27 Aug 2009, 9:11pm
by admin

Big Meadow Fire

Location: Foresta, 3 miles NE of El Portal, Mariposa Co., CA
Specific Location: Big Meadow, Yosemite NP, ~Lat 37° 42´ 22″ ~Lon 119° 45´ 04″

Date of Origin: August 26th, 2009
Cause: Human (prescribed fire)

Situation as of 09/07/2009 6:00 pm
Personnel: 398
Size: 7,425 acres
Percent contained: 100%

Costs to Date: $15,800,000

The Big Oak Flat Road remains under a hard closure. Crews made good progress falling hazard trees along the Big Oak Flat Road corridor (approx.90% complete). Suppression repair continues on the contingency dozerline in Division B and crews expect to move into Division A tomorrow. Mop-up, patrol and backhaul of all equipment continues in other divisions.


Situation as of 09/07/2009 7:00 am
Personnel: 760
Size: 7,425 acres
Percent contained: 100%

Costs to Date: $15,200,000

Tioga Road opened at 0800. Continued falling hazard trees along Big Oak Flat Road. Big Oak Flat Road continues to be closed.

Isolated pockets of fuel continue to burn out. Scattered heat along fireline.

Shadowing of Team by incoming ICT3. Continued demobilization of crews, equipment, and overhead. Mop-up and patrol in all Divisions. Fire suppression repair continues.


Situation as of 09/05/2009 6:00 pm
Personnel: 851
Size: 7,425 acres
Percent contained: 90%

Costs to Date: $14,300,000

Big Oak Flat Road had a temporary hard closure because of ongoing falling of hazardous snags. Mop-up of perimeter hot spots continues. Utility crews entered the area to perform repairs to restore critical infrastructure to Yosemite National Park and surrounding communities including power and telephone lines. Mop-up and patrol of all divisions.


Situation as of 09/04/2009 6:00 am
Personnel: 1,113
Size: 7,354 acres
Percent contained: 80%

Costs to Date: $11,800,000

Evacuation Order for the community of Foresta was lifted today at 10:00 AM. A line was completed around the slop over in Division F including the spot fires along Tamarack Creek. Falling trees by the fire on roadways. Identify and assess rehab needs.


Situation as of 09/03/2009 6:00 pm
Personnel: 1,113
Size: 7,240 acres
Percent contained: 70%

Evacuation Order for the community of Foresta will be lifted tomorrow at 10:00 hrs. Progress has been made toward completion of line around Div. F, mopped up in all other divisions.

Public information meeting is scheduled for 18:30 hrs. tonight at Tenaya Elementary School. 640 Acres are in the Stanislaus National Forest, 125 acres are in private land, and 6,475 acres are on Yosemite National Park land.


Situation as of 09/03/2009 9:30 am
Personnel: 1,282
Size: 7,240 acres
Percent contained: 70%


Situation as of 09/02/2009 6:00 pm
Personnel: 1,282
Size: 6,283 acres
Percent contained: 60%

Costs to Date: $10,800,000

All existing lines held today. The major accomplishment was burning out the lines in the NW corner of the fire in the vicinity of Crane Flat.

Remarks from the NPS: There are significant patches of brush along roadsides including Tioga Rd. and in Tamarack Creek area that have a high probability of ignition.

This fire is within the 1990 A-Rock fire scar, and no rehab or stewardship of that burn was done. Hence the fire hazard has increased, and much expense and firefighter risk is now necessary to contain this fire, set by the NPS in mid-summer in yet another burst of traditional and continuing incompetency from that agency.


Situation as of 09/01/2009 6:00 pm
Personnel: 1,329
Size: 5,375 acres
Percent contained: 55%

Costs to Date: $9,100,000

The main body of the fire in DIV C impacted Tioga Road. There were spots across Tioga Road. Tamarack Creek Road may have to be abandoned as the containment line due to one or more large spot fires.


Situation as of 09/01/2009 10:00 am
Personnel: 1,162
Size: 5,257 acres
Percent contained: 55%

Costs to Date: $7,700,000 (est.)

Evacuation Lifted at Old El Portal and Yosemite View Lodge. Tioga Pass Road remains closed.

A Type 1 Incident Management Team (McGowan) has been assigned to manage this fire.


Situation as of 08/27/2009 6:45 pm
Personnel: 400+
Size: 1,700 acres
Percent contained: 10%

Fire managers began the burn on the morning of August 26 and in a very short time realized the holding lines were not going to contain the fire within the boundaries of this burn. The fire began spotting across the line into pockets of brush, down and dead logs and standing dead trees (snags) to the east of the community of Foresta. This fire is within the 1990 A-Rock fire scar.

The Big Oak Flat Road is closed from Highway 140 to Crane Flat and the Foresta road into the community of Foresta. There is no estimated time for the road to re-open. Highway 120 from Big Oak Flat entrance station is open to Crane Flat, on to Tuolumne Meadows, and Highway 395.

Crane Flat Campground and Foresta have been evacuated.

Tamarack Creek (Flat) trail to El Capitan, Old Big Oak Flat trail to El Capitan, and the Rockslides trail to El Capitan are closed.

29 Aug 2009, 6:47pm
by Larry H.

This fire has now reached 3500 acres and will probably reach the Tioga Pass Road in a few days. It is burning in the 1989 A-Rock Fire and, since it is in the National Park, giant snags were left over and have provided impressive ground fuels, hidden by thick manzanita brush. I’m sure that the fire folks in Yosemite didn’t realize the scope of that problem. Once those copious amounts of 1000-hour fuels got going, the game was up. I’m also sure that minimal site prep was done through that tangle of thick brush and downed logs.

I’ve long predicted that if a fire ever got started in there, it would be a lot more trouble than they bargained for. I fault the fire folks for thinking they could burn such massive fuel loads during the middle of the summer with near-record temperatures. Heads WILL roll over this.

AND this isn’t the only problem thay have run into this summer. I also reported that on another lighting fire, they felt they had to set a 4 mile backfire along Highway 41, thinking they needed to control their Let-Burn fires well above the highway. They ended up torching the steep terrain and it sure ran up the hill, doing much damage to remaining old growth. They will have to cut quite a few trees above the highway for safety. From the Glacier Point Road, I could see the dull green/brown scorched crowns of at least 300 old growth trees above the highway. Whatever happened to the National Park’s famous fire plan that requires “natural” fires to burn on their own?

In the case of the Big Meadow escape, they could have burned after significant rains in the fall but, they were surely more focused on having “good burning conditions”, so they could do the work in one treatment. The decision was clearly budget-driven and it appears that, if indeed they do have a prescription, that it either wasn’t followed or it wasn’t restrictive enough. The locals are PISSED and the fire is now taking significant resources away from the other new intensely burning fires in California. Also, a health warning was issued yesterday and the smoke definitely had a big effect on me at home, 50 miles away, as the crow flies. My eyes were burning and I felt like I had a cold coming on. Today, my head hurt but, the other symptoms were better and the air was cleaner.

29 Aug 2009, 9:59pm
by Larry H.

I found this official preliminary response to the escape of the Big Meadow Prescribed Fire. I’m sure that there will be others to question their actions, risks and results, as well. If we don’t learn from this, we will be doomed to repeat it. With all the proposed and desired prescribed fire treatments (as well as Let-Burn fires) on the table, we DO need to question whether they are safe and appropriate.

I was a part of the salvage effort on the previous A-Rock Fire in 1989. I also have driven by that site at least 100 times in the last 20 years, contemplating the inevitable re-burn. I’ll scan some Kodachrome slides from 1990 and also supply some pics from 2-3 years ago.

August 29, 2009 - A community meeting was held in El Portal last evening with Yosemite National Park Acting Superintendent Dave Uberuaga and other Incident leaders. A number of important questions were asked by employees and residents. Following are four of the most frequently asked questions and answers:

Why did the National Park Service ignite the Big Meadow fire in August?

The Big Meadow prescribed fire was initiated based upon a written and pre-determined “window” of very specific conditions (temperature, humidity, fuel type, wind speed, smoke dispersal, etc.). At the time of ignition all conditions were within this window. Prescribed fires may be done any month of the year depending upon the objectives of the burn.

Comment by poster: I question whether a proper fuels inventory was done, due to the extreme density of the manzanita hiding the excessive and large 1000-hour fuels in the form of GIANT logs laying on the ground underneath the brush. Site preparation should probably have been done but budgetary issues seem to have taken precedence.

Why couldn’t the meadow be burned in much cooler conditions?

The Park uses prescribed fire to accomplish specific objectives. In the case of the Big Meadow fire, those objectives were meadow restoration and the maintenance of fire resistant vegetation for the Foresta Community. For vegetation to burn it must be sufficiently dry and flammable to maintain a fire. The prescription for the Big Meadow burn was based upon these objectives.

Comment by poster: Oh yeah, it was surely DRY! AND abundant! The concept of reducing fuels was a good one but, did the prescription allow this burning during NEAR-RECORD temperatures, in a drought year and during the middle of the summer?!? Again, budgets seem to be a bigger issue in this than they are letting on to. The project could have been safely completed with three annual treatments in the fall, when fuels are wetter. Although the burn windows in the fall, due to the State’s rules, are quite narrow, the extreme risk is just not justified, compared to costs. In hindsight, I’ll bet this one fire will have burned up several year’s budgets! The Forest Service’s prescribed fire rules and guidelines are MUCH more realistic and safe. Does the Park Service’s prescriptions allow for adequate safety of the fire personnel, the public and the park?!?! This question is of paramount importance!

What went wrong then?

The development of the prescription window and its review and signoff are processes that agencies have carefully developed to minimize the risk of a fire escape. However, when dealing with all the complexities that can affect a fire, it is nearly impossible to reduce risk to zero. The National Park Service will conduct a careful review once the fire is extinguished.

Comment by poster: A total “NON-answer”!! Did they have enough personnel and equipment onhand for every contingency?? Often, firefighters are going back to school at this time of year. Did that have an effect on the decision to burn during this hot part of the summer?? Would they have had enough personnel later on in the fall, when it would be safer to accomplish the work?? I would guess that these are more important issues than they would care to admit. Someone needs to ask those questions and work out some solutions. I also question the Park Service’s expertise, due to the numerous questions and issues I have posed here.

Will someone be held accountable for the fire and the damage it has done?

In the National Park Service, prescribed fires plans are reviewed and approved by multiple individuals and then authorized by the Superintendent or his/her representative. Any escaped prescribed fire requires a review once the fire is extinguished. The review will include independent, knowledgeable fire professionals and will produce findings. Based upon those findings, the agency may take further actions including those that might affect responsible officials.

Comment by poster: The blame should ultimately be placed on the Superintendent, since he should be as informed on the issues, dangers and risks as the specialists under his charge. My guess as to how this happened is a lack of knowledge and misjudgment of the extent of dangerous fuels, a lack of preparation of the land to be burned, and letting their budget determine when to burn, preferring to do this risky work in one big chunk, instead of several smaller and vastly safer chunks.

30 Aug 2009, 4:21pm
by Larry H.

Update: August 30, 2009 Afternoon

“The Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park will have restricted access, between Crane Flat and White Wolf, beginning Monday, August 31, continuing until fire operations along the road are complete. This segment of the road will have controlled access with a pilot car during daylight hours, and be closed completely each night. Motorists should expect delays, which could begin as early as Monday morning.

The Big Meadow Fire continues to spread northeast and use of the Tioga Road for fire operations is necessary. Fire activity is dynamic and conditions may dictate a complete closure of Tioga Road at any time.

Visitors to Yosemite National Park may also experience delays on Route 140 due to fire operations.”

-NPS via InciWeb

So, visitors to Yosemite National Park can expect delays and/or road closures, in addition to poor air quality, over the next few days as a result of the growing Big Meadow Fire.

Original Update: August 30, 2009 Morning

“The Big Meadow Fire in Yosemite National Park and Stanislaus National Forest, California, grew from 3,506 to 4,382 acres acres overnight. The Big Meadow Fire was set by Yosemite National Park Fire Crews on August 26, 2009 as a prescribed burn and shortly thereafter, the fire grew out of the prescription lines.

Current Situation from InciWeb: “Yesterday, firefighters made good progress improving fire lines east of El Portal. The active portion of the fire is in the north and northwest flanks away from Foresta and El Portal. Today, the highest priority continues to be improving fire lines east of El Portal and structure protection in Foresta. Firefighters are aided by 11 water dropping helicopters and six air tankers. Control difficulties continue to be hot weather, low humidity, and steep terrain.”

Road Closures: The Big Oak Flat Road from Crane Flat Gas Station to the intersection of El Portal Road and Big Oak Flat Road.

Trail Closures: Old Big Oak Flat Trailhead to El Capitan, Rockslides to El Capitan, Tamarack Creek to El Capitan.

Campground Closures: Tamarack and Crane Flat Campgrounds.

This special announcement was made today: “Due to fire operations, The Tioga Road may be closed or restricted at any time.”

The fire is 50% contained.

1 Sep 2009, 2:19am
by Tallac

Many thanks to Larry H. for the updates on the Big Meadow “uncontrolled prescribed fire” in Yosemite National Park.

Fire in the forest started by government agencies is neither our friend or beneficial when feeble preparation and poor timing creates destruction. WTF were they thinking? My guess is they were not.

Let’s hope is that this blunder will never be repeated and those responsible will be held accountable.

1 Sep 2009, 11:52am
by Mike

Thanks, Larry. I have been in CA for 4 days, away from computers. Catching up now. Sorry for the hiatus, which just happened to coincide with major fire blow ups across the West and especially SoCal.

1 Sep 2009, 12:26pm
by Larry H.

The Cost-Plus on this one will have a very large tourist-business component! The holiday weekend is coming up and I expect that the Tioga Pass Highway and the Big Oak Flat road into the Yosemite Valley will still be closed. Suppression costs are up to at least 5.7 million. Hmmmm, how many years of their fire budget just burned up?!?

11 Oct 2009, 1:11pm
by sdd

any body know the final cost on this which would include all the rehab they have been doing?

11 Oct 2009, 3:27pm
by Bob Zybach


Using the “10 to 50 times suppression costs” rule of thumb, the final cost-plus-losses can be expected to range from $150 million to $750 million.

The economic evaluation process for this particular fire depends to a large extent on how recreational experiences, species biodiversity, aesthetics, air pollution, transportation (”business”) interruption, wildlife habitat, and soil productivity are valued. There’s probably a big p.r. cost for the USFS too, that is much greater than the salary of their “public information officer” might indicate.

Rational questions such as yours are just one more reason why we need to do consistent and standardized cost-plus-loss analyses of our public forest lands after (and before!) events such as the Big Meadow Fire.



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