29 Jul 2008, 9:33am
by admin

Flag Knoll WFU Fire

Location: 14 miles SW of Swan Valley, Bonneville Co., ID

Specific Location: Flag Knoll, Caribou-Targhee NF, Lat 43° 16´ 36″ Lon 111° 27´ 54″

Date of Origin: 07/21/2008
Cause: lightning

Situation as of 08/08/08 6:00 PM
Personnel: 40 reported
Size: 523 acres
Containment: 0%

Cost to date: not reported, Est. $500,000

This will be the last report until signifcant [sic] changes occur. Most resources released today after fire received 0.48 inch of precipitation.

The Flag Knoll Fire reports have been information-lite. Final costs please before you slink away!!


Situation as of 08/05/08 6:00 PM
Personnel: 40
Size: 523 acres
Containment: 0%

Cost to date: not reported
MMA: not reported
Est date of containment: not reported


Situation as of 08/03/08 9:00 AM
Personnel: not reported
Size: 435 acres at last report
Maximum Manageable Area: not reported
Est date of containment: not reported
Costs to date: not reported

This fire was reported (poorly) one week after it began. Further updates will be posted if any more information can be gleaned. This despite personal promises from USFS Information Officers (see below) to provide the public with timely information.


Situation as of 08/01/08 3:00 PM
Personnel: 40
Size: 435 acres
Percent Contained: 0%


Situation as of 07/31/08 6:00 PM
Personnel: 40
Size: 420 acres
Percent Contained: 0%

Red Flag Warning for strong winds today, 10 to 15 MPH increasing to 25 TO 30 MPH in the afternoon.


Situation as of 07/30/08 6:00 PM
Personnel: not reported
Size: 350 acres
Percent Contained: 0%

Costs to Date: $85,000

Single and group tree torching.


Situation as of 07/30/08 8:41 AM
Personnel: 34
Size: 325 acres
Percent Contained: 0%


Situation as of 07/29/08 5:00 PM
Personnel: 30+
Size: 250 acres
Percent Contained: 0%

Maximum Manageable Area: not reported
Est date of containment: not reported

Costs to date: $70,000

Group torching and 1/4 mile spotting. Heavily timbered area with many old trees (old-growth?), down woody debris, thick brush.

Personnel monitoring fire.


PUBLIC WARNING #1: There is an uncontained wildfire burning on Forest Road 077 near Flag Knoll.

PUBLIC WARNING #2: Emergency area closure Ashton/Island Park RD, Caribou-Targhee NF near Macks Inn W of Yellowstone due to human-habituated grizzly bears.

Situation as of 07/28/08 9:00 AM
Personnel: not reported
Size: 190 acres
Maximum Manageable Area: not reported
Est date of containment: not reported
Costs to date: not reported

This fire was reported (poorly) one week after it began. Further updates will be posted if any more information can be gleaned.

29 Jul 2008, 10:09am
by Lynn Ballard

I’m a Fire information office for the East Idaho Interagency Fire Center in Idaho Falls. I’ll check to see if the information is being placed on the Caribou-Targhee NF website or the EIIFC website.

Cause of the fire would be natural (lightning) to be managed as a WFU.

Caribou-Targhee NF is in the Easter Great Basin GAC so would not be nentioned in the NR GAC

29 Jul 2008, 12:49pm
by Mike

Thank you, Lynn. It’s damned difficult to track fires when the information (209’s) are not posted anywhere. I would not know at all about this fire (or the Rush Creek Fire) if not for minimalist one-time postings on the National Fire News.

The taxpayers have paid for an extensive system of fire information provision via the Geographic Area Coordination Centers and InciWeb. Yet those systems are late, slow, subject to frequent shut downs, and often lacking in critical information.

There is significant risk to the public when fires go unreported. That is the reason behind the creation of the fire information system. Private, unfunded individuals such as myself and other fire bloggers should not have to root around for basic public safety information that the taxpayers have already paid for.

I do not have passwords that let me into the system, as do some other bloggers. I must rely on those private individuals and the funded system, when it is working well, which is seldom. Visitors to this site, by extension, also rely on that system.

So thank you for making our fire information system work. This site is designed not for public notice of emergencies but for accumulating narratives and statistics about wildfires, and particularly forest fires, as they occur. I would really like to get back to that purpose and not feel like I have to warn the public about hazards, which is your job and not mine.

29 Jul 2008, 12:59pm
by Mike

By the way, the Flag Knoll fire IS listed at the Eastern Great Basin GACC [here]. So that is something. So is the Rush Creek Fire, although the info has not been updated for a week.

Mysterious and secretive postings are not what the system was designed for. The USFS is not the CIA. Please post daily reports. That’s what the public set up the system for, and hired you to do.

29 Jul 2008, 2:31pm
by Joanna Wilson

My name is Joanna Wilson and I work for the BLM here in Idaho Falls. I am also a fire information officer with the Eastern Idaho Interagency Fire Center (EIIFC) and formerly (last August) an employee of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Actually, this fire has been on the EIIFC website (www.idahofireinfo.blm.gov/east/) since it started, along with the fire information hotline 208-557-5850. We also (EIIFC) send out news releases and the fire has been published in local newspapers on a daily basis.

As for guessing that no one is out on the fireline fighting this fire, personally I know this is not true because my husband has been gone since Friday on this fire as well as three engines (3 people each), one 20-person handcrew and several other people who are all monitoring, taking weather and providing protection so the fire does not cross one of the roads.

For those traveling in the area on roads, trails, by Swan Valley or other local areas, flyers have been posted everywhere and updated on a daily basis with current fire information and possible hazards in the area. People who live in the area or travel through the area, know about the fire. Currently there are no closures in the area, but when officials feel a closure is warranted, it will be posted and the public will be notified.

For more information about the fire or other fires in our area, visit our website or call the hotline phone number. We update the website and hotline on a daily, if not more frequently. If you have further questions, please call me at 208-524-7550 I would gladly be of assistance with fire information as would my co-workers.

29 Jul 2008, 3:23pm
by Mike

Thank you, Joanna. I stand corrected.

My mistake came from my misinterpretation of the National Fire News, which listed the Flag Knoll Fire for the very first time today, and listed it as a WFU. I am sorry they were so tardy, but glad they were wrong about the designation of the fire.

I was also mislead by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest website, which makes no mention whatsoever of the fire, which has now been burning for a week, on their Homepage, Newsroom, or Fire and Aviation page.

And I was completely fooled by the Eastern Great Basin GACC site, which also listed the Flag Knoll Fire for the first time today, and which very specifically lists the fire as a WFU, provides no containment, no MMA, no personnel numbers, no costs to date, no significant events, no remarks, and no planned actions other than “continue saw prep,” whatever that is.

I see from your site that you have this info posted:

Declared a Wildfire Use (WFU) event on 7/24. First reported on the evening of 7/21 and, due to the amount of rain received, was not discovered until 7/23. Located approximately 13 miles SW of Swan Valley, ID. Burning in grass, brush and lodge pole pine. Acreage changed due to more accurate mapping.

Again, it appears to me that the Flag Knoll Fire is a WFU, a Let It Burn Fire. No report on personnel, costs, estimated date of containment, or any other pertinent info that might indicate somebody is out there fighting it.

However, I am thrilled to learn about your site. I will add it to the list of the dozen or so sites I check every morning and evening, trying to glean some clues about how my forests are burning up in little known fires.

Just between you, me, and the fence post, last year over 3,000,000 acres were incinerated by fires in Idaho and Montana. Many of those fires started out as unfought WFU’s that blew up into megafires. My thinking is that if I ride the agencies asses this year by keeping a running daily public record of forest fires, you people might not be so free and easy about incinerating my forests.

And just for fun, if you do have some pertinent info you would like share about personnel, costs, equipment, fire suppression strategy, actions, etc., I would be happy to post it. That’s the kind of info I am accumulating so that next winter we can all make informed judgments as to the quality of the efforts our public servants are making regarding stewardship of our public lands.

29 Jul 2008, 3:54pm
by Mike

I might add that WFU’s are utterly illegal. When the federal government undertakes actions that have significant impact on the environment, they are required under NEPA to prepare Environmental Impact Statements, invite public comment, and comply with the NEPA process. They required by law to undertake Section 7 ESA consultations and Section 6 NHPA consultations. They are required to consult with the EPA regarding the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, as well.

If the BLM has done all that prior to initiating the Flag Knoll WFU, great. Please supply the documented proof.

If not, please cease and desist from illegal activities.

Thank you.

29 Jul 2008, 3:59pm
by Joanna Wilson

I would love to share with you the reasoning behind WFU, which you are correct that is what the Flag Knoll Fire is being managed for. We don’t call it “let burn” because we are not letting it burn. We are actually out there, in this case, fighting one side of the fire and other east side is being are monitoring hourly or even minute by minute. You see this area is very heavily timbered with a lot of old, down trees, thick brush and just not a “clean, healthy forest”. That is one reason for managing the fire, the other is for wildlife benefits.

Between you and me, this is the place to go hunting this fall and all the locals know this little bit of information. Soon the grasses will be growing and sprouts from other vegetation will be coming up out of the black. That is what the animals love! So the animals are back in the fire, quite often, as the fire is just passing. You see this fire is not a raging wildfire, it may make a few runs up a hillside, but for the most part, this fire is burning hot here and there and not burning other locations. This is a very healthy burn and one that we like to see.

The reason you have not heard about this fire before on some of those national websites and reports is because they only report larger fires and for quite awhile this fire has not been very large, so you have not heard about it on those sites. I will ask our dispatch center to please add more information, but you can always get it from us or our website.

I talked to my husband last night and he said the fire was pretty quiet yesterday. I am sure it will make some more fire runs up some hills and get larger, but it is only doing good.

I know I will not convince you of this, nor am I trying too. I am just trying to give you all the information as why we are doing what we are doing in this area.

Unlike other areas, our WFU fires around here, in the past, have not turned into those megafires that you are talking about. Actually, I was an information officer in McCall last year on several of the WFU fires in that area. Yes, some areas did burn really hot, but for the most part those fires just tinkered around and made a run up a hill here and there. The megafires were those that were actually wildfires and not being managed under WFU. Although at one point the WFU we were managing did close the Salmon River, but only for a short period of time.

I do not have costs on our fire to date, but that is another reason why we do this, to keep costs down. But that is not the main reason. Their are approximately 35 fire fighting personnel on the fire. No estimated time for containment, snow or rain will determine that. No roads or trails are closed either, at this time.

Please let me know what else you may need. We are working on getting more information posted. Thanks for letting us know! We are working on making those changes.

29 Jul 2008, 5:13pm
by Mike

Thank you. I am trying to track daily personnel numbers, acreage, containment, and suppression costs for chosen fires. Those are the main stats I am interested in.

The way NEPA law is written, it does not matter whether the impacts are allegedly beneficial or detrimental. What matters is if they are significant. The point of the NEPA process is to sort out the various impacts and weigh them all in an open, participatory fashion, and to create a documentary record for judging outcomes later.

Most if not all proposed projects are proposed precisely because they are thought to be beneficial. That does not excuse them from NEPA.

For more discussion on the effects of fire on flora, fauna, soils, water, air, recreation, heritage, public health, public safety, economics, and other considerations, please read Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?, a series currently being posted at SOS Forests [here].

There are other ways to achieve healthy forests than by burning them in the middle of summer. I would argue that burning with no forest preparation in the middle of summer degrades numerous resources and does not lead to healthy forests at all. I base that opinion on a wealth of evidence collected during my 35 years as a professional forester.

Those other ways, the ones that actually do achieve healthy forests, must undergo the NEPA process. So too should unprepared fires. The damages wrought to 800,000 acres of the Payette, Boise, and Nez Perce NF’s by catastrophic fires last year are extreme and will impact natural resources in central Idaho for decades. We need a better way to manage our public forests than simply burning them. That does not lead to good outcomes. Incineration is not stewardship.

30 Jul 2008, 8:26am
by Joanna Wilson

I am not going to get into NEPA with you, I will just let you know that last night our dispatch center added more information to the S209 for the national websites to report on the Flag Knoll WFU fire.

Please remember that our local website is updated daily with .1 acre fires to big fires. We decided to use this tool instead of Inciweb so it would be easier for the public and media to find local fire information. Inciweb is a good tool sometimes, like teams, but for our local fires, we find our website to be much earlier and better for all. If we get an incident management team in our area, then we will start using Inciweb but it will always be linked into our local website.

If you have further questions about our fires in eastern Idaho, please check our website or phone line. Our phone numbers are also located on our website if you need to get ahold of us.

Good luck in your stat findings! This is my last note.

30 Jul 2008, 10:25am
by Bob Z.

Hi Joanna:

Thanks for all the information and clarification! You have provided a wealth of insight on both the Flag Knoll Fire and on BLM (federal) policy regarding WFU fires.

Two points of clarification are in order, however: 1) there is zero (no) difference between watching (”monitoring”) a wildfire and “letting it burn.” That is just semantics, on your (and the federal government’s) part. You either put a fire out or you let it burn. Anything in between is just word games.

2) What is good for deer (and the minute part of the US biped population who hunt them in your area of Idaho, and, probably, introduced wolves), is likely not good for butterflies or songbirds. “Wildlife” is not limited to ungulates and their predators. It is limited to wild (usually animal) life. The ESA even says to not play favorites; at least on federal lands.

Mike is right. If the beneficial effects of logging (including their benefits to local deer, wolf, and hunter populations and as an economical and safe method of fuel management) require NEPA, so should/must wildfire. That’s just common sense. And the law (at least the way it appears to be written).

As an information officer, I hope you realize that public discussions such as this are an efficient and effective way to transmit data and ideas to others. Certainly the tone of the discussion can’t be perceived as any more adversarial that that used by Environmental activists and their legal representatives, and the content is far more immediate and useful.

Please keep up the good work!

30 Jul 2008, 11:13am
by Mike


There is a technical difference between monitoring and just watching. Monitoring implies that the monitor is somehow measuring and recording data for a report. That report might be written or verbally transmitted via a radio.

However, since written reports are never issued, and very often the radio repeater system is dysfunctional, and the monitors can’t see the fire anyway for the smoke, the sad fact is that so-called monitoring is really nothing more than mindless gaping at the fire.

In fire after fire this year, the fire managers have called for aerial infrared detection flights. That’s because on-the-ground monitors can’t see shinola and have no idea what the fire is doing. Only aerial observers equipped with technical sensing devices can produce useful information.

The whole idea of sending youths out to “monitor” fires from the ground is romantic nonsense. What’s worse, it puts those youths in harms way and many tragic consequences can and do result.

One of these days the USFS is going wake up out of its dream world and it will be a massive shock to the system. Dreamland Orwellian gibberish is killing our forests, and when a significant number of employees realize what they have done and what they are doing, there will be a major mutiny and systemic insurrection. The leadership is holding on by a thin thread right now, which could snap apart at any time.

30 Jul 2008, 11:17am
by Mike

None of which is Joanna’s fault, by the way. She is doing the best she can under the circumstances.

Her job is to put a happy face on a catastrophe. I do not envy her task, nor do I blame her for the situation as it exists.

30 Jul 2008, 12:02pm
by Bob Z.


Joanna is doing a great job, as evidenced by her reading and responding to your posts, among other things. Unfortunately, she is the exception.

The “technical” difference you accurately portray between “watching” and “monitoring” a wildfire is splitting hairs. In both instances, the fire is allowed (”let”) to burn. No effort is made in either case to contain it or put it out, no matter the ocular and “professional” involvement.

Also, “hall monitors” rarely issued reports in my High School, either, and I think the sophomoric actions and rationales of today’s USFS are merely following that lead. So much for “professionalism” or “accountability.” I only hope you’re right about a day of reckoning and revulsion at some (hopefully soon) point.

31 Jul 2008, 7:21pm
by John S.

Hey Mike,

Came across this information and was wondering if the FEDS have to do NEPA during wildland fire operations? I have heard that during suppresion operations many different micro/macro environmental dependent species could be poorly influenced by certain activities performed during fire extinguishment?

31 Jul 2008, 10:02pm
by Mike

The USFS does not do NEPA for fires. It would be impossible to do a NEPA process during a fire, but they do not do NEPA before the fires, either. They do not do NEPA for individual NF Fire Plans, regional Fire Plans, or for the National Fire Plan.

Yet they have plans to burn out vast tracts of national forest and private lands. Those plans are on the books and are well documented. The Flag Knoll Fire or it’s equivalent was planned long ago. They have maps of the area they wish to burn. All the apparatus (personnel, equipment) to burn it has been prepared and is at the ready. All they were waiting for was the lightning to strike within the multi-million acre intentional burn zone.

Please see SOS Forests [here] for further discussion of this issue.



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