Success story in the Klamath Mountains has an interesting article about how residents in the northern California community of Butler successfully prepared for and responded to the Butler Fire, part of the Orleans Complex, in August of 2013.

A significant investment in fire prevention work from the community, the US Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service during and after these fire events allowed firefighters to safely defend the 10 structures there during the Butler Fire.

Butler folks had faced this event before and were prepared, with the help of the local community and firefighters, to defend their homes once again. An old ditch line constructed by miners in the 1800’s was identified after the 2008 fires as the place to hold future fires upslope of the homes. Thirteen acres of prescribed burns had been conducted by the Orleans Somes Bar Fire Safe Council between this ditch and the homes below, since 2008, and in the past two years, the Salmon River Fire Safe Council had brushed more than 10 acres along the ditch line.

Burnouts on the western flank of the 2013 Salmon River Complex in Murderer’s Gulch caused thousands of acres of plantations to burn at high intensity.

As the fire approached, 40-plus community members who had just mobilized to help save the town of Orleans from another arson fire, came up to see how they could pitch in. While some crews prepared the homes for fire, others established perimeter firelines and brushed along the main water line. Still others organized an emergency evacuation plan for volunteers. Some people brought food, and supplies like brass fittings to get hydrants online. And Rebecca Lawrence, a Facebook pro, whipped up the Salmon River and Orleans Complexities Open Group that allowed people to communicate and organize even when phones were out and roads were closed. When the agency hotshot crews showed up a couple days later, they were grateful for the prep work already accomplished that allowed them to focus on bringing the fire safely past the homes with minimal use of burnouts…

Below is a map that we published in an August 4, 2013 article about the Orleans and Salmon River Complexes of fires in northern California. The Butler Fire was in the eastern section of the Orleans Complex, 7 miles east of Orleans and about 49 miles northeast of Eureka. 

3-D Map of Salmon River and Orleans Complexes of fires August 3, 2013
3-D Map of Salmon River and Orleans Complexes of fires August 3, 2013 (click to enlarge)

Research: Firewise principles may not reduce suppression costs

Home threatened by the Colby fire east of Los Angeles, January 17, 2014.  Photo by John Stimson.
Home threatened by the Colby fire east of Los Angeles, January 17, 2014. Photo by John Stimson.

A study conducted by Headwaters Economics explored how firefighting costs might be affected by the application of Firewise principles in a community. To achieve official status as a Firewise Community, it must get a written wildfire risk assessment from their state forestry agency or fire department. Second, communities are required to generate an action plan and form a board or committee based on their risk assessment. Next, they must organize and hold a public education “Firewise Day” event. The final step before applying requires that they invest at least $2 per person in annual Firewise actions.

But those requirements do not guarantee that a large percentage of homeowners will actually take steps to create defensible space or use fire resistant building materials on their structures. There is also no requirement that a community construct a large-scale fuelbreak that would reduce the intensity of an approaching wildfire and the accompanying ember shower that is the culprit for igniting most homes during a fire seige.

The study analyzed costs of 111 fires. Their conclusion was:

We find no evidence of a relationship between suppression costs and Firewise participation represented by: (1) the percent of homes in Firewise Communities for the area within 6 mi. (9.7 km) of wildfires, and (2) the Firewise-related expenditures by residents. The lack of evidence that Firewise reduces suppression costs suggests that policy makers attempting to address rising suppression costs are better served focusing on other solutions, including increasing suppression funding and managing future development in high-risk areas.

The Firewise program is not designed to reduce the costs of fire suppression. Its goals are to reduce the deaths of residents, protect private property from fire, and enhance the safety of firefighters and the general population.

During the course of the study the researchers interviewed 16 Type 1 and 2 Incident Commanders. Some of them stated that the patchwork nature of the creation of defensible space and the use of fire resistant building materials at the parcel level within a Firewise Community made it difficult to modify fire suppression tactics and strategy based on an official community-wide designation .

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.


“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

Prepare for wildfire season

Prepare Your Home for Wildfire Season
Prepare Your Home for Wildfire Season (click to enlarge)

In two Twitter messages published on Wednesday and Thursday, the U.S. Forest Service asked the public to prepare for the wildfire season.

Smokey Bear in space

Last year when NASA astronaut Joe Acaba flew aboard the International Space Station he took along a Smokey Bear action figure. In this video Mr. Acaba talks about observing wildfires from space and the importance of preventing human-caused wildfires.

Smokey Bear on ISS
Smokey Bear on the International Space Station. Photo by NASA.

Last year when NASA astronaut Joe Acaba flew aboard the International Space Station he took along a Smokey Bear action figure. In this video Mr. Acaba talks about observing wildfires from space and the importance of preventing human-caused wildfires.

As of noon MDT October 19 the video has only been viewed 378 times since it was uploaded over four months ago. Let’s see if we can improve that number by clicking on the play button above.

And speaking of Smokey Bear videos, the 30-second PSA below was just uploaded to YouTube four days ago — October 15, 2013. Be the first on your block to view it.

I think the above fire prevention video is very good — better than most. It actually has a call to action that the typical viewer can understand, implement, and which could produce positive results. When a billboard or video simply says “Prevent Forest Fires”, or “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” without providing a suggestion as to HOW, the effectiveness can be questioned.

Betty White, honorary Forest Ranger

Betty White honorary Forest Ranger
Betty White (center, obviously) and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell (left), November 9, 2010

Betty White, yes, THAT Betty White, the actress, is featured in a new fire prevention video fulfilling one of her duties as an honorary Forest Ranger. She worked with the California fire prevention agencies to create One Less Spark, One Less Wildfire.

Ms. White was designated an honorary Forest Ranger in 2010. She said in interviews that she wanted to be a forest ranger as a little girl, but that women were not allowed to do that then.