Wilderness fire: suppress, or manage it?

Wilderness Fire decisions
Screenshot from the video below.

The video below produced by the Northern Rockies Fire Science Network is intended to spark discussion about managing fire for resource benefit on public lands. It features interviews with 22 fire practitioners, most of whom are very well known in the wildland fire community.

Here is a sample from the 12-minute film, spoken by Dick Bahr, National Park Service Program Lead for Fire Science and Ecology:

We have really good modeling now. … If you’re not comfortable with where it’s going to get or you’re concerned about what it’s going to burn up — do you take on the fire, or do you take on protection of what you’re going to do? And now the big shift is, we have now the opportunity, go put the money and the effort into protecting that point you’re worried about losing and let the fire do what it’s supposed to do…

You’re going to win a few, you’re going to lose a few. And it’s OK to lose, but you’ve got to learn from them.

One of the speakers mentions firefighter fatality statistics. Our article “Wildfire Fatality Trends” (January 15, 2016) addressed that topic.

Arizona: Sitgreaves Complex Managed Fires

(Editor’s note. Today we are welcoming another writer and photographer to the Wildfire Today family. Tom Story, based in Phoenix, is a former newspaper photographer, now self employed editorial and commercial shooter, a one time National Interagency Fire Center contract photographer, and a longtime friend of the wildland fire community. Tom not only researched and wrote the article, but took the photos as well. Bill.)

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Sitgreaves Complex Fire
The crew from Kaibab National Forest Engine 314 — (left to right) Berkeley Krueger, Ben Winkler, and Keith Halloran, consult a map as they plan the day’s managed ignitions on the Sitgreaves Complex August 8, 2014.

“When monsoons arrive in northern Arizona, it is the ideal time for us to manage fires. Fire plays an absolutely essential role in keeping the forest healthy and in reducing the likelihood of high-severity fires that could threaten our neighboring communities,” said Art Gonzales, fire staff officer for the Kaibab National Forest.

So when a lightning strike on Sitgreaves Mountain, between Flagstaff and Williams, Ariz., on the evening of July 13, 2014, ignited a fire, one of several started on the Kaibab National Forest from summer thunderstorms that day, the Kaibab had plans in place to manage it as a resource benefit fire with the hope that they would be able to have the fire treat up to 19,000 acres of mostly ponderosa pine.

Sitgreaves Complex Fire
Ground fire from managed ignitions moves across the floor of the Kaibab National Forest on the Sitgreaves Complex August 8, 2014.

Resource benefit fires are managed for multiple objectives including reducing accumulated forest litter and fuels, maintaining fire in a fire-adapted ecosystem, increasing firefighter and public safety, and protecting cultural resources and wildlife habitat.

The Sitgreaves Fire occurred in an area that had been clear cut in the late 1800s-then reseeded, leaving a large area of similar aged trees and because of subsequent policies by the Forest Service, pretty much untouched by fire for over one hundred years.

Sitgreaves Complex Fire
The Grand Canyon National Park Helicopter, Papillon Helicopters’ A-Star B3 8PA, was used on the Kaibab National Forest’s Sitgreaves Complex for aerial ignition using a plastic sphere dispenser (PSD), August 8, 2014.

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