29 Jan 2008, 3:33pm
Federal forest policy
by admin

The Skates Fire

Note: this essay was originally posted at SOS Forests (Old Version) [here].

The following report was sent to me by resident X, who wishes her name hidden to preclude acts of retribution. The report describes the Skates Fire, a 2006 whoofoo (WFU or wildland use fire) on the Gila N.F.

The fire was called the Skates Fire. They lit a back burn during high wind conditions. Stupid. Yes, it was a whoofoo.

They decided to bring the fire within ¼ mile of our property lines. I am not joking here. They put the smoke monitor miles away. I know of one person put in a nursing home that did not come out again due to the Skates Fire.

I forced them after the fire was out of control for 24 hours to suppress. I think I read that rule somewhere. I am not into suppression but when safety and private property is at stake, it makes sense to me not to burn.

The USFS agents were very pissed at me. There was a lot of slander in the local cafes later because I would not let them at 2 AM burn my land.

My horses were freaked out and one colicked that night. The USFS were rocketing the mountain. Burning my sliver of land would not help them, and the way they were burning I was worried they would burn all my fencing, hay, and barn, not to mention jumping the road.

I would not let them come on my land and they were pissed. I had two angry men yelling at me at 2 in the morning. They even had the gall to say, “See what Nature is going to bring you.” They were threatening and intimidating.

I know one of their names.

I was standing there with one very sick horse, two others panicked, a needle still in my pocket, plus the drugs, from giving my horses some tranqs to keep them calm. I had fought their damn fire since 3 PM it was now 2 AM, and they were going to burn my land without asking.

I called on my fire radio for the sheriff, and the USFS bullies backed off. They cut a fire line and left my land alone. I slept on the dirt in my horses’ pen to keep them safe and protect my land.

If I had not been there, or had not resisted, my land would have been ruined and my hayfield would have been an inferno.

I had met one of the firefighters at our Fire Dept earlier. He gave me a smile when I told the supervisors to get off my land. He later told me there was no reason or benefit to burn my hill. I do not understand the logic of burning so close to peoples’ homes. And why were the USFS agents so aggressive with me?

The Skates Fire produced no benefit but lots of damage. I am an engineer with some fire training, but not an expert. I wonder if the USFS fire experts are anything like the USFWS wolf experts?

Two days later there were people on my land from another National Forest. They prowled the hand-built fire line. It seemed like they were higher ups investigating what went on at my property. I again was not asked my permission to allow Federal agents to be on my land, although I do have signs.

Later they started a rumor that because I would not let them burn my land, the fire got out of control. The truth is the fire blew 12 hours earlier, but this was not what they were saying in the restaurants. Luckily enough people know me and what really happened, so the USFS eventually shut up.

There were lots of hard feelings about the Skates Fire. It was very mishandled. I would love to know if anyone got their butt chewed for making the decision to light a back burn with 70 mph winds and hot weather predicted for the next day. We nearly lost 8 homes. We fought hard to save them. We had fire brands falling just across the road, with some making spot fires that nearly caught other homes on fire.

The USFS lit back burns that really made no sense. The places where the back burns were lit are still scarred. There were no homes to protect, so I’m not sure why the back burns were lit where they were. The initial fire did less damage than the back burns.

Thank you for telling others about the Skates Fire.

The following comment was subsequently submitted and is worth reprising as well:

Mary Says:

Another fire called “Lamphere” is burning right on the AZ/NM border. Lamphere Canyon is east of Blue Mountain and empties out right in the middle of the Blue River community. Lamphere Canyon extends from the Blue River to about 9 miles east of us.

Hopefully the Lamphere Fire will not escape the canyon. That fire is east of us, and the Chitty Fire is about 14 miles west of the southern end of the community.

The forest has been designated as high risk for for catastrophic fire as per the USFS. Yesterday it was 103 deg. at our house. Today, 90 and rising at 10:AM. Wish us luck.

X, your story about the Skates Fire is truly horrifying. What a lesson in “what’s going on”! My heart goes out to you and I applaud you for standing up to the “let it burn, see what nature will do to you” dangerous psychotics.

I think we need to declare a national state of emergency specifically to rout these horribly destructive wacko’s out of our government agencies and put them somewhere where they can do no more harm.

2 Feb 2008, 9:18pm
by cred

The bulk of the Gila National Forest (GNF) is in Catron County, New Mexico, which has an excellent CWPP (Community Wildfire Protection Plan). This plan was spearheaded by Catron County government and was created in partnership withm and signed by, the USFS in 2006. Carefully researched, the Catron County’s CWPP has been described as the gold standard of CWPPs. http://www.catroncounty.net/cwpp/

This CWPP clearly points out that because there are so many islands of privately owned land in the GNF (which have been designated Wildland Urban Interfaces. or WUIs), the risk of catastrophic wildfires, such as X describes must be reduced through aggressive hazardous fuels reduction.

Ironically, the year the CWPP was signed, tens of thousands of acres burned out of control in the GNF. Predictions are that wildfires will get worse and worse in the GNF, and of course this means that each of the private landowners risks having their property totally destroyed as well - even though these inholdings are designated WUIs and should have received forest restoration treatments to prevent such destruction.

Unfortunately, there is much money to be made on fire suppression, and when a fire is burning it is easy to get emergency funding to fight that fire - much easier than to get funding for hazardous fuels reduction and forest restoration. An average of tens of thousands of acres burn annually while budgeting for preventative work allows for treatment of a few thousand acres. The Bear Fire, which burned over 50,000 acres, was started (likely by arson) in one of the highest priority areas for hazardous fuels reduction.

As those elsewhere in the West know, these fires put massive amounts of smoke into the air - that’s carbon, folks. Carbon, which is the culprit in global warming. These fires get hot because they’re burning massive amounts of fuel - dead biomass and thickets of thin “dog hair” conifers. Hot fires sterilize the soil, permanently destroy wildlife habitat and watersheds, and kill trees that would withstand cooler fires.

We have environmental groups with permanently retained attorneys filing constant lawsuits to “save” our planet, but where are these people when it comes to hazardous fuels reduction? Why aren’t they pushing for big budgets for forest restoration? What crazy environmentalism is it to allow our forests burn down rather than allow a logger to come in and make some money off a renewable natural resource, which then goes into the USFS budget for more forest restoration?

The very best CWPP can point out where the problem is and what to do about it, but until USFS gets some money for prevention through hazardous fuels reduction, along with an attitude change about priorities, X and Mary won’t be the only people whose private property is at risk because of our unhealthy forests this coming fire season.



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