Study quantifies flooding and wildfire suppression costs avoided by forest thinning

Schultz Fire flood
Flooding near Flagstaff following the 2010 Schultz Fire. (From “Field Trip Guide to the 2010 Schultz Fire Burn Area”.)

After the June, 2010 Schultz fire burned 15,000 acres in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona, the floods that followed had an economic impact of about $130 million. Not only did the residential communities adjacent to the fire experience flooding, but subdivisions 10 miles away were also flooded.

Two recent studies have quantified the benefits of forest thinning projects from economic and ecological perspectives.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Arizona Daily Sun:

[One] study calculated the potential wildfire and flood-related costs that will be avoided with the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project. The other study quantified the watershed benefits of forest thinning similar to that proposed by the Four Forest Restoration Initiative.

The FWPP economic study estimated that the wildfire and post-fire flooding-related costs Flagstaff will avoid could total between $573 million and $1.2 billion.

More than 70 percent of Flagstaff voters approved FWPP in 2012.

The study, which is likely one of the first to anticipate wildfire-related costs from flooding, helps put the FWPP’s initial price tag into context, said Paul Summerfelt, the city of Flagstaff’s wildland fire management officer.

“We’re using it to reassure voters that $10 million was wise investment,” he said. “We pay a little now to prevent, or a whole lot more later just to try to fix.”

The analysis, performed by Northern Arizona University’s Arizona Rural Policy Institute, accounted for everything from the projected costs of fighting a severe wildfire in Flagstaff’s watersheds to the revenues businesses could lose to post-wildfire flooding. That number, for example, came to $15 million over five years.


Schultz fire, one day too early

In June the Schultz fire, started by an abandoned campfire, burned 15,000 acres north of Flagstaff, Arizona. As far as I know, the culprits have not yet been found but there was a reward offered by a local brewery of free beer for life for anyone with information leading to the campers who left the fire burning.

At a public meeting this week the Forest Supervisor of the Coconino National Forest discussed the fire restrictions which were not in place when the fire started. Here is an excerpt from the Arizona Daily Sun:

One question prompted the most audience applause Wednesday night at Coconino High: Why weren’t any fire restrictions in place before the fire began?

The Schultz Fire began this past summer after other major wildfires had already prompted evacuations, including the Hardy Fire and a fire in Spring Valley.

Coconino National Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart responded:

“Trying to come up with criterion as to when it’s best to close the forest is really, really difficult,” he said.

The agency has not opted to use certain dates of the year to set or remove fire restrictions, because sometimes those dates don’t match what’s been happening with the weather, he said.

Also, Stewart doesn’t want to close the forest to public access when it isn’t necessary, he said.

The Coconino tries to match its fire-restriction decisions to three other forests so that the public isn’t confused about what the rules are in various places, he said.

The decisions about whether to implement fire restrictions across these forests are made in Monday-morning phone calls during the spring and summer.

The Schultz fire started on a Sunday after a Saturday wildfire forced the evacuation of parts of southeast Flagstaff.

So it occurred before the Monday meeting used to discuss fire restrictions or closures.

“The reality was, in this case, the Schultz fire was 24 hours too early,” Stewart said. “We had not gotten into those discussions.”

Turn in Schultz fire suspects, get free beer for life

Yep, that is what someone posted on the Flagstaff Brewing Company’s Twitter account:

free beer for life 2 whoever turns in the schultz campers w/ the 5 foot campfire @ 930 am on sunday. Our peaks mean more than $ & words.
about 14 hours ago [about 11:30 pm June 24] via Twitter for iPhone

We talked to Jeff Thorsett of Flagstaff Brewing Company to see if it was really true. The company sells their beer in 1/2 gallon containers, and he said if a tip results in the arrest and conviction of the person who started the fire, they will give the tipster 1/2 gallon of beer each week for the rest of their lives. Now THAT’S a REWARD!

Investigators have determined that the Schultz fire started from an abandoned campfire on June 20 at Schultz Tank and Elden Trail north of Flagstaff, AZ. In addition to “free beer for life” from the brewing company, the U.S. Forest Service is offering a more conventional $2,500 reward. USFS officials request that anyone having information concerning the abandoned campfire call the Coconino NF Supervisors’ Office at (928) 527-3508.

Description of the Schultz fire’s ICP

It can be enlightning to see wildland firefighting described through the eyes of someone else. The Arizona Daily Sun has an article describing the Incident Command Post at the 14,800-acre Schultz fire north of Flagstaff, Arizona which burned about 5,000 acres in the first 8 hours. It is a well written story and is worth reading, but I could not help but notice two minor errors in this excerpt. Can you find them?

When the Schultz fire exploded into a raging wildfire Sunday afternoon and garnered the highest level of firefighting priority in the nation, hundreds of firefighters rushed to northern Arizona to battle the fast-moving blaze.

Behind that initial attack, and in just a matter of 24 hours, a mini-city of support assembled at Cromer Elementary School.

Welcome to ICC, or incident command center, where firefighters can eat scrambled eggs with green chili, reload on sunscreen and bug repellent, get a medical checkup, take a shower and shave, fill up on cookies and ice cream, check out the fire-tracking maps and then find a cot to crash on.

The command center serves as a base camp for the personnel — more than 950 strong (including up to 800 firefighters) — assigned to the Schultz fire. That total includes “overhead” or supervisory workers who support the firefighting effort mostly from the ground.

“There’s a tremendous amount of infrastructure to put in place,” said Troy Waskey, who is on staff with recreation, lands and minerals at the Tonto National Forest. “That’s the beauty of the ICC structure: You can put a team in place with the resources that are needed within 24 hours.”


Run as tightly as a military operation, the world of wildfire fighting is full of acronyms and abbreviations, specific uniform requirements, and lots of rules and orders, many spelled out daily in the IAP, or incident action plan, passed out in booklet form to all concerned personnel during the morning briefing.