Vegetation treatments reduced structure loss on Alaska fire

Vegetation treatments and pre-constructed fuel breaks in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge helped firefighters protect homes that might otherwise have burned in the Funny River Fire on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska in May.

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Alaska: Funny River Fire becomes megafire

 (UPDATE at noon, MDT, May 29, 2014)

The Funny River Fire at Soldotna, Alaska has burned 192,831 acres and the Incident Management Team is calling it 46 percent contained.

Below is a report from the Team:

Cooler, damper weather moderated fire activity on Tuesday which allowed firefighters to switch from defense to offence for the first time since the Funny River Fire started nine days ago. Crews reinforced the containment lines on the west side of the fire in the Kasilof and Sterling Highway areas, and in the Funny River Road area. Progress was made with containment line on the north side of Torpedo Lake on the north side of the Kenai River. Overall fire containment is now 30 percent, with 713 firefighters working to keep the fire away from populated areas.

The evacuation order along the Funny River Road was cancelled yesterday and most residents returned to their homes. All remaining evacuation advisories have been lifted. The Lower Skilak Lake Campground remains closed until further notice.

Five structures were confirmed as lost to the fire. The owners were notified by the Kenai Peninsula Borough. These structures include one outbuilding (the main structure was saved), and four recreation cabins with limited access.

On Tuesday firefighters rescued five abandoned wolf pups on the fire. Check out the story and the photos HERE.

We posted some very interesting satellite photos of the fire in another article.

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(UPDATE at 6:28 p.m. MDT, May 27, 2014) An update from the Funny River Fire incident Managment team at about 6 p.m. MDT:

Firefighters made excellent progress yesterday extending containment lines on the west side of the fire in the Kasilof and Sterling Highway areas. Crews also completed burnout operations along the northern perimeter (south of Funny River road) late in the day helping to secure areas that had burned over containment lines on Sunday. The fire grew to over 182,000 acres as winds continued to push the fire perimeter northeast towards the Skilak Lake Road and further east into the wildlife refuge area. Overall fire containment is now 30 percent.

 

The evacuation order along the Funny River road has been cancelled. Residents are allowed to return to their homes. This area remains under an evacuation advisory. The evacuation advisory along the Sterling Highway was also lifted. The Kenai Keys area remains under an evacuation advisory. The Lower Skilak Lake Campground remains closed until further notice.

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Funny River Fire, May 27, 2014
Funny River Fire, May 27, 2014 (ESRI). The black annotations were added by Wildfire Today.

On Monday the Type 2 Incident Management Team for the Funny River Fire at Soldotna, Alaska mentioned that the fire had crossed the Kenai River near Torpedo Lake. The map, above, that we found on the Team’s Facebook page (it is not on their InciWeb page) shows that the fire has become established east of the river. It is no longer just a spot fire. Monday night the Team said the fire had burned 176,069 acres and 670 personnel were assigned. There have been no serious injuries. It is becoming difficult to find current, official information about the fire. Sometimes it is placed on InciWeb, occasionally it can be found on the Alaska Wildland Fire Information site, and then there’s Facebook and ESRI. There is a report from a Twitter user that it is raining in the fire area:

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Map of Funny RiverFire May 26, 2014
Map of Funny RiverFire. The white line was the perimeter at 9 p.m. May 23. The perimeter at 4 a.m. May 26 is shown in red.

The incident management team running the Funny River Fire at Soldotna, Alaska reported the fire has burned 158,585 acres and it is 30 percent contained. It crossed the Kenai River Sunday afternoon near Torpedo Lake just east of the Kenai Keys. Several spot fires within the Keys did minor damage but were quickly put out. The team is working to confirm if any structures were lost. The wind driven fire is continuing to spread northeast towards the Skilak Lake Road. The Lower Skilak Lake Campground was evacuated and is closed until further notice. The Kenai Keys area is under an evacuation advisory. The weather forecast is calling for rain early Tuesday. Cooler and wet weather will help slow fire activity.

Continue reading “Alaska: Funny River Fire becomes megafire”

Prescribed goat grazing

Google goats
Goats at Google’s Mountain View headquarters. Instead of mowing, the company rents 200 of them for a week at a time to remove weeds in a field. Google photo.

Yes, that is a new term to me also — “prescribed goat grazing”. I am familiar with the concept, just not the name. Back in the 1980s the Laguna-Morena Demonstration Area east of San Diego tried it as a demonstration project. A goat herd was used in brush covered remote areas near Pine Valley, California, and they did a great job in a confined space of reducing the amount of fuel that would be available for vegetation fires. They will eat almost anything.

A paper has been published titled, Goat grazing as a wildfire prevention tool: a basic review, by  Raffella Lovreglio, Ouahiba Meddour-Sahar, Vittorio Leone. One thing the authors did not cover in detail was the cost of building goat pens, and fencing around areas that will become their pastures. On a relatively small scale or in a semi-urban area, that may not be a substantial consideration, but if you are attempting to treat thousands of acres and moving the goats every few weeks, you’re talking about a large investment in building and possibly moving fences. If it is possible to not fence their “pastures” (using dogs to keep them in the right place) and only provide a pen for when they are off duty at night, it would be less costly.

Below is the summary and conclusion of the paper, and after that their chart showing the strengths and weaknesses of using goats for fuel reduction.

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“Prescribed goat grazing has the potential to be an ecologically and economically sustainable management tool for the local reduction of fuel loads, mainly 1h and 10h fine dead fuels and smaller diameter live fuels. These fine dead fuels can greatly impact the rate of spread of a fire and flame height, both of which are responsible for fire propagation.

Far from being a simple technique, prescribed goat grazing is more complex than simply putting a goat out to eat a plant; it requires careful evaluation of the type of animals and planning of timing. The technique also requires further research, since information about grazing for fuel reduction is anecdotal and there is only limited scientific information currently available, mainly for the Mediterranean area ([64], [44]).

The economically sustainable use of prescribed herbivory could be used for:

  • Maintenance grazing of fuel breaks with mixed goat-sheep flocks;
  • High impact browsing where prescribed burns are not possible (high cost service);
  • Specialized impact browsing in timber plantations (medium/high cost service);
  • Follow-up on burned areas (short term).
  • Goats are the most cost-effective, non-toxic, non-polluting solution available; they are greatly appreciated by the general public and they are an environmentally friendly and effective method of nearly carbon-neutral weed control which deserve further attention and applied research.”

Goats, strengths and weaknsses for fuel management

 

 
via @FireScienceGOV

USFS and NRCS announce 13 wildfire mitigation projects worth $30 million

Air Curtain
A contractor uses an air curtain to burn and dispose of slash from a wildfire mitigation project near Custer, SD, May 22, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The U.S. Forest Service announced yesterday:

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NRCS and Forest Service Partner to Improve Forest Health

HELENA, Mont., February 6, 2014 – Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie announced today a multi-year partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve the health and resiliency of forest ecosystems where public and private lands meet across the nation. The Under Secretary made the announcement in Helena, Mont., near the site of the Red Mountain Flume/Chessman Reservoir, one of the first areas to be addressed through the partnership. Another area to be targeted is the San Bernardino/Riverside County area of California which experienced catastrophic wildfires a decade ago.

“NRCS and the Forest Service have the same goal in this partnership – working across traditional boundaries and restoring the health of our forests and watersheds whether they’re on public or private lands,” Bonnie said.

Today’s announcement is part of the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan to responsibly cut carbon pollution, slow the effects of climate change and put America on track to a cleaner environment.

The project, called the Chiefs’ Joint Landscape Restoration Partnership, will invest $30 million in 13 projects across the country this year to help mitigate wildfire threats to communities and landowners, protect water quality, and supply and improve wildlife habitat for at-risk species.

The 13 priority projects will build on existing projects with local partnerships already in place. By leveraging technical and financial resources and coordinating activities on adjacent public and private lands, conservation work by NRCS and the Forest Service will be more efficient and effective in these watersheds.

“Wildfires and water concerns don’t stop at boundaries between public and private lands,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “By working together, we can provide more focused and effective assistance to help public and private landowners and managers put conservation solutions on the ground nationwide.”

“The Chiefs’ Joint Landscape Restoration Partnership is an opportunity for our agencies to pool resources and get better results for the American people,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell added. “Restoring the health of our nation’s forests and grasslands is a critical effort, and it’s going to take partnerships like this to see the job through.”

The 13 projects:

Montana – Red Mountain Flume/Chessman Reservoir: $865,000 for restoration of the watershed is critical to protecting communities, watershed health and drinking water, contributing 80 percent of the water supply for Helena, Mont. Successful implementation of this project will protect public health and safety, reduce the risk of decades of erosion and flooding that could result from a wildfire, and potentially save millions of dollars in mitigation costs.

California – San Bernardino and Riverside County Fuels Reduction Project: In October 2003, Southern California experienced catastrophic wildfires that burned over 750,000 acres, destroyed 3,500 homes, and resulted in 22 fatalities and over $3 billion in losses. Since then, multiple partners have committed time and resources to planning and implementing forest health and wildfire hazard reduction projects on private land and working with the owners within San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Reducing forest fuels on 30,000 acres will provide additional protection for community safety, wildlife habitat, watershed health, recreation opportunities and cultural resources.

California – Mid-Klamath River Communities Project: The partnership has yielded numerous implementation-ready projects and treatments on some high priority federal and private lands are underway or complete. These treatments include fuel breaks, thinning, broadcast burning, and improved fire suppression infrastructure such as water tanks and ingress/egress routes. Although these projects are focused on communities, most of these projects have identified wildlife, water, and economic stability benefits.

Other projects:

  • Minnesota – Upper Mississippi Headwaters Restoration
  • New Mexico – Isleta Project
  • New Hampshire – New Hampshire Drinking Water Improvement
  • Wisconsin – Lake Superior Landscape Restoration Partnership
  • West Virginia – West Virginia Restoration Venture
  • Kentucky – Triplett Creek
  • Arkansas – Western Arkansas Woodland Restoration
  • New York – Susquehanna Watershed Riparian Buffer Enhancements
  • Mississippi – Upper Black Creek Watershed
  • Oregon – East Face of the Elk Horn Mountains

Summaries of all projects selected can be found here.

The agencies are reviewing additional sites for the partnership to collaborate in the future and will continue to capitalize on NRCS and Forest Service overlying priorities and programs.

Firebreaks vs no firebreaks

A rather strange article in the Magic Valley Times-News in Idaho appears to advocate the construction and maintenance of fire breaks as well as the position that frequently they are ineffective in stopping the spread of fires. It may just be the way the reporter wrote the article, but it says the Bureau of Land Management “is looking to increase its fire fuel break efforts for up to 60 miles in the Jarbidge area”, but also indicates they are sometimes ineffective and quotes a BLM fire ecologist as saying: “There’s a rub though. At what point do you just leave the area alone and focus on rehab [after a fire]? It’s just a matter of time that all this will burn again.”

 

Thanks go out to Dick

Report: fuel treatments were effective at the Wallow fire

A report has recently been released that highlights several examples during the Wallow fire when fuel treatments, modifying the vegetation near populated areas, were effective in reducing the intensity of the fire, making it possible for firefighters to remain in the area and prevent structures from burning. The fire burned in eastern Arizona in May and June, 2011. It burned 522,900 acres and 32 homes, becoming the largest fire in the history of the state.

Here is an excerpt from the report:

Fuel Treatment Units Slow the Wallow Fire– Allow Firefighters to Safely Attack

As the main fire enters the ½ mile-wide White Mountain Stewardship Fuel Treatment units located above Alpine, the blaze drops from up in the tree crowns down to the surface level. The fire’s rate-of-spread dramatically slows. Thanks to the influence of these previously developed treatment units—implemented beginning in 2004—flame lengths are now low enough to allow firefighters to safely attack the fire and protect homes and property.

Engines and crews successfully extinguish the spot fires. To further protect residents’ houses, these firefighters also conduct low-intensity “firing operations” from roadways and other fuel breaks. These aggressive firefighting suppression actions continue throughout the evening—successfully halting the spread of the Wallow Fire into the community of Alpine. In fact, all of this community’s structures—but one—are saved from the fire’s attack. (Actually, this single structure burned several days later when an ember—most likely transported downwind during the June 2 crown fire run—smoldered for several days before flaring up.)

Wallow fire fuel treatment report
An image from the Wallow fire fuel treatment report. Click to enlarge.

The report was written by Pam Bostwick, Jim Menakis, and Tim Sexton, all of the U. S. Forest Service.