Important bridge that burned in Parker 2 fire replaced in a matter of days

Above: The Middle Fork Parker Creek bridge after the Parker 2 Fire moved through the area. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)

(Originally published at 1:50 p.m. MDT September 21, 2017)

(From the U.S. Forest Service)

As a wildfire rages across a forest, fire engines and heavy equipment travel swiftly along forest roads to get to the fire line. They arrive at the main bridge they need to cross, only to find it has burned and is impassible. This is not part of a storyline in a movie, it was reality for firefighters assigned to the Parker 2 Fire 10 miles east of Alturas, California on the Modoc National Forest (MNF) in August 2017.

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File photo of the Middle Fork Parker Creek bridge earlier this year, before the fire. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)

When firefighters discovered the burned bridge in the Warner Mountains, they reported it to the Incident Management Team (IMT). Heather McRae, working as the Operations Section Chief Trainee on the IMT, remembered that there was an unused bridge being stored at the Ashe Creek Guard Station on the nearby Shasta-Trinity National Forest (SHF). When she isn’t working on fires, Heather works as the Prescribed Fire and Fuels Specialist on the SHF. Heather quickly relayed to the MDF about the possible replacement bridge.

Upon hearing about the unused bridge, MDF Roads Engineer, Alvin Sarmiento, coordinated with SHF Engineer, Virginia Jones, to investigate if the bridge would fit the span needed. Shortly thereafter, MNF was sending their construction and maintenance crew over to load the bridge and transport it to the Warner Mountains.

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A dozer prepares a foundation for the replacement bridge. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)

Understanding the urgent need for the bridge to be in place to help firefighters battle the Parker 2 Fire, the IMT prioritized the resources needed to move it into place. From the time construction actually began, to the time the bridge was crossed by the first firefighters, only five days had passed.

“This was an incredible team effort. We tapped into the power of the IMT ordering and buying team, supply specialists and ground support for picking up and delivering parts, the operations section for providing invaluable contract equipment and operators, and our local road crew,” said Chris Bielecki, Forest Engineer on the MDF. “And it still amazes me that the bridge was available in the first place, and that it was the right size. This experience was definitely a career highlight for me.”

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Placing mechanically stabilized earth “baskets” and filling with crushed rock to form an abutment for the bridge. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)

While sharing resources among national forests isn’t something new to the Forest Service, the sharing and placement of physical structures like this bridge in the middle of an emergency is unique.

“When it comes to fighting fire or responding to other emergencies, if we can help another forest in their time of need, we will do it every time,” said Dave Myers, Forest Supervisor for the SHF.

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The new bridge is put into place allowing firefighters access to the ongoing wildfire. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)
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The first firefighters to cross the newly placed bridge. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)

The Parker 2 Fire was contained at 7,697 acres.

400 firefighter hand crews are deployed on fires in the United States

Above: A firefighter ignites a burnout on the Powerline Fire southwest of Pocatello, Idaho. Uncredited Inciweb photo, posted August 6, 2017.

(Originally published at 12:48 p.m. MDT August 6, 2017)

Wildland firefighters are much busier this year than in a typical year. To date, fires have burned 46 percent more acres than the 10-year average — 5,820,802 acres vs. the 3,962,906 average. In some years fire activity in Alaska, where many very large fires are not suppressed, can inflate these numbers, but so far that state can only account for 626,786 acres, not a huge number for Alaska.

400 hand crews, usually comprised of 20 people each, are deployed nationwide, along with 949 fire engines, and 120 helicopters for a total of 16,673 personnel.

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Map showing heat detected on the Powerline Fire southwest of Pocatello, Idaho by a satellite August 5 and 6, 2016. The red dots are the most current, at 4:04 a.m. MDT August 6. Some areas with light vegetation, such as grass, may have burned and cooled before the satellite overflight and were not detected.

Here are brief descriptions of some of the larger or more prominent fires:

  • Powerline (see the map and photo above): Since it was reported Friday night this fire has spread very rapidly. Saturday it was very active on the northeast and southeast sides. Using satellite data the Incident Management Team estimated early Sunday morning that it had burned over 40,000 acres, but that is a very rough guess. More accurate mapping by fixed wing aircraft will provide better numbers. The satellite information indicated that by 4:04 a.m. Sunday it had spread to within 6 miles of Pocatello, Idaho. It is moving into steeper terrain with heavier fuels, offering more resistance to control and is the #2 priority in the Great Basin Geographic Area according to the national situation report.
  • Mammoth Cave, southwest of Carey, Idaho. Since it started August 4 it has burned three structures and 30,000 acres. It is the number 1 priority in the Great Basin Geographic Area.
  • The Shoestring Fire between Shoshone and Gooding, Idaho has blackened about 12,000 acres since it started August 5. It is the #3 priority in the Great Basin Geographic Area.
  • The Rice Ridge Fire northeast of Seeley Lake, MT is the #1 priority in the Northern Rockies Geographic Area and is threatening over 1,000 structures. It added almost 700 acres on Saturday to bring the total to 7,740.
  • The Sunrise Fire, 12,900 acres, the #2 priority in the Northern Rockies Geographic Area, grew by 600 acres Saturday. It has been burning since July 16, growing every day, adding several hundred acres daily on the east or northeast sides. It is now mapped at 12,900 acres.
  • The Hanover Fire, in a very remote area 15 miles northwest of Riggins, Idaho, was extremely active on Saturday. The Incident Management Team reports that it has burned 4,479 acres.
  • Parker 2, 10 miles east of Alturas, California. It was very active Saturday, adding 5,300 acres, growing to 7,100 acres.
  • Minerva 5, just south of Quincy, California. It has burned 4,088 acres and the voluntary evacuation of the town has been lifted. Firefighters completed a firing operation Saturday night.
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A sawyer on the Minerva 5 Fire, August 2, 2017. Inciweb photo, uncredited.