Above: Minam Fire, Friday September 30, 2016. USFS photo.
A prescribed fire on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest escaped the day after it was conducted in northeast Oregon. The 2,000-acre project was ignited with a helicopter on Thursday, September 29 as a continuation of previous prescribed burning activities in the Minam drainage within the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area about 21 miles northeast of La Grande, Oregon.
Late in the afternoon of the next day, Friday, during a helicopter flight to check the status of the project, fire managers found a spot fire east of the burn area across Trout Creek. Due to the time of day, it was determined that firefighters could not safely access the spot fire until the following day.
Early Saturday, October 1, a powerful thunderstorm moved through the area bringing stronger than expected winds and very little moisture. As planned, firefighters hiked into the spot fire on Saturday and found that the winds had spread the spot fire to the east, upslope onto Cougar Ridge, and ultimately outside the planned prescribed fire area.
The Minam Fire was declared an escape Saturday afternoon, October 1st, when fire managers determined that they would not be able to contain the portion of the fire that had spread outside of the planned perimeter within the next 24 hours, which is a criteria for declaring an escaped prescribed fire.
Cooler weather kept the spread of the fire minimal into Sunday as additional crews and aircraft arrived on scene to support the suppression efforts.
As of Sunday, October 2, the escaped fire had burned 750 acres.
Senator John Thune has been critical of federal firefighters previously.
A U.S. Senator has proposed an amendment to introduced legislation that would require additional procedures before federal agencies could conduct a prescribed fire. Senator John Thune from South Dakota wants to require consultation with local and state fire officials before the project begins. One of his reasons is that he contends local and state officials know more than the federal professional prescribed fire managers.
“Local officials are going to know a little bit more about what the conditions are in the area”, Senator Thune said in a newsletter distributed by his office on September 15.
This requirement has been offered as an amendment to a Republican backed bill introduced by Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas June 22, 2016, titled S.3085 – Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act of 2016. Senator Thune contends that the amendment was adopted by unanimous consent during a Senate Agriculture Committee markup, but no official action after the introduction is showing up at bill-tracking websites. After three months the bill has no cosponsors, and GovTrack.us predicts a 2 percent chance of it being enacted.
The primary purpose of the bill is to eliminate some environment restrictions for planned “forest management activities”. The list of these activities is long and vague enough to cover a very wide range of land treatments, including timber harvesting.
Senator Thune advocated his consultation procedure before when he introduced a stand-alone bill in 2015. It had one cosponsor and never advanced beyond being introduced. Apparently the powerful Senator did not work hard to promote his idea, or perhaps he only wanted some publicity.
Senator Thune has generated publicity before in matters regarding prescribed fire. In 2015 he distributed to the media a strongly-worded very critical letter he sent to the Secretary of the Interior after the Cold Brook prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota escaped, burning an additional 5,420 acres of prairie. It never spread beyond the park boundaries.
Four days after the escape and months before the official report came out, the Senator was apparently very satisfied that he knew exactly the cause, writing to the Secretary, “The Cold Brook Fire could easily have been prevented”, and “the intense smoke will likely damage the lungs of young calves in the vicinity resulting in high risk of pneumonia and death loss.”
Ready. Fire. Aim.
The escaped fire was in grass and ground fuels beneath scattered trees that had been treated with prescribed fire before, and there was no significant crowning. It was basically over after one afternoon, but that didn’t stop Senator Thune from prognosticating about the lung condition of calves outside the park.
On Saturday the U.S. Forest Service reported that better mapping showed that the Foss Lake Fire, that escaped from a prescribed fire in northeast Minnesota, had not burned 1,000 acres as previously reported, but only 440 acres. On Sunday morning their update said it was 1,008 acres, and included this information:
There was little growth on the fire yesterday. Accurate mapping data from handheld and aircraft GPS units resulted in the large increase in acreage.
(UPDATED at 10:08 CDT May 21, 2016)
(UPDATED at 11 p.m. CDT May 20, 2016)
The U.S. Forest Service has provided more details about the escaped prescribed fire 15 miles west of Ely, Minnesota. Better mapping shows that it has burned approximately 440 acres rather than 1,000 from the earlier estimate.
From the Superior National Forest at about 10 p.m. CDT on Friday:
The fire is burning north within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).
Crews made good progress today, directly attacking the fire on its north, east, and west sides. Aircraft dropped fire retardant along the east side of the fire and water on the west side.
Background: The Foss Lake Fire began on May 19 as a prescribed fire to reduce surface and ladder fuels, to enhance wildlife habitat, and to encourage jack pine regeneration. Shortly after ignition, an unpredicted change in weather conditions brought higher winds, warmer temperatures, and lower relative humidity. A spot fire north of the control line escaped containment and the wind-driven fire spread to the north. Aircraft that were on standby responded quickly and, with the work of ground crews, were able to slow the fire’s eastward spread with water and retardant drops, protecting the west and north sides of Burntside Lake. The fire spread north to Crab Lake in the BWCAW. There was no fire growth to the south.
Message: There is no threat to the towns of Ely, Winton, Tower, or Soudan. No structures are threatened. Good fuel-reduction work completed over the last two years on Burntside Lake increases firefighters’ ability to manage the eastern edge.
Resources: 80 personnel and 8 aircraft. MNICS Type II Team under Incident Commander Brian Pisarek arrived today and will take command of the fire Saturday morning. The Lake Vermilion Fire Brigade and the Morse/Fall Lake Fire Department both have fire boats on Burntside Lake are conducting structure-protection assessments.
(UPDATED at 1 p.m. CDT May 20, 2016)
The U.S. Forest Service estimates the Foss Lake Fire 15 miles west of Ely, Minnesota has burned approximately 1,000 acres. Until the Type 2 incident management team that has been ordered arrives, the Type 3 Incident Commander is Timo Rova.
(Originally published at 9:56 a.m. CDT May 20, 2016.)
A prescribed fire on the Superior National Forest escaped control Thursday 15 miles west of Ely, Minnesota. The intent was to burn 78 acres north of Tamarack and Foss Lakes north of the 404 Road. By late afternoon the fire had been assigned a name, Foss Lake, and was creating a large convection column of smoke topped by a pyrocumulus cloud, an indication of fire intensity.
Thursday night the Forest Service was not able to provide a size estimate due to the smoke restricting visibility.
The fire was fought yesterday by firefighters on the ground assisted by eight aircraft.
Yesterday’s afternoon weather conditions near the fire were 74 degrees, 6 mph wind gusting to 19 mph, and 16 percent relative humidity. The forecast for Friday: 74 degrees, south wind at 6 mph, 51 percent cloud cover, and 22 percent relative humidity. There is no rain expected until Monday.
We will update this article as the situation develops.
While most areas in the western United States, with the exception of parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, wait for their fuels and weather to dry out, many firefighters in the east have been busy lately. The Intelligence section at the National Interagency Fire Center is too busy this time of the year to issue a daily Situation Report, so we assembled information about a number of fires east of the Mississippi River.
Tennessee A prescribed fire conducted by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) that got out of control in Blount County on Wednesday has burned 400 to 500 acres as of Thursday morning. TWRA officials said the wind picked up unexpectedly while they were treating a unit in the Foothills Wildlife Management area.
A fire in the Cherokee National Forest has burned 150 acres six miles north of Unicoi. Additional aircraft, dozers, engines, and firefighters have been ordered. (The tweet below is about this fire.)
North Carolina Mike Martin’s brush pile he was burning behind his house Wednesday near Etowah escaped as winds blew flames onto his porch. He went to grab two five-gallon buckets of water, but by the time he returned it was too late. He tried to go into the house to retrieve his car keys, but the fire was too hot. Both the Ford SUV and the house were destroyed even though the fire department responded quickly from their station two miles away.
A fire in the Nature Conservancy’s Nags Head Woods Preserve blackened about 250 acres on the Outer Banks. It started on March 22 and spread for three days.
New Jersey A wind-driven brush fire burned 86 acres in Port Republic Wednesday afternoon. With help from two water-dropping helicopters, about 30 firefighters stopped the spread.
Headquarters Economics released a report about how five cities have used innovative land use planning techniques as a way to adapt to the growing threat from wildfires. The authors met with city planners, elected officials, and firefighters in Austin, Texas; Boulder, Colorado; Flagstaff, Arizona; San Diego, California; and Santa Fe, New Mexico—all communities with a recent history of wildfire and a reputation for being problem solvers.
Prescribed fire escapes in Florida
In St. Johns County, Florida on Tuesday a prescribed fire intended to treat 140 acres off County Road 208 escaped control when an unexpected 20-25 mph wind gust scattered burning embers. About 270 acres later the Florida Forest Service was able to contain the blaze.
Spokesperson Julie Maddux said statewide in 2015 the Florida Forest Service burned more than 236,000 acres during prescribed fires and none of them got out of control.
U.S. Forest Service releases findings on the effects of drought for forests and rangelands
“Our forests and rangelands are national treasures, and because they are threatened, we are threatened,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This report confirms what we are seeing, that every region of the country is impacted by the direct and indirect effects of drought conditions and volatile weather patterns. Sixty million Americans rely on drinking water that originates on our 193 million acres of national forest and grasslands. They support 200,000 jobs and contribute over $13 billion to local economies every year.”
Utah seeks jail time for drone operators that interfere with wildfire operations
Last year there were numerous instances across the West of drones flying into the airspace above active fires and interfering with the operations of firefighting aircraft.
From the AP:
..A new proposal in the Utah Legislature aims to address the growing problem by creating a possible penalty of jail time for people who fly drones within 3 miles of a wildfire.
A House committee was scheduled to discuss the proposal Tuesday afternoon but the hearing was postponed.
Republican Rep. Kraig Powell of Heber City, the proposal’s sponsor, said he asked to postpone the meeting so he could get more input from interested parties. He said he may add exemptions for certain entities, such as public utility companies that need to use drones to see if the fire will impact gas lines.
Jason Curry of the Utah Division of Forestry said he hopes lawmakers back the bill…
“I really hope it doesn’t take a major mishap and somebody to lose their life for the public to take it seriously,” Curry said.
Washington state treats less land with prescribed fire than their neighbors
Washington lags far behind neighboring states in using controlled burns to thin out dangerously overgrown woodlands.
After back-to-back years of catastrophic forest fires, some state lawmakers want that to change.
“I’ve had it. I think it is time to delve into the policy,” said state Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, who represents a large swath of North Central Washington scorched in last year’s record-setting fires that burned more than 1 million acres.
Parlette is sponsoring a pair of “fight fire with fire” bills that would require more controlled burns on state lands and loosen smoke regulations to make it easier for federal and private land managers to conduct burns.
Experts say expanding the use of controlled burns is vital to restoring forests to health, leaving them less vulnerable to massive blazes when the summer fire season hits.
But some U.S. Forest Service officials and other critics say the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), led by Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, has discouraged controlled burns in recent years because of fears over smoke drifting into communities.
A wildfire resulting from an escaped prescribed fire on October 16 burned about 600 acres on the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, 3 miles south of Walden, Colorado. Three structures were destroyed — a barn, pump house, and mobile home used as a storage building. Firefighters from several federal agencies and Jackson County Fire Department contained the fire at 6 p.m. October 17.
9NEWS reported that two heavy air tankers, a single-engine air tanker, and heavy helicopter all made retardant drops on the fire.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials are convening an interagency review team with expertise in wildfire suppression, prescribed fire planning, and data analysis to investigate the escape.
Firefighters ignited the prescribed fire Friday morning, planned at 370 acres, to remove decadent vegetation, reduce wildfire risk, and improve wildlife habitat. That afternoon, although conditions fit within the required burn parameters according to the FWS, the project escaped containment lines. Firefighters reported witnessing a firewhirl.
The video below was shot by Erik Haberstick for the FWS.