Two philosophies on fire suppression

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Who decides whether a blaze is crushed or allowed to burn is determined by jurisdiction — the federal government owns about 45% of California, more than 45 million acres, which includes the Plumas National Forest, where the Sugar fire began July 2. Federal authorities have command over fires that ignite on their property, even when they later cross off of those boundaries into populated areas.

But the U.S. Forest Service has a different philosophy on fire suppression than many state and local agencies. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which manages fires started on state and some private and local lands, aggressively works to stomp blazes out early — focused on protecting infrastructure and structures in areas that are often close to populated places.
Chris Dicus, professor of fire and fuels at Cal Poly, said those different rules can lead to “significant disagreements,” though lives and the safety of firefighters are always priorities.

Largely charged with stewardship of public lands and suffering from years of inadequate funding as the cost of fighting fires has blown up, the Forest Service allows some fires to burn as part of an overall strategy to thin forests that have become dangerously overgrown. Some federal agencies view burns, planned or otherwise, as a necessity to decreasing fire risk in the future, particularly in woods that have not seen flames in generations.

In a 2018 speech, Vicki Christiansen, who stepped down as head of the Forest Service last month, called unplanned wildfires “an important land treatment tool” that required “accepting short-term risks for longer term reductions in risk.”

California leaders, though, say this mindset is outdated and minimizes the risks of fires mushrooming, especially in forests and grasslands transformed by climate change.
In a virtual meeting Friday with President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and governors of other Western states to discuss federal aid for fires, Gov. Gavin Newsom called the “wait and see” culture of allowing some fires to burn on federal lands the “elephant in the room.” He asked Biden for help to ensure “we’re all on the same page in terms of those initial attack strategies” to force a more aggressive federal response.

“You can’t just walk away, not with this climate, not with this drought, " he said earlier in the week while visiting the ruin of the Tamarack fire. “This is life and death, and we can’t just fight fires the way we did 20, 30, 40 years ago anymore.”

The Tamarack has become the center of concerns about jurisdiction, accountability and policy.

U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock sent a letter to the Forest Service asking why the Tamarack wasn’t immediately suppressed, and Nevada state Rep. Jim Wheeler requested that the state attorney general investigate.

The National Wildfire Institute, a coalition that includes former Forest Service employees and industry interests such as timber companies, released a letter charging that the decision to allow it to burn “bears many hallmarks of criminal negligence” and calling for an independent investigation.

“This was a fire that burned for over a week unchecked,” said Ken Pimlott, retired director of Cal Fire, who was not involved in the letter. “Could we reasonably have expected this fire to stay at a quarter-acre for any length of time and not become a conflagration, as it did?” “I do know that fire resources were limited and there were several higher priority fires in the area,” said Tracy LeClair. “So due to the remote location, the decision was made to monitor it.”
Andy Stahl, executive director of the watchdog group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, said despite the devastating outcomes, the problem isn’t the fires, but the growing population across once-sparsely inhabited spaces.

He contends that the fires themselves are not burning more acres than in past drought cycles, but are simply more dangerous to humans. He points out that historically, about 70% of fires extinguish naturally — just as around 2% become uncontrolled. Those numbers, he said, have remained remarkably stable despite greater fire suppression efforts.

“The 1930s, which we know from John Steinbeck as the Dust Bowl, was just as dry as today, maybe even drier, and we had horrific fires then,” Stahl said. “Entire towns were wiped out, but they had 10 people in them. Now we have Los Angeles in the way.”

Blaming the Forest Service or federal authorities for fires is like “saying the U.S. Geological Service should be more aggressive in preventing earthquakes,” he said. “With fire, we seem to have a completely different, arrogant attitude that we can control this aspect of nature, and we can’t.”
Federal firefighting authorities handling the Tamarack, which started on July 4 as a single tree hit by lightning, said they were initially confident that natural barriers would contain the flames without intervention. On July 10, the Forest Service wrote on Facebook that the fire, then about 10,000 square feet, was “surrounded by granite rocks, a small lake and sparse fuels.”

Officials said that the rugged, remote terrain presented safety concerns when it came to sending in firefighters, and that the fire posed no threat to the public. So they chose to monitor it rather than insert crews.

But 12 days after igniting, the fire took off amid gusty winds and low humidity and made a run downslope, quickly growing to 500 acres. A federal incident management team for lesser fires took over July 18, only to be replaced two days later by a new command team that specializes in the most complex fires.

As of Saturday, the fire had burned more than 68,000 acres in both California and Nevada, was 79% contained and had destroyed or damaged at least 28 structures, as more than 800 personnel worked to control it, down from 1,600 earlier.
Dicus, the professor, said much of the tension between fighting or monitoring fires comes down to resources.

In 2020, Congress allocated more than $6 billion for wildfires across agencies, with more than half of that tagged for fire suppression, and the Biden administration has plans for expanding hiring and increased pay for federal firefighters.

But so far in 2021, there have been 5,600 fire starts in California, a record for this time of year. More than 480,000 acres have already burned, another dismal record. Speaking to Biden, Newsom said 59 fire starts were put out Thursday alone.

With tinderbox conditions across the West, federal fire crews are stretched thin, making it impossible to put out every spark even with the vast web of mutual aid agreements that include local, state and even international partners. More than 80 large fires have already burned 1.7 million acres across 13 states this year, with 21,500 firefighters and 28 incident command teams battling them, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Dealing with scarcity, federal command teams must make decisions daily on where to fight and where to watch — including on lands where forests have grown dense and vulnerable to large blazes because of past successful suppression efforts.

But partly because of lack of congressional investment, federal authorities are behind on better managing forests. The Department of the Interior and the Forest Service identified nearly 120 million acres of federal lands at substantial risk of wildfire. Between 2009 and 2018, those agencies performed fuel reduction on only about 2.5 million acres annually, though — hampered as fire suppression has steadily consumed greater chunks of budgets. An agreement signed last year between California and the federal government to do more maintenance work remains unfunded on the federal side, Newsom said last week.

Without a greater focus on fuels reduction, firefighting decisions are sure to become more contentious.

As it is, local communities are often left seeking answers after the smoke clears, and incident command teams depart and move on to other fires. Lassen County Administration Officer Richard Egan said it is difficult to get satisfying explanations from the federal government.

“They are masters at, I think the correct term is, gaslighting,” Egan told U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa at a meeting days after the Sugar fire hit Doyle. “They are terrible neighbors for us.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/stor ... fires-burn
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Re: Two philosophies on fire suppression

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Fires are good for the land and the critters. As it mentions, people get in the way. They don't fire wise around their property and many still have wood roof shingles and wood siding.
Nothing grows under a canopy of trees as much as open areas.
Our mountain burned hard, twice. Now it's nice and green with a more diverse vegetation.
Redneck Liberal This Is The Way

Re: Two philosophies on fire suppression

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Oh, yeah, a crack up. I even hit it twice expecting all about suppressive fire. But kick the door and rake the room knocked my cat off my lap. She's gonna be grouchy now for the rest of the day. I think she's the same age as my wife in cat yars... Similarities.

eta: Yes, it's difficult to type with my wife on my lap.

CDFingers
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Re: Two philosophies on fire suppression

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Controlled burns are dangerous as hell in California. Two of the biggest fires I ever worked started as controlled burns; one of which cost the lives of 2 firefighters. They are EXTREMELY hard to control, and EXTREMELY dangerous.

The fed's need to face up to the fact that shit is changing in CA, and the old ways aren't working anymore.
“I think there’s a right-wing conspiracy to promote the idea of a left-wing conspiracy”

Re: Two philosophies on fire suppression

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FrontSight wrote: Tue Aug 03, 2021 1:38 pm Controlled burns are dangerous as hell in California. Two of the biggest fires I ever worked started as controlled burns; one of which cost the lives of 2 firefighters. They are EXTREMELY hard to control, and EXTREMELY dangerous.

The fed's need to face up to the fact that shit is changing in CA, and the old ways aren't working anymore.
Couple years ago the FS started a few controlled burns along a back road and people kept putting them out. They were trying to burn off thick layers of pine needles and it was pretty moist so they were more smoking than burning.
If conditions are right it works well.
Redneck Liberal This Is The Way

Re: Two philosophies on fire suppression

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FrontSight wrote: Tue Aug 03, 2021 1:38 pm Controlled burns are dangerous as hell in California. Two of the biggest fires I ever worked started as controlled burns; one of which cost the lives of 2 firefighters. They are EXTREMELY hard to control, and EXTREMELY dangerous.

The fed's need to face up to the fact that shit is changing in CA, and the old ways aren't working anymore.
The government keeps promoting the control burn as the solution and points to the forest areas on the east coast where they do control burns. The East Coast has been doing controlled burns in forrest since the Native Americans were the only ones there. But the east coast is a lot different than the wild west coast when it comes to climate and weather.
Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.-Huxley
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." ~ Louis Brandeis,

Re: Two philosophies on fire suppression

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Agree, Eastern and Western forests are different. The major problem is people, more and more have moved into areas that due to climate change are now very vulnerable to fire. Same as people moving into areas that contain more wildlife that have also been disrupted by climate change, mountain lions, bears...come into populated areas looking for food and encounter humans.

In my county is the San Bernardino National Forest, 823,816 acres. Drought attracts bark beetles which prey on already weaken trees and kill them and those trees are kindling for fires. A lot of people live part time or full time in that National Forest, plus Hollywood shoots movies and TV series there.

When I was in college the Republicans fought "let nature take care of nature", now Democrats are fighting it.
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Re: Two philosophies on fire suppression

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It's a simple matter of just looking at humidity levels. The West is dry; it's really just that simple. When I lived in the South, we burned fields all the time. You could set a major field fire, go back home, have lunch, watch TV for a while, and then go back out to check on your fire, and you're just fine.

In the west, just think about striking a match and you have a major forest fire.
“I think there’s a right-wing conspiracy to promote the idea of a left-wing conspiracy”

Re: Two philosophies on fire suppression

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Yes, the West in tinder dry.
Facing criticism over its practice of monitoring some fires rather than quickly snuffing them out, the U.S. Forest Service has told its firefighters to halt the policy this year to better prioritize resources and help prevent small blazes from growing into uncontrollable conflagrations.

The change came days after politicians in California and the West, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, publicly challenged the “let it burn” approach after the Tamarack fire ignited last month, as The Times detailed in a story Sunday.

It also comes as fierce winds are expected to collide with bone-dry conditions at the massive Dixie fire in Northern California, already California’s eighth-largest in recorded history at more than 270,000 acres, leaving firefighters bracing for further spread during a red flag warning that goes through Thursday. Currently, the blaze is 35% contained with nearly 5,000 personnel working to stop its advance.

Instead of letting some naturally caused small blazes burn, the agency’s priorities will shift this year, U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore indicated to the staff in a letter Monday. The focus, he said, will be on firefighter and public safety.

Moore, who took over as head of the agency last month, wrote that the 2021 fire season is “different from any before” and posed a “national crisis” that required the U.S. Forest Service to put on hold its mission to groom forest lands — at times by letting wildfire clear them — to make them more resilient to fires. Instead, he said, the agency will use its strained resources to protect lives and homes as more than 70 large fires burn across the United States, requiring more than 22,000 fire personnel to battle.

“We are in a ‘triage mode’ where our primary focus must be on fires that threaten communities and infrastructure,” Moore wrote, citing drought conditions throughout the West and coronavirus cases among firefighters, reducing ranks further.

Christopher Dicus, professor of fire and fuels at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, called the change “prudent” and said the reevaluation was “not surprising at all” given the “horrific” conditions of drought and weather in the West.
For decades, the federal agencies that manage national forests and grasslands have fallen far behind on reducing brush, dead trees and other fuels for wildfires, in part because of environmental disputes and a lack of funding. Forests are also stressed by an invasion of bark beetles after the last drought, which left millions of dead trees in the Sierra Nevada. Into that volatile mix, climate change, with more intense weather patterns and climbing temperatures, is exacerbating the situation — as is the increase in homes built close to wildlands.

While most experts agree that fire is part of the solution, attempts to use prescribed burns during wetter periods to help return forests to healthier conditions have sometimes been blocked by California air districts, concerned about smoke compounding existing air pollution.
https://www.latimes.com/california/stor ... urn-policy
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Re: Two philosophies on fire suppression

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I'm still a big fan of goats and sheep herded into areas in need of thinning. You do it at the proper season. You're on horseback with lever guns and you've got dogs. Then you make feta cheese. "Melts great because it knows." Think of the pizzas. Do it for the underused stone ovens in backyards.

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