — photo ©2021 Jay Walter.

Judge Daniel J. Calabretta of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California sentenced Maynard to 63 months in prison. After his term he’ll  be on supervised release for three years; prosecutors said he was also ordered to pay $13,000 in restitution.

“He intentionally made a dangerous situation more perilous by setting some of his fires behind the men and women fighting the Dixie Fire,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert, “potentially cutting off any chance of escape.”

The Record Searchlight has a dandy photo gallery by Ace Photographer Mike Chapman of the 2021 Dixie Fire online.

Arsonist professor Gary Maynard

Corral Fire in northern California at 12,500 acres

Northern California’s first major fire of the year has burned 12,500 acres in San Joaquin County. The Corral Fire started Saturday afternoon near the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Site 300, and CNN reported that the fire started in the city of Tracy.

Corral Fire survival home -- Cal Fire photo

Two Alameda County firefighters were injured, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Josh Silveira told CNN on Sunday. They had minor to moderate injuries and were transported to a local hospital.

UPDATE:  14,170 acres Sunday evening; the Associated Press reported 50 percent containment and one home destroyed.

The fire was at 15 percent containment this morning, according to Cal Fire, and fire managers said the gusty winds and dry grass have made it difficult to contain. About 400 people are assigned on the fire 60 miles east of San Francisco. ABC10.com has aerial images.

 

San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services ordered residents to evacuate, as sfgate.com reported, and an evacuation map from the county is [HERE]. Interstate 580 is closed from 4.7 miles east of the junction of State Route 132 at Gaffery Road to the San Joaquin-Alameda county line; smoke has reduced visibility to “zero” according to Caltrans.

The Sacramento Bee reported this afternoon that both sides of I-580 had been re-opened. Caltrans officials said one eastbound lane would remain closed between I-205 and I-5 to buffer firefighting traffic; Highway 132 was also reopened after it was shut down for about 17 hours.

Freeway closures, CalTrans
Freeway closures, CalTrans — quickmap.dot.ca.gov

The Corral Fire grew rapidly after 7 p.m. Saturday and Cal Fire said it was at   5,000 acres and 40 percent containment; a few hours later, containment dropped to 13 percent and the fire doubled in size.

Corral Fire outside of Tracy, California
Corral Fire outside of Tracy, California

The cause of the fire is unknown. The New York Times reported that residents were prohibited from burning anything on their own properties, and fire officials for the Santa Clara area announced that all burn permits in the region would be suspended beginning Monday. Lawrence Livermore National Lab said the fire started near the lab’s Site 300 but was not related to controlled burns conducted there.

“LLNL recently completed a series of controlled burns to eliminate dangerous dry grass areas and provide buffer zones around Site 300 buildings,” said Michael Padilla, deputy director of public and media relations. “There are no current threats to any Laboratory facilities and operations as the fire has moved away from the site. There was no on- or offsite contamination.”

Site 300 is a testing location at which researchers “formulate, fabricate, and test high-explosive assemblies to assess the performance of nonnuclear weapon prototypes and components.”

 

KEY MESSAGES from the U.S. Forest Service Fire & Aviation Management

I have no idea where this came from,
I just found it in the bushes outside my house this morning.


KEY MESSAGES from the Forest Service!

Firefighter and public safety are our top priorities during a wildfire.

      • The Forest Service uses all available strategies and tools to manage wildfires.
      • Our fire managers make sound, science-based, risk-informed decisions.
      • Flying drones near wildfires is dangerous for pilots and firefighters and can bring wildfire suppression efforts to a halt. Know before you fly. If you fly, we can’t.
      • Wildfires create smoke, which can impact communities. Check www.fire.airnow.gov for updates.

The Forest Service is committed to a strong firefighting response this year.

  • We are providing 900 engines, up to 29 airtankers, more than 200 helicopters and many other fixed wing support aircraft (lead planes, multi-engine water scoopers and smokejumper aircraft). We can also mobilize eight C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) and a limited number of other airtankers through agreements with Canada and Australia.
  • We will have more than 80 Forest Service Hotshot crews available. Contracted crews include 40 Type 2 IA and more than 400 Type 2 crews Forty-four interagency complex incident management teams are available, as well as significant logistical support services under contract including mobile food and shower units.
  • Our goal is to have 11,300 wildland firefighters onboard before the peak of the fire year. These men and women will be highly trained in emergency response and quickly adapting to changing situations. Our goal is to minimize the number of devastating, destructive large wildland fires.
  • Forest Service firefighters and managers make informed decisions based on science and risk assessments to safely deploy firefighting resources to suppress fires that threaten lives or property.
  • Federal, state, tribal and local resources, supported by available airtankers and helicopters, collaborate to contain fires.
  • That’s why about 98% of wildland fires are contained within 24 hours of the initial response and fewer than 2% grow into the larger fires we often see in the media.

Wildland firefighters play a crucial role on the frontlines of the wildfire crisis,
and we must take better care of them.

Firefighter Pay, Benefits and Housing:
  • Our focus is on increased pay and benefits, better housing, increased access to mental and physical health resources, and improved work-life balance.
  • Agency leaders are fighting for a permanent pay fix for wildland firefighters that more accurately reflects the difficult and dangerous work they do for the American people.
  • The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has provided wildland firefighters with a pay supplement since FY2022 that equals an extra $20,000 per year or 50% of their base pay, whichever is less.
  • Although FY2024 Forest Service appropriations continues the firefighter pay supplement, Congress must pass legislation to make a permanent pay solution a reality. If base pay returns to previous levels (sometimes as low as $15 per hour), the National Federation of Federal Employees Forest Service Council expects 30-50% of Forest Service wildland firefighters to seek higher-paying jobs.
  • The President’s FY2025 budget provides $216 million to implement a permanent pay increase for the wildland firefighter workforce, providing a more equitable wage, enhancing recruitment, and stabilizing retention.
  • In addition, the President’s budget proposes $25 million to address the urgent need for suitable employee housing through needed maintenance and repairs of Forest Service housing units.

Forest Service 2024 Fire Key Messages:

Firefighter Mental and Physical Health

  • Long, extreme fire years and the difficult and dangerous nature of wildland firefighting requires investing in mental health and wellbeing tools and services to ensure wildland firefighters can successfully confront and manage the mental and physical aspects of their mission.
  • The Forest Service has several reforms underway to provide better support to wildland firefighters, including an improved Employee Assistance Program that includes more trauma-trained and rural-based support, telehealth options, a smartphone app for quick access to services, and expanded proactive and preventive mental health and wellness and family services.
  • Working alongside the Department of the Interior, we continue to implement the Joint Federal Wildland Firefighter Health and Wellbeing Program to specifically address the unique experiences and mental and physical health challenges of wildland firefighters. This relatively new program will establish year-round prevention and mental health training, provide post-traumatic stress care, and enhance capacity for critical incident stress management — and create a new system of trauma support services with an emphasis on early intervention.

The Forest Service takes the challenge of hiring and retaining firefighters very seriously.
  • The DOI and the USDA together employ over 17,000 operational federal wildland firefighters each year. We can deploy more than 32,000 firefighters and support personnel when we include international, state, tribal, and local partners, plus contract and administratively determined (AD)  emergency hires.
  • The President’s FY2025 budget proposes $136 million for additional federal firefighting capacity (570 more permanent firefighters — and continued transition to a more fulltime workforce) to enable the Forest Service to meet the demands of the increasingly long fire year more effectively and improve the work/life balance of firefighters and support personnel.
  • These investments will help us recruit and retain the best wildland firefighters, who play a vital role in tackling today’s wildfire challenges.
  • Although we struggle to hire and retain firefighters in areas such as the Pacific Northwest and California, where the labor pool is limited and pay isn’t competitive, we have added more permanent positions in some regions through our firefighting resource modernization efforts and funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Sustaining and restoring healthy, resilient fire-adapted ecosystems will help communities reduce wildfire risk. Communities and residents also must prepare for wildfires.
  • Over a century of scientific data confirms that strategically designed fuels reduction treatments, such as mechanical thinning and prescribed fire, can reduce fire behavior and wildfire risks.
  • The Forest Service’s 10-year “Wildfire Crisis Strategy” is fueled by Congressional funding and informed by scientific research. It aims to dramatically increase forest health treatments over the next decade.
  • To be fully accountable to the “Wildfire Crisis Strategy” objectives, the Forest Service is using metrics to quantify specific outcomes of our work. We are measuring wildfire risk and landscape conditions before and after treatment to understand how our work, and other naturally occurring landscape disturbances like wildfires and insect outbreaks, is changing risk and resilience over time.

Knowing the outcomes of our fuel treatments and landscape disturbances will allow the Forest Service to:

          1. know whether we are doing the right work in the right places;
          2. communicate clearly about our “Wildfire Crisis Strategy” landscape accomplishments and
          3. ensure we are spending Congressional funding wisely.

Working with states, tribes, and other partners, the agency is focusing on protecting communities and critical infrastructure and enhancing forest resilience in areas facing the most immediate wildfire threats.