Above: An undated photo of the 416 Fire, from Inciweb.
After being assigned to the 416 Fire for two weeks Todd Pechota’s Type 1 Incident Management Team will demobilize Friday morning and transition to Joe Reinarz’s National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team. Mr. Pechota is the Forest Fire Management Officer on the Black Hills National Forest but is currently detailed into his former bosses job which is vacant, the Forest Supervisor position.
As Mr. Pechota’s time on the 416 Fire wound down, Alex Semadeni, a writer for the Durango Herald, interviewed the Incident Commander.
Below is an excerpt:
“We were playing a bit of a tough hand based on weather and topography and fuels,” Pechota said. “In many, many places of the fire, we just couldn’t land on a place where being able to take care of them (firefighters) in the event of an injury was an acceptable risk.”
Pechota was also concerned about the fire’s proximity to homes and the city of Durango in general. The fact that the fire was across the highway from the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire wasn’t lost on him either.
“It’s kind of eerie,” he said. “If you’re a student of fire, you would look across the road and see the burn scar of Missionary Ridge. And what is the thing about Missionary Ridge that people remember? Some people it may have been the flooding. Some people it may have been the size. Some people it may have been the huge fire whirl that went across Vallecito. But many of us, the thing that we remember is that somebody died fighting the fire.
“That’s one of those things that when you’re asking young men and women to go engage a fire that you look right across the road and there is the burn scar from an event that took somebody’s life. It heightens our awareness, it heightens our sensitivity of operations, all those kind of things.”
Above: Accumulated precipitation over the last seven days, June 12-18, 2018.
Moderating weather over the last seven days has helped firefighters make progress on some of the fires in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Utah. Today’s national Situation Report showed little or no increase in the size of wildfires in those four states. The 416 Fire in southwest Colorado and the Badger Creek Fire in southern Wyoming released a total of 345 personnel over the last 24 hours.
Todd Pechota’s Type 1 Incident Management Team is currently assigned to the 416 Fire, but Joe Reinarz’s NIMO team has been mobilized for the fire, which could be an indication that they expect it to be a long term incident. The west side of the fire has spread into steep, remote terrain above 8,000 feet as it grows closer to an 11,000 to 12,000-foot ridge five miles away. Much of the ridge is above the timber line and may eventually, with patience over time, serve as a barrier. Mr. Reinarz’s team team will transition on Friday.
Below, National Weather Service graphics show the observed precipitation and the departure from normal for the last 30 and 90 days.
Residents of the 463 homes in the Peak 7 neighborhood near the Peak 2 Fire north of Breckenridge, Colorado were able to return to their homes Friday night for the first time since the fire started July 5. The fire has burned 74 to 84 acres, about the size of an 18-hole golf course, but no one would ever build a golf course on terrain this steep (see map above).
Todd Pechota’s Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command at 6 a.m. Friday.
The resources assigned to the fire include 8 hand crews, 15 engines, and 8 helicopters for a total of 362 personnel.
The U.S. Forest Service announced that Todd Pechota, Forest Fire Management Officer (FMO) on the Black Hills National Forest, is the recipient of the 2015 National Forest FMO of the Year award. He received the honor during a recent ceremony at the U.S. Forest Service Regional Office in Colorado.
The Black Hills National forest is in the Black Hills of western South Dakota and northeast Wyoming.
The award recognizes the most outstanding fire manager in the U.S. Forest Service each year. It has a long and prestigious history of honoring fire managers who have exhibited exceptional leadership in Forest Fire Management leadership as a Forest Fire Management Officer.
“Todd is an exceptional leader in wildland fire,” said Craig Bobzien, Black Hills National Forest Supervisor. “This award is a testament to the work he has accomplished. It underscores the relationships he has developed locally and across the nation, and the special care that he has shown for all those that have worked with him.”
In addition to his position as FMO on the Black Hills National Forest, Pechota serves as the Incident Commander for the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team and is past Chairman of the Great Plains Regional Dispatch Board of Directors.
When I heard this morning that the Black Hills National Forest was going to conduct a 94-acre prescribed fire today I looked out my window at the snow in my yard. Curious about how they were going to accomplish this I departed on a expedition to answer this question. It being close to lunch time I stopped at the Dew Drop In for a burger and their wonderful homemade fries, and then again at the TurtleTown chocolate shop for, obviously, a bag of chocolate turtles.
Passing near the Crazy Horse mega-sculpture I saw two bald eagles on the ground in a pasture. I pulled over onto a nearby side road hoping to get a photo, but they were pretty skittish and rudely flew away. But I still grabbed a few not very impressive photos.
By the time I made it to the Whaley prescribed fire near Hill City, South Dakota, I was no longer hungry and was ready to see how the the U.S. Forest Service fire folks were going to pull this off.
It turned out that there was almost no snow on the south facing slopes and they were about 75 percent done with ignition when I pulled up. But there was still snow in some of the flat lands and shaded areas, enough to make it pretty easy to find snow fields, in addition to roads, to serve as control lines.
At the Elk Mountain weather station the temperature was in the 40s, the relative humidity in the low 30s, and the sky was partly cloudy. As it turned out, a good day for being out in the woods with a drip torch.
The video at the top of the article includes still photos, video clips, and an interview with Todd Pechota, the Fire Staff Officer for the Black Hills National Forest.
The following article was contributed by Frank Carroll.
For the United States Forest Service and the other major federal, state and local wildland fire agencies, the music is playing the band. It worked OK for the Grateful Dead. It’s a different story when it comes to developing and conducting wildland fire policy.
It may surprise no one to discover that wildland fires are bigger, more costly, more damaging, and more out of control than in any decade before the present, all the way back to 1910. There was so much large fire on the ground in the 2015 fire season we ran out of superlatives to describe how big and bad they were. In many cases the fires burned together forming “charismatic megafires” of untold destruction, sometimes because we had no choice.
Author Stephen Pyne, in an often brutally honest book about where we’ve been and where we’re headed with fire management in America, observes that fire is managing us; we’re not managing fire (Between Two Fires 2015).
What began in the late 1960s as a scarcely heard warning siren that wildfire should be left to its own devices on certain wild lands (prescribed natural fire or “let burn” fires pioneered by the National Park Service) became, by 2000, a five alarm screaming wail heard round the world. Our best laid plans have come to naught. We are caught in a blizzard of falling ash, awash in a river of flying embers, and blinded by the smoke. It is clear that no human power will stop the rising tide of flames in wildlands and Red Zone suburbs where 10 percent of our homes are, no matter what the cost.
How we got here is a tale worth reading. Where we’re headed is into the fog of war, but not without guideposts and markers. Based on the very sound idea that fire should play a natural role in natural resource management, agencies and scientists spent the past 50 years trying to work out how to get it done. And they had help. The Nature Conservancy can field its own firefighters and burn its own ground. Environmentalists looked for ways to burn without having to pay for the work of preparing and herding fires, and without the expertise to help. Their grand experiment in the theology/ecology of hope over the last 50 years accelerated the fuels problem. The fuels situation is also exacerbated in places where logging results in activity fuels with resulting backlogs needing treatment and feeding wildfires.