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SPOTFIRE! ~ The FUSEE Blog

It takes just one little ember to spark a Spotfire! Like fireline scouts, FUSEE’s crew of bloggers size up emerging incidents and issues, report back vital information, and mark the route for others to follow.  Here you will find news and views you can use to promote safe, ethical, ecological fire management. We hope interested readers and investigative reporters will follow up on our blog posts to get the whole story of wildland fire.

10 Ways that the Climate Crisis, Wildfires and Militarism are Intertwined

Here in the good ol’ U.S.A., we live in a deeply militarized society.  This has been true, since the end of WW2 with the establishment of the military industrial complex.  President Eisenhower warned of the creeping influence of the haters and bomb makers in the last speech of his tenure.  A distinctly large portion of our GDP comes from weapons sales, and as the self-proclaimed stable genius (who says that about themselves that isn’t deeply insecure?) currently serving as our President likes to point out in characteristically unedited style, and I paraphrase here, “We’ll do arms business with any tyrants, hell-bent on genocide (a.k.a. the Saudi Royal Family), ‘caus that’s how we roll in ‘Merica.”  Filmmaker, Michael Moore, got it right in Bowling for Columbine, when he posited that America’s children can hardly help but come to the understanding that all conflicts should be decided with deadly force.  It’s in our movies, our video games, and Dad goes to work every day at the missile factory, just like low prices at Wal-Mart.  We have been involved in foreign conflict and undeclared war endlessly, since 911. Even the Vietnam War was a “conflict,” with Congress completely capitulating in their role as a check against Executive power.  The House’s weak effort to stop the genocide in Yemen is weak tea against a backdrop of death, destruction, disease and starvation.

The war on wildland fire is simply an extension of our country’s extreme militarism – a place where veterans of foreign wars, wanna-be cops, and other conservative-minded men, mostly, can assemble, bond, and wrap themselves in a narrative of strength, heroism and sacrifice. There is a place for men and women to suppress fires near homes and vulnerable infrastructure. However, claiming glorious victory when fires are easiest to suppress, go out on their own, or when a break in the weather moderates conditions is disingenuous.

When the warming planet is most in need of those who see humanity as a part of and dependent upon nature, our answer is bigger engines, larger aircraft and more firefighters that have scant understanding of the natural sciences.  It’s not as if respect for the natural world and all the world’s creature is some communist plot or pagan religion challenging Christianity.  These beliefs are fully compatible and inherent to most of the world’s religions.  It is the challenge to the selfishness of consumerism and capitalism that is the problem.

There is a counter narrative.  That is returning fire to appropriate landscapes, and particularly for indigenous peoples, it is returning fire into the hands of the people.  There was a renaissance in prescribed burning and allowing natural fires to burn that started at the dawn of ecology, as an accepted science in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and it peaked prior to 911.  More and more wildland firefighters were becoming fire foragers and land stewards, rather than simply emergency first responders.  After 911 the cult of hero allowed firefighters who cared little for the land to wrap themselves in the flag and bask in public appreciation for doing nothing more than deferring fires to a later date.

Scientists have known that a war on fire and attempts to eradicate fire from the landscape were wrong-headed for fifty years or more.  Now public fear of fire and climate disasters writ large has the public predictably seeking simple narratives to complex problems.  They look to first responders to feel safe, in an increasingly unsafe world, as limits to growth and overshoot begin to manifest themselves amidst an empire in decline.  They want to hear that things are going to get better, that problems can be solved through unfettered market fundamentalism, when that has never been further from the truth.  So, we make war with nature and war on fire.  Al Gore has said that wildland firefighters are on the frontlines of our “war” on climate change. But the awakening is well underway, with traditional ecological knowledge being married to our increased understanding of fire ecology.  Fire will be returned to the people one way or another.  All that remains to be determined, is if it can be done absent ecological collapse and mass human die-off.

To that end, that is, the end of the fire exclusion paradigm, I offer this paraphrased adaptation of Medea Benjamin’s recent Counterpunch article, entitled 10 Ways that the Climate Crisis and Militarism are Intertwined. I would suggest reading that article first, before you continue, as it is excellent.

1. The US wildland firefighting apparatus protects Big Oil and other extractive industries. The presence of poorly maintained energy infrastructure in remote flammable wildlands prevents greater use of natural ignitions to reduce fuels. Or at the very least, the presence of oil-based transportation corridors, powerlines and pipelines is one of the more often used excuses to suppress fires in remote areas. A great example is the current PG&E imposed blackout throughout Northern California. Because of their attention to shareholder profits rather than infrastructure maintenance over time, they are now punishing consumers. This is likely an attempt to coerce favorable legislation limiting their fire liability in the future.  In a perfect world, we would have local, decentralized renewable energy production and distribution, relying less on inefficient long transmission lines. We can’t get off the fossil fuel treadmill until we stop our military from acting as the world’s protector of Big Oil.

2. While the amount of fuel utilized by land management agencies pales in comparison to the consumption of fossil fuels by the Pentagon, when one adds the Dept. of Interior, Dept. of Agriculture and GSA, which provides vehicles to many agencies, the usage is just below the Postal Service, which uses the most of all civilian agencies. And this doesn’t even get at the fuel consumed by state agencies and private contractors that provide the vast air force supporting the fire industrial complex.  Even the lighting of needed fires, usually involves pouring a mixture of gasoline and diesel fuel across the land.

3. The money spent to suppress fires monopolizes the funding we need to seriously address forest fuels accumulation.
So much of the U.S. Forest Service budget is spent on fire suppression, that other important programs like recreation, restoration, fisheries, botany, and most importantly, fuel reduction, are strangled to the point of collapse. Measures have been taken to alleviate that problem, but it does nothing to change the open check book, “money is no object,” mentality, especially when fires threaten communities. The Green New Deal should include large sums of money for crews to reduce fuels and conduct prescribed burning, crews that are dedicated to this work and that are unavailable for suppression assignments.  Today’s crews and equipment that are earmarked for suppression are tightly controlled, and the Generals of wildland fire become enraged when their “resources” are tied up doing the preventative medicine of prescribed burning or fuel reduction and are unavailable for treatment of the symptom – wildfires. An example of the difficulty in diverting resources away from suppression is CalFire’s stated desire to form new “fuels crews” across California top do this work.  Word from some of those that were hired under this new fiscal authority report little progress towards the stated goal – no training program, little organization, and now they are being offered jobs on CalFire engine crews.  There is so much organizational inertia toward the suppression end and lost expertise on the prescribed burning end, that CalFire is having a hard time imagining a different way of doing business.

4. Wildland fire suppression operations leave a toxic legacy in their wake.
Suppression operations despoil the landscape, fragment habitat, pollute the soil, and contaminate the drinking water. It is known that fire retardant is toxic to fish life and a major court settlement mandated no retardant within 100 feet of known rivers and streams, but the use of larger and larger aircraft makes precision drops impossible. Unsupervised private aircraft contractors, driven by the profit motive, rather than any motive to actually stop the fire, paint ridges miles from the main fire with thousands of gallons of toxic retardant. Oftentimes, retardant application maps are doctored to show that precision was possible with exactly 100-foot breaks in continuous retardant lines that go for miles along ridges denuded of vegetation in swaths hundreds of feet wide that are often ineffective under extreme fire behavior conditions.  Bulldozers routinely desecrate native spiritual sites and destroy fragile archeological sites. (See FUSEE’s 2018 report “THE SKY’S THE LIMIT: THE SOBERANES FIRE SUPPRESSION SIEGE OF 2016” for more information.)

5. Wars ravage fragile ecosystems that are crucial to sustaining forest health and climate resiliency.
Efforts to exclude fire often involves the destruction of the environment, through the use of heavy equipment and toxic chemicals, but it is the exclusion of fire also makes forest ecosystems vulnerable to fuel build-up and uncharacteristically severe wildfires that destroy large legacy trees.  In dry pine forests, scientists have been warning for years that old-growth trees, like Giant Sequoias are made vulnerable to fire, because of the surrounding fuel accumulation.  Thousands of acres of old-growth trees have been protected from recent large fires, like the 2013 Rim Fire, by prescribed burning. Similarly, human communities should use fire and other fuel reduction strategies to become more resilient to climate-influenced wildfires burning at the hottest time of year.

“[Fires] are going to get bigger and more expensive if we continue this war metaphor, which is the worst of all metaphors for fire. We are not at war with fire, and that’s good, because if we were, we’re going to take a lot of casualties, we’re going to spend a lot of money, and we’re going to lose.”

6. Climate change is a “threat multiplier” that makes already dangerous wildfires even worse. In California in 2018, record high temperatures in July and August caused unprecedented fuel dryness leading to destructive fires like the Ferguson, Carr and Mendocino Complex Fires, each deadly or record-breaking in their own way. Similar climate crises have triggered wildfires in places where fire has no ecological role, like the Arctic and Amazon. As global temperatures continue to rise, there will be more ecological disasters, and it will be difficult for the public to understand the need for fire on certain landscapes, feeding into the existing “war on fire” mentality, that glorifies the human vs. nature conflict and supports the notion that “if only” we had more and larger aircraft and other machines we could “conquer” the problem. It is the very idea that humanity sits apart from nature that drives the climate crisis.

7. Suppression agencies sabotage efforts to increase prescribed burning and use of naturally-ignited wildfires as a tool. In many fire stations, especially those of local and state government there exists anti-intellectual elements. Firefighting is a well-paying job for those without a college education and a refuge for veterans from our unending wars abroad. They feel comfortable and at home in these quasi-militaristic organizations.  These are workplaces where those with a college degree or those who might wish to seek further education are ridiculed and belittled by know-nothings that like to believe like there is nothing to be gained from a higher education. This is why fewer and fewer fire managers attend fire ecology symposia or other academic events.  The Federal land management agencies attempted to enforce a college degree requirement on their top-level fire managers.  The Dept. of Interior, home of the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service persisted in that program, while the big kid on the block, The U.S. Forest Service, relented and admitted they could not find qualified people for their leadership positions with a simple undergraduate college degree.  Federal wildland firefighters are expected to have a rudimentary understanding of natural science, while local and state agencies don’t even have that.

8. Militarized state violence is leveled against communities resisting corporate-led environmental destruction.
Indigenous communities that fight to protect their right to conduct cultural burning for food and other products, like basket-making material, are often met with state and paramilitary violence. In the early part of the 19th Century, indigenous families were forcefully and violently separated – the men jailed for arson and the children sent to foster homes and boarding schools – for simply utilizing the knowledge gained from centuries of living on the land and gathering everything they needed from the natural world around them. Native people were told to “plant a garden” like their colonial oppressors who, rather than sustainably harvesting what they needed locally, travel abroad to oppress others and take what they need through conquest. Today, most cultural burns by indigenous peoples are still oppressed, but there are some exceptions. FUSEE board member and Karuk Tribal member Bill Tripp is with the Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources and works with the Klamath Training Exchange (or TREX) in Northern California doing prescribed burns. Governments around the world are expanding their state-of-emergency laws to encompass climate-related upheavals, perversely facilitating the repression of environmental activists and Indigenous leaders who have been branded as “eco-terrorists” and who are subjected to counterinsurgency operations. Doubtless, any localized uprising in America using fire without all the proper approvals would be treated similarly.

9. While wildfires alone may not pose an existential threat to the planet, unchecked militarism does.
Drought, mass migration, and all the other manifestations of climate changes, including wildfires, are leading countries to close their borders even more than they already are, promote xenophobia and racism, and any of these may be triggers for conflict. Experience shows prolonged expose to smoke makes people feel fatigued and irritable – just the frame of mind to pull the trigger. The environmental movement and with the indigenous burning movement leading the way need to work hand-in-hand to stop these threats to planetary survival.

10. A War on Fire is a War on Nature (when fire can be a regenerative ecosystem process)
The cherished metric for wildland fire organizations is the percent of fires stopped during the initial attack (IA). Perhaps it’s time to only count this as success above the 90th or 97th percentile weather conditions when a start might lead to uncharacteristically large pockets of high fire severity. In some areas, like the goat rocks at high elevation, IA success should probably never be celebrated, as 90% of these fires will self-extinguish. During the shoulder seasons, the metric for success should be acres burned through prescribed burning or through utilization of natural ignitions.

To free up billions of suppression dollars for investing in critical prescribed fire and fuel reduction projects and to eliminate the environmental havoc of fire suppression, movements for a livable, peaceful planet need to put “ending the war on fire” at the top of the “must do” list.

We Need Progressive Fire Management in Southern Oregon

We need smarter ways to deal with fire in the very flammable Southern Oregon. We need to:

  • Stop reacting to wildfire ignitions and take the initiative to manage fire.
  • Fuel treatments must greatly increase. Controlled burn, chip, masticate, thin-pile-burn, all of it. Do it on days when unstable atmospheric conditions lift the smoke away. Do it in strategic locations that will actually meet wildfire where it is most likely to occur. Do it to restore forest resilience. Just do it.
  • Zoning must be based on science, not revenue.
  • Building codes must be based on science.
  • Wildfire management needs to focus on ‘herding’ fires away from structures.
  • Funding for fire research must be stable and plentiful. We need answers.

Why is this necessary?
There is a need to restore the function that provides the structure of our forests. Since 1911 we have been suppressing fires to the maximum extent possible. For the most part that meant suppressing fires with an average flame length of less than 6 to 8 feet. Flame length is a rough proxy for fire severity. In mixed conifer forests, fires of less than 6-8 foot average flame length are considered low and moderate fire severity. Exactly the kind of fires that reduce fuel loading without killing all of the large overstory trees. So to some extent, we have been putting out fires that would have maintained the forest and prevented high severity fires. We have been putting out the gentle fires that would have prevented the house-eating crown fires we see today.

The average daily maximum in July is now two degrees warmer than the average for the 106 years of record at Medford Oregon. This translates into longer more severe fire seasons. It is getting warmer. We not only need to restore fire as a function, we need to deal with the effects of climate change.

We have endured 6 to 8 week periods of dense smoke in southwest Oregon, so dense that doctors warned us to stay inside. We lost over 10,000 homes in California last year, clearly the government is not performing a basic function of security from wildfire. In the short term we can use controlled burning, and mechanical treatments to change fuel profiles. According to the fire modelers, treatments of as little as 10% of the landscape in strategic locations have been shown effective at reducing overall potential wildfire severity. Medium-term, we need zoning and building codes for the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) in a warming world. Long term we need to restore fire to our forests in a way that reduces the losses of people and property and restores the forest ecosystem.

Low severity prescribed burn in Southern Oregon.

How do we accomplish this?
We need more and better trained and paid fire use crews. Crews that work suppression in summer, but in spring, late fall, even winter in some areas they work managing fuels and doing controlled burning. Crews must be available to burn on every good (unstable atmosphere) air day.

We need better weather forecasting and spot weather forecasting. We need to use every single one of those unstable days, when smoke will rise to the upper atmosphere.

We need to use Minimum Impact Suppression Techniques (MIST) where appropriate.

We need zoning to require fire safe structures in certain areas.

We need building codes that reduce home ignitability in a wildfire.

Finally, perhaps most important, we need to deal with climate change. We need to get ready for severe fire weather in warming conditions.

 

Oregon Governor Wildfire Response Council – A Lost Opportunity

This post concentrates on the work of the Fire Suppression Committee of the Governor’s Wildfire Response Council (WRC), relying on draft policy recommendations issued on September 16, 2019.

Introduction: A Missed Opportunity at Developing a Progressive Vision for Fire Management
The Governor’s Wildfire Response Council (WRC) had an ambitious agenda, and its members should be commended for their devoted public service. There are several progressive policy recommendations in the WRC document, including a call to:

  • increase investments in fuels management
  • develop sustainable land use practices within the Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI) zone
  • update building codes to deal with ignition sources outside structures
  • revise the scope and effectiveness of firefighting in planning

But these progressive policies are subordinated to the main overriding goal of intensifying fire exclusion and expanding aggressive fire suppression across all lands in Oregon.
The WRC acknowledges that “There are currently not enough resources or personnel capacity to provide all Oregon lands with adequate wildfire suppression capability,” and proposes a “multi-billion dollar/multi-decade” plan to mitigate wildfires. But fire exclusion predicated on aggressive firefighting and fuels reduction across the landscape is an obsolete and unviable strategy for protecting rural communities and restoring forest ecosystems. This is particularly true given climate change that is increasing wildfire activity beyond human capacities to prevent or suppress all fires. The WRC offers false promises that its plan would adequately fund firefighting capacity sufficient to its unrealistic aims of total fire suppression for complete fire exclusion.

A Myopic Focus on Fighting Fires that Subverts the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy
As stated by the WRC:

“The focus of these recommendations is to maximize firefighting effectiveness on lands identified for wildfire suppression where the state of Oregon is directly responsible. In addition, these recommendations seek to improve coordination on those land ownerships outside the state’s direct responsibility – with the shared goal of meeting the state’s social, environmental and economic objectives while ensuring public and firefighter safety.”

The WRC distorts the vision of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy (Cohesive Strategy) and its ‘all lands, all hands, all options’ philosophy by advocating for essentially one option only – aggressive initial attack firefighting and full suppression – across all lands and agencies in Oregon. Aggressively attacking all ignitions in a vain attempt to extirpate fire from the landscape is physically impossible and financially unsustainable – see FUSEE’s 2018 report, The Sky’s the Limit: The Soberanes Fire Suppression Siege of 2016. If this goal were to be achieved, though, fire-adapted forest and grassland ecosystems would be radically altered and native fire-dependent species would become extinct. The natural beauty and abundant resources of Oregon’s public wildlands would be degraded and diminished.

Eliminating All Opportunities for Ecological Fire Use
A truly science-based and ecologically-oriented fire management strategy would plan and prepare for the opportunities that wildfires offer to reduce fuels and restore forests when conditions make for desired fire behavior and fire effects. However, the WRC advocates severe restrictions on “managed wildfire” (formerly called wildland fire use) on federal lands, proposing that fire use be allowed “only during low-risk wildfire conditions.” The WRC intends to:

“Recommend the Governor and legislature endorse a joint resolution to inform all jurisdictions that initial attack and full suppression be the expected response strategy when conditions occur that are conducive of large wildfires and when PL levels reach 3 and above.”

This restriction on ecological fire use would essentially banish this vital tool from the repertoire of wildfire responses, making suppression the only response possible.
Federal fire preparedness levels are determined by national considerations, not local conditions. There is an inherent contradiction for wildfire response: when wildfire activity is high but available suppression resources are low, agencies are compelled to attempt an aggressive initial attack on all fires. But these are the conditions where firefighting is least effective and often impossible from a firefighter safety standpoint – See FUSEE’s latest 2019 StoryMap, “We Had to Do Something” – Futility and Fatality in Fighting the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire. In fact, in recent years many wilderness areas have been spared from the impacts of aggressive suppression because crews were unavailable and needed in other priority areas (such as the WUI zone) during high PL periods.

According to existing federal policy, it is the current and expected conditions of a fire and land management objectives that should determine the response to a given wildfire, not its ignition source or location. The WRC seeks to veto the Federal Wildland Fire Policy and its goal to integrate the natural role of fire in land management by mandating aggressive firefighting across all lands in Oregon.

Supporting Unsustainable Timber Management with Promises of Subsidized Fire Protection by Oregon Taxpayers
Wildfire respects no jurisdictional boundaries that are often arbitrary lines on a map dividing a shared ecosystem, and historic property boundaries were not drawn with fire containment objectives in mind. Regardless, the WRC recommends that federal agencies “limit transfer of wildfire risk onto neighboring landowners.” This means that wildfires that burn on federal lands should be fully contained and controlled to avoid spreading onto State, corporate, or private lands. This philosophy of ‘zero tolerance’ for accepting any fire from crossing boundaries puts all the pressure on federal agencies to aggressively suppress fires on public forests, often to protect private or corporate timberlands which have done nothing to prepare for fire. Even worse, corporate timberlands have created a more combustible landscape with their densely-stocked even-aged timber plantations that are designed for maximum timber extraction, not fire resilience in mind. All the costs and impacts of suppression are thus supposed to be borne by taxpayers and public lands while requiring nothing from adjoining corporate landowners to reduce fire risks or fuel hazards on their lands.

Usurping Federal Land Managers’ Authority and Undermining Progressive Fire Management Policy
The WRC’s proposals to allow managed wildfire only during low-risk conditions and limit the risk of fire crossing over federal boundaries would effectively eliminate any possibility of utilizing wildland fires for resource and ecological benefits. As such, these policy recommendations represent an extreme overreach of State authority, attempting to usurp federal agency authority and override federal fire policy by extending Oregon Department of Forestry’s ‘zero tolerance’ fire philosophy to the National Parks and Monuments and National Forests in Oregon where fire is a vital process and useful tool in managing those lands.

The WRC rightly identifies problems on large-scale, multi-jurisdictional wildfires where Unified Command teams jointly share decision-making among State and federal agencies that have different policies, authorities, and missions. Its answer to this challenge is to impose the Oregon Department of Forestry’s (ODF) total suppression response policy on all other agencies and lands. While it could be argued that aggressive suppression is an appropriate response on State protected lands where vulnerable homes and communities are located, it is not a universally appropriate response for wildfires burning in remote wildlands and wilderness areas located on federal lands.

Apparently, the WRC aspires for the ODF to adopt the CalFire model of imposing aggressive suppression on all adjacent land ownerships, but ODF will never command the extensive resources and near-unlimited funding that CalFire does, nor should it. The CalFire model of being a ‘municipal fire department in the woods’ applying expensive ‘heavy metal’ firefighting tools on all fires is ecologically inappropriate and economically irrational for federal lands in Oregon, the vast majority of which are uninhabited wildlands where homes and communities are far away.

Fuels Reduction for Fire Suppression Avoids the Critical Need for Fire Reintroduction for Forest Restoration
The WRC considers fuels reduction “the linchpin to the overall wildfire strategy,” and calls for “incorporating suppression considerations to treat hazardous fuels.” Again, the focus is on firefighting for fire exclusion, yet this conflicts with the ecological necessity to design fuels treatments that facilitate fire reintroduction and restoration of fire-adapted forests degraded by past fire exclusion. There is an urgent need for fuels treatments and fuelbreaks to help start prescribed fires and steer wildland fires, not just stop wildfires.

Investing in Private Contract Aircraft Fails to Recognize Critical Research Documenting the Inefficiency and Ineffectiveness of Aerial Firefighting
One of the means the WRC advocates for increasing suppression capacity, especially in remote areas with rugged terrain, is increasing the use of aviation resources which it claims are “often the most effective means to fight fires on under and unprotected lands.” The WRC presents a wishlist of aircraft from private contractors that it wants Oregon taxpayers to fund. This will make a few contractors lots of money, but it fails to acknowledge the latest research coming from the USFS Fire Science Lab in Missoula that documents how the use of aerial retardant is largely inefficient and ineffective in suppressing wildfires. At most, aviation resources can slow fire spread, but they cannot stop it or put it out without the use of ground crews constructing containment lines.

For the hefty price of aerial retardant dumped by airtankers, many more workers could be hired to serve on handcrews. These would be better investments of tax dollars than airtankers, not only because they would provide more jobs especially for rural workers, but also because handcrews are more flexible and versatile in fire management. Airtankers have just one use and ability: “put the wet stuff on the red stuff,” while handcrews can be used in a variety of fire management operations and projects, including managing wildfires with ecological fire use.

Fuels Reduction Biased Towards Corporate Timber Interests
The WRC reveals a bias towards corporate timber interests in both its performance metrics for treating hazardous fuels, and its call for the public to pay for fire suppression that protects corporate timberlands. The metrics the WRC uses for fuels reduction treatments include:

  • acres of slash piled and burned (slash is the waste product of logging)
  • miles of treated roadsides for fuelbreaks (most forest roads were carved for logging, and midslope roads are typically unsafe and ineffective for use as firelines)
  • miles of closed roads that are treated and opened as future fuelbreaks (in fact, roads provide access for most human-caused wildfires)
  • acres harvested for fuel reduction purposes (commercial logging is counterproductive in reducing fire risks and fuel hazards. In fact, industrial operations far outnumber other sources of human-caused wildfire ignitions, and cutover lands invite more flammable invasive weeds, grasses, and brush to grow in place of the removed trees).

The WRC does not mention broadcast understory burning or non-commercial thinning to reduce excessive surface fuel loads that have accumulated due to past fire exclusion. Moreover, its calls for the public to “share the burden of paying for suppression” to protect corporate timberlands constitutes a de facto subsidy for private timber interests who rely on public agencies to protect their overstocked tree farms from wildfires rather than reduce fire hazards and prepare for fire on their own lands.

Conclusion: A Quixotic Pursuit of an Obsolete Worldview of Waging War on Wildfire
The WRC calls for a public-private partnership led by the State in which, among several worthy actionable items, includes these wise words:

“The State must lead an honest discussion with its citizens, to recognize that wildfire is a condition of living in the West, which includes many ecological benefits.”

Yet, despite this acknowledgment of ecological realism, the WRC failed to present a balanced, science-based, forward-looking vision of people safely and sustainably living with wildland fire in its myopic focus on fire suppression as the primary if not sole response to wildfires in Oregon. The WRC rightly warns that “Oregon must prepare for increasingly complex and severe fire seasons by planning, budgeting, and allocating additional financial resources” as part of a multi-billion dollar, multi-decade strategy, but these valid needs are essentially welded to an excessive focus on firefighting as the primary strategy for wildfire response.

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and the 10 strategic objectives that the WRC claims to be it’s “North Star” guiding future policy decisions are all likely to be undermined by doubling down on the obsolescent fire exclusion paradigm. The WRC proposes the equivalent of using Polaris to navigate the ship of State while maintaining a ‘flat-Earth’ view of the planet. The occasional references to managed wildfire and the few positive policy proposals addressing the needs for land use zoning and building codes do not compensate for a document that is overwhelmingly opposed to wildland fire and seeks to extirpate it from the landscape–as if that were humanly possible.

We cannot sustain an endless and escalating “war” on wildfire, and the WRC proposal to ramp up fire suppression across all lands in a futile attempt to exclude all fires across the landscape is a recipe for disaster. The apparent desire to import the CalFire model of “heavy metal” firefighting with near-limitless State funding is not viable in Oregon (it’s not viable in California, either). The point of diminishing returns where more investments in fire suppression resulted in less acres burned was passed decades ago. In fact, the opposite is rapidly unfolding before our eyes: the more blood and treasure we throw into aggressive firefighting as our first and only response to wildfires, the more firefighters’ lives are lost and more homes are destroyed.

Progressive fire scientists and managers are advocating for a new paradigm of Ecological Fire Management that holds more promise of protecting rural communities, sustaining fire-adapted ecosystems, and preserving fire-dependent species. Oregon policymakers need to catch up with the best available ecological fire science and progressive fire policies to invest our limited tax dollars wisely by proactively planning and preparing for opportunities to work with fire rather than endlessly fight against it. In a warming world where large wildfires will become more frequent, we cannot afford it socially, economically, or ecologically to continue polluting the planet by burning fossils fuels while attacking burning forests to eliminate one of the Earth’s vital natural processes. The WRC would do well to go back to the drawing board and send the Governor a new suite of policy recommendations that will enable Oregonians to safely coexist with wildland fire.

Spotlight: New FUSEE Board Members

Bill Tripp

Taro Pusina

Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology would like to welcome its two newest Board Members, Bill Tripp and Taro Pusina.

Bill Tripp is a Karuk tribal member and Deputy Director of Eco-Cultural Revitalization for the Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources. He is a specialist on forest management and has been a driving force behind the reintegration of fire into Karuk culture for the past several decades.  Bill was co-PD on the USDA-NIFA AFRI Food Security project, and he has been instrumental in bringing the Karuk Tribe into the Nature Conservancy-organized Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network and bringing operational prescribed burning to local private and tribal lands through the TREX program.  This fall will be the sixth year year of the burn crews coming to this remote Klamath Mountain hideaway. Bill was the lead author on the Karuk Eco-cultural Resource Management Plan (ECRMP) and just co-authored the Karuk Tribe Climate Adaptation Plan with Dr. Kari Marie Norgaard from the University of Oregon.

“This effort is the culmination of multiple years of working with federal, tribal, state, NGO, and local partners in recognizing the impacts fire exclusion has had on the Karuk people, and the natural environment.”

Bill also co-chairs the Western Regional Strategy Committee for the Cohesive Strategy and exemplifies the tenants of that document, building wildland fire management local capacity using the all-lands approach.

 

Taro Pusina is the Interagency Fire Chief for the Inyo National Forest and Bishop BLM.  Working on the East Side of the Sierras for the past five years, before that Taro spent over twenty years in Yosemite National Park conducting wildland fire management and operations.  With a degree in Natural Resource Management with an emphasis in Forestry from UC Berkeley, Taro has been on countless prescribed fires and nurtured many naturally-started wildfires, all in the interest of protecting the giant Sequoias and other old-growth groves in Yosemite and now in the Southern Sierra.

Springs fire managers use unmanned aerial systems

Springs Fire managers use unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for fire management actions and to reduce firecrew's exposure to possible high severity events.

Posted by U.S. Forest Service – Inyo National Forest on Wednesday, August 28, 2019

As this video shows, Taro is using the most high-tech tools to reduce firefighter exposure to risk while returning fire as a much-needed ecosystem process.  With fires in the U.S. and abroad capturing media attention, acting as a captivating marker for global climate change, it’s important to remember the futility of propagating the cult of fire suppression and exclusion in those ecosystems where fire has long fulfilled an important ecological niche.  Fire was never a natural part of Amazon rain forests or the Arctic tundra.  In the Sierra Nevada, however, fire is like rain – a vital feature of dry pine-dominant forests.

Northern California Fire Danger

With fire conditions in California largely at or below average, for a change, the time is right for prescribed fire and using lightning strikes to reduce fuel loads – a difficult change of gears, after a season of widespread destruction last year.  This is why we need to be cautious, as we hold up the obvious markers of climate change, that we not further demonize fire, feeding into the fire industrial complex and their war on nature.  Sure, put the fires out in the Amazon, if something of that functional ecosystem can be salvaged, but remember far more carbon is released through logging than through wildfire.  Taro is currently managing the Spring Fire in a stand of Jeffery Pine south of Mono Lake in a perfect area with lots of natural barriers to prevent the fire from ever impacting private residences, but with Mammoth becoming a year-round destination, some members of the local community have urged officials to pressure the Federal land management agencies to ban fires for resource benefit.

Aug. 30 infrared imagery from the Spring Fire

Taro has to jump through numerous hurdles regarding air quality to allow a fire like the Spring Fire to persist.  The fire suppression apparatus, especially at the state and local level, are staffed largely by those believing they are in a “war” against fire – a war we’ve been fighting since trees became a commodity.  Many would just as soon put the Spring Fire out.  Thankfully, we have tireless public servants like Bill Tripp and Taro Pusina, who are willing to struggle against the dominant suppression paradigm to protect indigenous culture and intact, functional ecosystems.  FUSEE welcomes them both to the Board of Directors.

World on Fire

It’s no wonder that we live in a society rife with depression, adolescent suicide, mass shootings, and opioid addiction. One might think that all this despair was driven solely by economic distress and hopelessness – the inability to even get one rung up on the ladder to prosperity, but I believe that there are deep feedback loops connecting humans and the natural world.  We are a part of nature, not apart from it. Those who claim to have religious or ideological beliefs that see the Earth merely as a vessel of resources to be used – market externalities for the rabid libertarian market fundamentalist – I suspect when they are alone with their thoughts, there is the crushing sense of something missing, something broken. Everyone is feeling the Earth dying around them. Some just explain the feeling of dislocation or loss of connection in a different way. Their ideologies don’t allow them to see the truth.

Whether we are watching smoke plumes rising in the Amazon or Arctic, where fire has been historically absent, to the cynical use of the threat of fire in North American forests, where fire does belong, to weaken the Endangered Species Act and expedite environmental compliance for gas, oil and logging; it’s all coming from the same place – greed and the belief that we are somehow apart from nature, that our destiny, as a species, can be decoupled from the fate of the planet

The Koch is Dead, Long Live the Koch

No single individual has likely had as much impact, as David Koch has had, in driving a wedge between objective reality and mere beliefs. As with the tobacco industry, so with the Koch Brothers in optimizing their fossil fuel-focused empire against the threat of climate change belief. First, insert a sense into the public that there is a scientific “debate,” using any old hack with a PhD. to shill your “side” of a story, which is already largely settled scientific understanding.  Then use your wealth to weave a web of deceit and favorable legislation with think tanks, position papers, and various lobbying firms. Voila, money is speech, and through the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision, we have given that sort of speech unlimited influence in American politics.

By celebrating individualism over all else in modern consumerism and by viewing the world only through the lens of a sea of individuals, each acting only in their immediate self-interest, we have stripped the world of the importance of connection, communalism, and any proper sense of responsibility to future generations. It has given rise to a ruling class, deluded with visions of grandeur and their own self-importance, convinced, as they are, that their virtues justify their excess.

The Bonfire of the Vanities

Like in the Wolf novel, the layers of hypocrisy have been unpacked to reveal rot at the core of our ruling class and their accumulation of wealth and power, usually acquired through inheritance or deceit, rather than any real creativity or otherwise extraordinary abilities.  The myth of a meritocracy is simply a necessary narrative. The fact that the day-to-day cares of a single human, like those of David Koch and his family, could be allowed to harm and imperil the very survival of humanity, represents an end point – the maximum degree to which individual autonomy and freedom, can be allowed to steal from the future. I’m not even talking about the new fad of suggesting that there may be some space for social responsibility within the corporate framework of maximizing shareholder profit. I’m talking about the Koch’s largely privately-held corporate empire and business transpiring on private lands.  Jeffrey Epsteins’s Island was a nice private retreat, after all. Wealth and power cannot be allowed to free the ruling class from personal responsibility.

With this fully expressed global ethos of “get yours now,” it’s no wonder that emerging economies don’t plan to restrain themselves “for the sake of humanity,” when it is largely the emissions of the colonial oppressive powers that have created the climate problem to date.  Industry and finance follow the newly wealthy, as it is well understood they are more likely to consume larger, flashier possessions, while old wealth understands the need for a certain level of restraint to maintain, at least, the appearance of being humble. In a culture where you’re urged to believe you worked hard and scraped by to finally get your perks, you will be loath to ever give up those perks.

When the assembled elites of the G7 were confronted with the Amazon ablaze, Macron attempted to shame Trump  with discussions on the issue.  Trump skipped the meetings and had aides complain about the time spent on “niche” issues.  Apparently the Democratic National Committee feels the same way about climate change, stifling debate on the issue among Presidential hopefuls.  The other good ladies and gentlemen of the G7 went on to show their good taste and virtuous values by promising a combined $20 million to help fight the fires in the Amazon, which Brazilian president Bolsonaro promptly rejected. Of course, this is a joke, when one considers over $262 million was spent on a single fire, the Sobranes Fire in 2016 south of Monterey, California.  This is a paltry sum of money that would purchase precisely two 747 airtankers and wouldn’t even keep two flying eight-hour days for a month under contract.

Insane Clown Posse

Trump, the perfect example of how wealth and privilege robs a family of ingenuity and intelligence, has been bungling along creating a fair degree of chaos, lately.  From suggesting the use of nukes on hurricanes to a trade war, based on little more than a hunch,  Trumps tweets are precious insight into a life of insular decadence. Grousing like a child, after being snubbed by the Danes, when he insulted them and all the indigenous people of Greenland by floating the idea of purchasing Greenland, he has also managed to single-handedly reignite the Cold War. This has sparked a new nuclear arms race that led directly to a blast two weeks ago that killed scientists and spread radionuclides into the atmosphere above Siberia.  Well done, sir. Well done.

Not to be outdone in the business of exceptionalist colonial thinking, Brazil’s Bolsonaro is fanning the colonial flames. While fire is a necessary ecosystem process on many landscapes, fire was always a tool of colonial oppression, forcing indigenous people to give up their traditional relationship with fire used in  slash-and-burn horticultural practices on small patches of land, and morphing it into large-scale land clearing operations for creating new plantations, ranches, and mining sites.  Bolsonaro rides a wave of South American white supremacy, legitimizing primitive violence against indigenous Amazon tribes.  After first trying to blame NGOs, it now appears many of the Amazon Fires were started on “a day of fire” organized by farmers and loggers wishing to clear the land for their private exploitation.  Illegally burning, clearing, then occupying the land is the time honored practice being undertaken by Brazilians of Spanish or Portuguese descent as they colonize their own fellow indigenous Brazilians, all with a wink and a nod from Bolsonaro.  Brazil stands today, as one of the most dangerous places on the planet to be an environmentalist or indigenous organizer.

[Bolsonaro] has encouraged ranchers, farmers, and loggers to exploit and burn the rainforest like never before with a sense of impunity.

“Poop every other day” to save the earth, oh, and by the way, “windmills cause cancer.”  This is what today’s modern world leaders are saying to us.  They are mocking us, while making shit up and passing it on as fact.  When facts are reported, the refrain of “fake news” fills their tweets.

Civilization in Reverse

So here we are at the end of capitalism and the neoliberal world order.  With unchecked disparity in wealth and the lack of imagination in modern economic thinking, people all over the world are calling B.S. on a materialistic worldview that fosters unlimited growth on a planet of shared finite resources.  We need bold global coordination at a moment defined by increasing nationalism, tribalism and backsliding into magical thinking, engendered by the likes of David Koch, who would have us deny the very fabric of objective reality. Globalism is seen as some sort of anathema to rugged individualism and is held up by conspiracy theorists as being more threatening than the surveillance state, while it is the growing militarism of that state that will ensure our slavery to the corporate status quo, the death of the natural world, and a despicable legacy to future generations. Oh well, at least “lungs of the planet” is trending.

Phrase “lungs of the planet” trending on Google (8/28/2019)

S.E.E. the Science #3: Entering the Century of the Environment: A New Social Contract for Science

FUSEE sees a Wildfire Triad that inalienably links Safety with Ethics and Ecology. If expedient policy decisions cause unsafe outcomes for wildland firefighters, then most probably ethics and ecosystems become damaged. When captured processes yield unethical results then, no doubt, safety becomes compromised and wildland ecology becomes harmed. When wildland management strictures trammel ecosystems, then you can bet firefighter safety withers and our legacy of wildland ethics atrophies. Scientific analyses remain the best chronicles of this triad. In this series, we explore crucial articles, analyses, and reports that demonstrate the best in wildland fire research.  

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S.E.E. The Science #2: Insights from wildfire science blaze a new path

FUSEE sees a Wildfire Triad that inalienably links Safety with Ethics and Ecology. If expedient policy decisions cause unsafe outcomes for wildland firefighters, then most probably ethics and ecosystems become damaged. When captured processes yield unethical results then, no doubt, safety becomes compromised and wildland ecology becomes harmed. When wildland management strictures trammel ecosystems, then you can bet firefighter safety withers and our legacy of wildland ethics atrophies. Scientific analyses remain the best chronicles of this triad. In this series, we explore crucial articles, analyses, and reports that demonstrate the best in wildland fire research.    

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Overton’s Window Opens

Nearby wind farm threatened by wildfire during Findhorn climate conference.

The FUSEE street team, Madeline Cowen and myself, have been hard at work here in the north of Scotland, at the venerable Findhorn Foundation intentional spiritual community.  We are here for the Climate Change and Consciousness conference, and we are a bit more than halfway through. Record-breaking Earth Day temperatures were followed immediately by a twelve square mile wildfire, threatening a nearby wind farm. A pall of smoke hung over Findhorn on Tuesday, and fire was on everyone’s mind, if not their lips. read more…

Fire Permeable WUI #4: Enforcing the Code

Image sourced from remodeling.com

Firebrands inundated us in a biting darting wind-driven torrent. We covered our faces with bandanas the best we could. Cinders rapidly burnt through our fire clothes since the Nomex had been washed out ten years ago. Any exposed flesh reported stinging, piercing pain. As the ember blizzard ignited some low lying brush and grass in our safety zone, many of us thought about deploying our fire shelters just to stave off the misery from the cataract of firebrands that sluiced upon us as if it came from, well …, a firehose. We didn’t get into our fire shelters because we stalwarted one another and enforced the code. We enforced our code of staying there and enduring and being tough. It was our code of pride, our firefighters’ fierce fearless feck. (Also, we didn’t want to get yelled at by overhead who would no doubt scream, “those expensive fire shelters aren’t for coddling wimps who aren’t tough enough!”) Soon the firebrand pulse subsided. We survived. We could breathe, beat out our pant cuffs that caught fire, and rub the painful scorches that burnt through our Nomex shirts. Multiple times I survived such blinding blizzards of embers. We always enforced that code of steadfastly abiding the flaming onfall. And each time we were there to put out the little nearby flames. Looking back on those incidences, I’ve decided that enforcing that code of stoically enduring firebrand onslaughts were some of the dumbest things I’ve ever done. And I can assure you that I’ve done plenty of dumb things. read more…

A Fire Permeable WUI #3: A Much Needed Makeover for WUI.

Restoring Resilience with Low Severity Fire

Can WUI (wildland-urban interface) get pedicured and hair styled without increasing widespread demand for smelling-salts? And who pays for such a make-over? Shall homeowners solely pick up the tab or should government subsidize this hygienic style change that benefits fire-prone communities?

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The Fire Permeable WUI #2: The WUI must SEE the CHARR

The WUI must S.E.E.* the C.H.A.R.R.**
*Safety, Ethics, Ecology **Climate Habitat Adaptive Regional Response

 

Accelerating Global Warming increases the frequency, intensity, distribution, abundance, duration, and severity of wildfire. Already destructive windstorms have created great landscapes of forest debris providing abundant fuel for wildfire. As heat-waves decrease fuel moisture, we expect more lightning storms. We have reaped these firewhirls and the WUI cannot protect us.

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Make America Rake Again

Approaching the holidays, phantoms of fairy tales danced through my head in my dreams at night.  Though sometimes those dreams turned to horror with the faces of Sonny Purdue and Ryan Zinke attached to crazy meth-addicted hillbilly caricatures, sort of like the characters of Squidbillies.  And of course, they were just part of the zany Trump clown car teetering from one crisis to another, spilling blood, hydraulic fluid, and incompetent agency heads all the way down the hill behind the wreckage. read more…

The Fire Permeable WUI (Wildland-Urban-Interface). #1: Introduction

 

Wildfire haunts the WUI. Dreaded and imminent, the inevitability of wildfires’ invasion sparks fears conjoined to the terror of homes burning. Long before they burn down, a lot of WUI houses will experience catastrophic financial meltdown. And this implicates actors beyond the usual suspects of insurance and bank mortgages, both becoming unaffordable and unavailable. read more…

Burn My Shorts has its own page!

Burn My Shorts, a series of short stories and parables about fire, now has its own page!  You can also just click on the arrow by the Blog menu item to find it.  One of FUSEE’s staff writers, Letter Burn, otherwise known as Parts Permillion, author and maintainer of the Charrtoons website, will be teaming up with Catalonian Fire Artist, Josep “Pep” Serra Tarragon, about every other week to deliver the latest “fire-adapted” tale. read more…

CWCG Shuffles Federal Incident Management Teams (IMTs) for 2019

The California Wildland Fire Coordinating Group (CWCG) is the interagency body in California that helps arrange and manage agreements, develop standards and stand-up eleven IMTs each fire season to manage increasingly deadly and destructive wildfires.  These teams have a set number of members in the four functional areas:Operations, Plans, Logistics, and Finance. Each team member has specialized training and experience to hold that position (sometimes Command is considered the fifth functional area).  Aside from the four Section Chiefs and the the Incident Commander (IC), the Command and General Staff (C & G) is rounded out by the Safety, Liason and Public Information Officers, as well as a Deputy IC.  There are usually more than one Operation and Plans Section Chief (e.g. Day Ops, Night Ops, Planning Ops, Day Plans, Night Plans) and one or more Deputy ICs.  All told, there is a core C&G of about a dozen folks. All the rest of the personnel fill out the myriad of unique specialty positions within the four functional areas so that a fully-staffed team, both Type 1 and Type 2, represents fourty-four people. CWCG currently manages four Type 1 and seven Type 2 IMTs.

IMT Types

Incident Management Team typing starts at Type 5 as the least complex (e.g. a single tree snag with fire in the top), with Type 1 and Type 2 incidents being the most complex. For instance a Forest or local interagency group may roster a Type 3 IMT, but CWCG maintains these rostered Type 1 & 2 IMTs for assignment through California year-round as needed.
CALFIRE separately retains command and control of six Type 1 IMTs in the State.  Together, it is these CalFire and CWCG IMTs that are expected to manage the largest and most dangerous fires in California, and the Federal government is having a hard time providing staffing for these voluntary team assignments. The number of available teams is shrinking right as the need is peaking.  Climate, inadequate prescribed burning and ill-conceived development are all coming to the fore as issues stoking the flames.  Managers on National Forests, Parks, Refuges and and other Federal jurisdiction rely on these teams to meet a wide variety of objectives far from the wildland urban interface (WUI).  CWCG has just released a sustainability analysis addressing the succession problem. read more…

Stephen Pyne on Recent California Wildfires

Stephen Pyne, a FUSEE collaborator and ally, as well as distinguished fire historian, was joined last Friday by Alexandra von Meier, and urban electrical grid specialist, to discuss the devastation witnessed during the past two seasons of California wildfires and how this might be avoided in the future. Their discussion was moderated by Ira Flatow, on Science Friday, a radio show heard on public radio stations across the country and distributed by WNYC Studios.

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Fire, Smoke and Inversions Explained

In the following video recorded on the Hirz Fire, FUSEE Board Member, Mike Beasley, along with the Incident Meteorologist and Air Resource Advisor describe the nature and importance of inversions.  First, a balloon is launched to capture an atmospheric sounding. Inversions are an indicator of atmospheric stability. With atmospheric stability smoke and clouds tend to form in layers that resist mixing, often inhibiting fire behavior below the inversion. The opposite condition, atmospheric instability, is when air wants to rise in a column, as in a towering cumulus cloud, a cumulonimbus cloud associated with a thunderstorm, or a towering pyrocumulus column above a large fire.   An unstable atmosphere is most often associated with critical or extreme fire behavior.

 

Firefighter Safety Begins at Home

News is spreading across the country about the sexual assault of a wildland firefighter by an inmate working inside a fire basecamp in Utah. This horrifying incident has shocked the nation—indeed, the news story has been picked up by newspapers and radio stations across the country. It is truly shocking that inmates were able to mix freely with crews within basecamp, apparently unsupervised by their guards or other camp security staff, and placed in work stations where firefighters, especially women, would be most vulnerable to harassment and assault.

After a long shift on the line, coming back to basecamp exhausted and needing to take care of one’s basic needs of food and hygiene before catching a few hours of precious sleep—who would even be thinking about potential threats to one’s personal safety inside firecamp!

Firefighter safety is the number one priority of every wildland fire incident. While most people think about this in terms of the risks and hazards firefighters face out on the firelines, we need to be aware of the risks and hazards that crews face off the fireline. Crews don’t get hazard pay inside firecamp, but perhaps they should.

Like most other crimes of violence, the media is focusing on the perpetrator, portraying him as some kind of beastly animal for his deviant behavior, and this will be even easier to do because the perpetrator is an inmate already labeled as a deviant. But this is not just an issue about the lack of proper supervision of inmate crews, and while inmates should certainly be closely supervised and/or segregated from fire crews and other staff, this kind of incident is not rare and will not be prevented by eliminating the use of inmate crews.

In focusing on the perpetrator of this crime, this lets the institution evade any blame for its breakdown in security for firefighters, and for its systematic inability to effectively prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Incidents of sexual assault make the news, but they are part of the wider spectrum of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that rarely gets reported by the newmedia, yet are systemic within the wildland fire community. The Association for Fire Ecology (AFE) and the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF) have been taking several initiatives to educate the wildland fire community and advocate for agencies to confront the systemic ongoing problem of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Unfortunately, their efforts did not make it into the news stories. Fortunately, their advocacy for greater firefighter safety including personal safety from harassment and assault will hopefully be carried forward at the IAWF’s upcoming Fire Safety Summit and AFE’s upcoming International Fire Ecology and Management Congress.

This shocking, horrifying incident should be another wakeup call that risks to firefighter safety happen both on and off the fireline, from the fire environment—and from the fire community itself. Firefighter safety truly begins at “home.”

Cat Scratch Fever

The Mendocino Complex has taken its place in the record books–but probably not for long–as the largest wildfire in California state history. While the River Fire is 100% contained at this time, it is possible that the Ranch Fire may eventually burn over a majority of entire Mendocino National Forest before it stops its advance.

One thing that leaps out with a casual glance at the current fire map is the extensive use of dozers in primary and contingency firelines. Several of these dozerlines a.k.a. “catlines” come right up to and possibly encroach into the Snow Mountain Wilderness. In fact, the California Regional Forester gave permission for dozers to enter the wilderness with the blessing of the Mendocino Forest Supervisor.

A noble but futile attempt at direct attack with dozers on the northern portion of the fire failed to stop the fire earlier. The fire breached the dozerlines and eventually spread into the wilderness area. This fireline was constructed despite the visiting Risk Management Assessment Team (RMAT) informing the agency leaders that it had a low probability of success.

No matter, the Forest Service leadership felt that they had a duty to try something, anything, anyway to stop the fire spread. But now we have several miles of useless dozerlines scarring the landscape for a long, long time. A costly maneuver for mere posturing to the public that the agency was doing everything it could to attack the fire.

This sad spectacle is an example of what some local forest conservationists are calling “overaggressive attack syndrome,” and it raises a couple of key questions:

Question #1: Why did the agency leadership attempt to stop the fire from entering the wilderness area?

Was it merely an attempt to limit the fire size and/or speed up containment time? Or was it to avoid having the fire impact the wilderness area?

If it was the former objective–limiting the fire size or duration as a means of reducing taxpayer costs or firefighter exposure–well, it did not work, and the RMAT had warned the leadership that it most likely would not work. So the expense of putting those dozers to work was an unacceptable waste of money. And the exposure of firefighters to risk in a futile attempt at direct attack on the fire is even more unacceptable. This season has already had the tragic death of a dozer operator on the Ferguson Fire (harkening back to the loss of another dozer operator on the 2016 Soberanes Fire) and two near-misses of dozer operators on the Carr Fire, and a firefighter was recently killed on the Mendocino Complex. Firefighter fatalities are the highest cost of suppression, and risk assessments must always prioritize those potential losses above all.

If it was the latter objective–keeping fire out of the wilderness–then what the #@&% were they thinking?! Sparing the wilderness from impacts of fire? Fire helps enhance both wildness and naturalness, and these are some of the defining qualities and highest values of designated wilderness areas. In short, fire keeps the wild in wilderness! On the contrary, dozerlines intruding into wilderness are the worst kind of trammeling imaginable. Again, an unnecessary, inappropriate, and unacceptable use of dozers in this plan.

Question #2: Why did the leadership ignore the RMAT’s input?

Again, the RMAT crew warned the leadership that going direct attack with dozers to try to stop the fire from entering the wilderness had a very low probability of success. This marks the second time that the RMAT’s recommendations were ignored by incident leaders and area administrators, and then the RMAT were later proven right.

Admittedly, RMATs are a novelty at this time and it will take some time for IMTs to get comfortable with them and fully utilize their analyses. But, it also seems that, like Resource Advisors who offer advice on ways to limit the impacts of suppression actions on natural and cultural resource values, the RMATs have yet to gain respect by Incident Commanders and are not seen as “equals” in the hierarchy of fire administration. Type 1 ICs are all about containing and controlling fires, and all this stuff about resource damage or risk assessments is a bunch of pointy-headed bleeding-heart liberal hogwash that doesn’t belong in a paramilitary organization devoted to aggressively attacking fires.

The day must come when RAs and RMATs and LTANs are fully integrated and equally respected members of IMTs, especially on large-size/long-duration wildfire incidents. We need to manage fire in wildlands intelligently with firefighter safety and fire ecology and taxpayer expenditures at the forefront of developing operational strategies and tactics. Throwing whatever wherever whenever at wildfires to try to limit their size or duration as the end-all be-all is obsolete and is bankrupting the system. And now that we’re headed into the traditional peak of fire season with PL-5 and all resources tapped out, we’re seeing the consequences of the overaggressive attack syndrome waged on other earlier fires that might have been managed for “other than full suppression” and spared those resources.

So, the Ranch Fire of the Mendocino Complex continues its steady spread onward, leaving the cut-and-runover catlines literally in the dust.

Ferguson Fire Update, August 2nd

A quick glance at the publicly available infrared data taken last night reveals three key areas of concern. While much of the west flank of the fire has been secure for some time now, protecting the residents of Mariposa Pines, Jerseydale, Midpines, and most of the the Triangle Road area, the north, south, and east flanks remain challenging for the 3,344 firefighters engaged in that containment effort.  Below the fold, we will quickly take a look at those three critical operations in the order of their apparent importance, based on last night’s IR imagery.  read more…

FUSEE Releases New Instructional Guide for Citizens to Access Wildfire Information Online

The incredible speed and ferocity of the Carr Fire spreading into Redding, California has dramatically reinforced the need for citizens to access accurate information about wildfires in their area without the delays of waiting for official agency press releases to be picked up by the next newspaper edition or television news broadcast.

Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE) released their new report, FireWatch: A Citizen’s Guide to Wildfire Suppression Monitoring, that provides easy step-by-step instructions for accessing a number of different internet sites that track wildfires. Many of these internet sites offer the same maps and essential information that are used by fire managers and firefighting crews. read more…

Ferguson Fire: Hoping for Yosemite’s Road Less Trammeled

It seems that the Ferguson Fire is destined to enter Yosemite National Park, and by God, the Type I Incident Commanders have vowed to stop the wildfire in its tracks, no matter what! They are currently planning to convert the southern entrance Hiway 41 (known locally as the “Wawona Road”) into a fireline that will contain that flank of the Ferguson Fire. This is one of the most traveled roads in the Park, leading to the ranger compound in Wawona, the community of Yosemite West, and access to the famed Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoias as well as Yosemite Valley. read more…

Carr Fire Takes Aim at Redding

Climate chaos strikes, again, this time deep into the heart of Redding, California, the regional hub and commercial center for Northern California.  The Carr Fire started near the cross of Hwy. 299 and the Carr Powerhouse Road on Monday, July 23rd. read more…

Ferguson Fire: Yosemite’s Proving Ground for Ecological Fire Use

The Ferguson Fire has been burning for nearly two weeks and has captured most of the attention of the national news media. Tragically, one firefighter was killed on the second day of the fire when the bulldozer he was operating rolled down a steep slope. Miraculously, no homes have been lost as of July 25th. The Ferguson is going to burn a large area over a long time. read more…

History never repeats itself but it rhymes: Rim Fire redux

The year was 1961.  President Robert F. Kennedy was President of the United States.  The Central Valley Project had been built and the growing San Joaquin Valley agribusiness gave way to traditional ranchland in the oak savanna of the Sierra foothills southwest of Yosemite National Park.  The Harlow Fire started on July 10th.  The following day it exploded, burning over 20,000 acres in two hours, vaporizing the communities of Ahwahnee and Nipinnawasee, and killing an elderly couple.  Supposedly, that run on the Harlow Fire was one of the fastest ever recorded.  The communities would never recover.  It chased ranchers in their ranch trucks and would eventually burn into Oakhurst, scorching over 43,000 acres.  This event is etched into the cultural memory of the people that live here and into the institutional memory of the organization tasked with protecting this “state responsibility area” or SRA, Cal Fire, or as it was known back in the day, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Fast forward to 2018, the present, less than two weeks ago. On Friday, the 13th ,of July, deep in the Merced River Canyon at the confluence with the South Fork of the Merced…another fire started.  read more…

A New Hotlist, A New Fire, and a Tragedy

Ferguson Fire looking southeast from Greeley Hill – July 14, 2018

Tragically, a CalFire dozer operator was killed this morning in a rollover accident on the new emergent Ferguson Fire on the Sierra National Forest.  The Ferguson Fire started yesterday evening near the bottom of the Merced River Canyon near the junction with the South Fork of the Merced River, and is forcing evacuations throughout the river canyon.  Hot temperatures today spurred the fire growth to over 1000 acres.  The Central Sierra Type 2 IMT is taking the Fire and the Incident Command Post (ICP) has been established at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds.  Yours truly, will be joining the effort as Fire Behavior Analyst, briefly abandoning my own team, with the understanding I be released if NorcaL Team 1 gets assigned.  The fire may burn into Yosemite  National Park, and could be a threat to Yosemite West, El Portal, or even Wawona, in the days to come.  The area around Cedar Lodge has been evacuated. read more…

Drop the Rhetoric, Work Together

I’ve spent most of my career working in fire management, reaching back to the 1970s when we knew very little about the behavior of wildfires and often took a seat-of-the-pants approach.

Now we have solid science and skilled fire professionals to guide our response to wildfires, but unfortunately that knowledge and experience has not yet been put to full use. In our hyper partisan age, the issue of fire management is becoming as politicized as timber management was in the 1980s.

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Managing Wildfire: What Works and What Doesn’t

We now have solid science and decades of experience managing western wildfires. But in our hyper-partisan age, the issue of fire management is becoming as politicized as timber management was in the 80’s and 90’s. In an attempt to contribute to a fact based debate, I present a brief summary of respected, published findings on wildfire management.

The fire management status quo is not working

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FUSEE Radio Podcast 001 – Risk Management Assistance Teams

Good morning.  I’m pleased to present FUSEE’s first in a series of podcasts.  In this installment, we interview Dr. David Calkin about the Risk Management Assistance Teams (RMATs) – his involvement, the team’s purpose, and what to expect from them during the upcoming fire season. Dave is a Research Forester for the U.S. Forest Service at the Rocky Mountain Research Station,  He lives and works in Missoula, Montana, and is currently focused on risk management in wildland firefighting.

As an outgrowth of the Forest Service’s Life First initiative, the RMAT role was articulated in an agency presentation by Becki Heath, Acting Associate Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry, in Reno this spring at the Cohesive Strategy workshop, sponsored by the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF)

⇒ RMAT role was to bolster the Line Officer’s ability to examine alternative strategies that better consider:

  • inherent tradeoffs of exposure
  • risk to highly valued assets
  • opportunities for fire benefits

⇒ They tested an effort to address Line Officer’s needs for:

  • decision-making tools
  • enhanced analytics and alignment with response strategies

⇒ Intent was to enhance capacity, apply decision support tools with risk expertise, and improve the

effectiveness and efficiency of our fire management response.

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Science Continues at the Continuum

Hey, dear readers. Your stalwart voice for ecological fire management here, HunterX.  I was just up on the mesa top in Canyonlands National Park gazing into the Maze, and I wondered what Heyduke, Edward Abbey’s fictional proto-enviro, would make of humanity’s pickle today.  Likely he would have had to take a road trip somewhere, tossing beer cans as he went, and would ultimately have concluded it was an apt fate for humanity, preferring to work on issues in his own backyard – a strong statement for grassroots organizing!  But, oh the intersectionality of it all!  That word recently burst forth implying areas of overlapping social concern. In the world of natural science, it’s called ecology, following one of Barry Commoner’s four laws of ecology, “Everything is connected to everything else.” It’s a basic Buddhist precept, and It is turning out to be true in climate change, as well.  We see this as, one-by-one, other environmental issues trace their origin or accelerant to be a warming Earth.  “The new normal” as Califonia Governor Jerry Brown has said of wildfire’s increasing occurrence and impact. Making my way north off the Colorado Plateau and over the Eastern Uintas, I crossed the Big Horn River, and I’m reminded this is the anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn – A perfect metaphor for America’s losing war on Fire.   As I dropped into the Clark Fork drainage, it’s banks were swollen, leaking toxic sludge into swirling waters. It was peak runoff, but officials were concerned about the minimal snowpack in the Colorado and Utah mountains and the heightened fire risk for the summer.  I would probe these questions and others with scientists and wildland fire professionals from around the world at the Fire Continuum Conference on the beautiful University of Montana campus in Missoula.

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2018 California Incident Management Team (IMT) Workshop Notes

What If?

What if?  That was the ominous theme for participants when the California Wildland Fire Coordinating Group (CWCG) held their annual IMT Workshop at the Wildland Fire Training Center in McClellan Park on the first three days of May.  Incident Commanders (ICs) from all the Federal Type 1 and Type 2 IMTs from both Northern and Southern California were in attendance, along with other team members.  The purpose of this annual gathering is to receive guidance from agency heads and set the tone for the upcoming wildland fire season.  read more…

Hype Conversion Burn

The conversion of the Sims Prescribed Fire to the Grape (Wild)Fire brings up a scary ghost from the past.

In 2000, the crew managing the Upper Frijoles Prescribed Fire in Bandelier National Monument had difficulties getting the fire to ignite and spread.  Test burns were ignited in moist grassy fuels at the top of a mountain in 50 degree air temperature with upslope winds 1 to 2 mph. Hardly a reckless action, but, mistakes were made in the planning process that resulted in a smaller crew size than could handle the fire as it progressed downslope, moving from grassy fuels to shrubs and eventually timber stands with lots of downed fuel. When a 30 x 30 foot slopover at the top of the unit occurred, the National Park Service crew put in a request to the U.S. Forest Service to get some extra “contingency” resources to bring the “escaped” fire back into prescription. This is where things went terribly wrong. read more…

Prescribed Fire Escape – Six Rivers National Forest

Wildfires are already a hot button in California, following on the heels of the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in the State’s history just last year.  Governor Brown holds up the wildfire impact as a certain indicator of climate change in the State’s suit against the U.S. Government headed by climate denier-in chief, President Trump.  Local governments are joining in the fray.  2018 looks to be no different.

The Grape Fire was an escaped prescribed fire being jointly conducted by the Six Rivers and Shasta-Trinity National Forests at the end of last month.  According to the Redding Interagency Command Center WildCAD records, the Sims burn was converted from a prescribed fire to a wildfire and renamed as the Grape Fire at 4:59pm on April 24th.  read more…

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