7 May 2008, 10:08am
The 2008 Fire Season
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Trigo Fire Follow-up

The new W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking website has been reporting on major fires in the West since mid-April. The first fire covered was (is) the Trigo Fire southeast of Albuquerque, NM.

The Trigo Fire began on April 15 in the Cibola National Forest and by April 21 had grown to 3,750 acres and burned nine homes. The residents of Manzano and Torreon were ordered to evacuate by the Torrance County Office of Emergency Services. By April 26 the fire was 4,910 acres but 60 percent contained.

It was big news. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson toured the fire, as did a group of Congressional staffers. A FEMA declaration was issued. Community meetings were held. Over $5 million was spent on suppression.

But then attention deficit disorder set in. The news media went away, as did most of the firefighters. Bill Richardson went to Venezuela to hobnob with Hugo Chavez. And the Trigo Fire smoldered.

On April 30 winds gusted up to 50 mph and the Trigo Fire blew up. Embers blew over containment lines and the fire doubled in size in a matter of hours. The remaining few firefighters were overwhelmed. By May 2 the Trigo Fire was 13,700 acres and an additional 50 homes had burned. Some 600 families were evacuated from the Torreon and Tajique area. The Sherwood Forest subdivision was decimated.

The Southwest Type 1 Incident Management Team (Whitney) was called in. Over 800 firefighters arrived, but it was too late to save the homes.

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6 May 2008, 5:00pm
Federal forest policy
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Plea Bargain Dashes Hopes For Full Investigation and Justice

The following editorial appeared Sunday in the Yakima Herald-Republic. We post it in full:

Plea further extends Thirtymile tragedy

Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial [here]

In a New Year’s Eve editorial on the last day of 2006, we were willing to concede at the time that “four manslaughter charges brought against a U.S. Forest Service crew boss nearly 51/2 years after the deadly Thirtymile Fire in Okanogan County could finally be proof that justice delayed is not necessarily justice denied.”

That hope has been dashed now that a plea-bargaining deal has led to fire crew chief Ellreese Daniels pleading guilty in U.S. District Court in Spokane Tuesday to two misdemeanor charges of making false statements to investigators.

The magnitude of the reduction in charges is staggering: In exchange, the government dropped four felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and seven felony counts of making false statements.

Sentencing is set for July 23.

“Like all plea agreements, there was a recognition of the evidence and the law as it exists,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice said in an Associated Press report out of Spokane. “We feel this is an appropriate disposition of the case.”

Really? Will there ever be “appropriate disposition” of a case in which so many nagging doubts and unanswered questions remain? Four people died and the only person charged in the incident gets a plea-bargaining slap on the wrist and won’t have to face trial — during which a more complete story of what happened up to and during that fateful day could unfold during testimony.

Frankly, we’ve been less than impressed from the start with the federal government’s handling, at all levels, of the Thirtymile incident.

We also take note of the fact that Daniels was the only one to face criminal charges out of the fire near Winthrop that killed four Central Washington firefighters on July 10, 2001: Tom Craven of Ellensburg, and Karen FitzPatrick, Jessica Johnson and Devin Weaver, all from Yakima.

We remain convinced that Daniels must answer in part for the tragedy because he was directly responsible for the safety of his crew. But we also maintain that the blame for the Thirtymile debacle involves much more than just what happened on the fire line that day. Blame must also extend further up the chain of command and include a culture of stonewalling and cover-up so prevalent in the U.S. Forest Service at the time.

In addition, a September 2001 investigation by this newspaper revealed that the Forest Service broke more than a dozen of its own safety rules. Federal investigators came to an even more damning conclusion: The Forest Service had 28 rules in place to keep crews safe. At Thirtymile, 20 of them were broken, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The negligence, according to the original charges, included Daniels failing to prepare the crew for the possibility of being overrun by flames.

The fact he was singled out prompts memories of the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq when Iraqi prisoners were mistreated by United States military personnel. Of 10 people convicted out of that debacle, none ranked higher than staff sergeant. That in a system noted for its chain of command that demands the following of orders.

Reforms within the agency were supposed to ensure a tragedy such as Thirtymile never happened again. Yet, seven firefighters have been fatally trapped since by forest fires in Idaho and California.

That’s not to simply say the lessons of Thirtymile have not been heeded. After all, we’re talking about a very dangerous line of work, one in which every possible step must be taken to ensure the safety of firefighters on the line.

But we also don’t totally agree with the fears of many in the firefighting community that the unprecedented prosecution of Daniels might send a chilling message into the ranks of his colleagues across the nation — that they could face felony charges if something similar happened on their watches.

Anyone responsible for neglect of duty that leads to tragic consequences should face such charges. In our system of justice, whether such charges are justified is determined in a trial with all the pertinent facts on display, not with plea bargaining.

The plea deal may have technically closed the books on the prosecutorial phase of Thirtymile. But the nagging question remains: Will justice ever be completely, and adequately, served in this case?

5 May 2008, 8:18pm
Climate and Weather
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Global Warming Takes a Powder

A month ago (April 9) SOS Forests posted an essay entitled “Theory, Empiricism, Forests, and Global Warming Models” [here], in which I pointed out that global climate models are purely theoretical and based on zero empirical data. In contrast, I pointed out, weather prediction models are almost purely empirical.

The best weather prediction models are more empirical than theoretical. They look at current conditions (fronts, pressure gradients, jet streams, etc.) as they are cadastrally arrayed across the globe, and compare those to past dates when the same or very similar arrays occurred. Then the weather outcomes of the similar past conformations are examined, and used to predict the immediate future weather. Not much theory to that, more of a data mining of the past; hence the descriptor “empirical.”

That post was inspired by a discussion at William M. Briggs, Statistician Blog [here]. In the comments Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and a contributer to Real Climate Blog (a extreme GW alarmist site [here]) stated:

First off, weather prediction models are not empirical searches for similar patterns in the past, instead they are very similar to climate models in formulation (though usually at higher resolution). The big difference is that they are run using observed initial conditions and try to predict the exact path of the specific weather situation. Climate models are run in boundary condition mode and try and see how the envelope of all weather situations is affected. The actual calculations are very similar and depending on the configuration, a climate model can do weather forecasts and weather forecasting models can do climate projections.

That statement is almost completely wrong. Weather prediction models are nothing like climate prediction models; the former are data-based, the latter are not.

The empirical/theoretical argument has been raised before, and to counter it climate modelers decided to incorporate some real world data, which they refer to as “initial conditions.” And what did they find using real data?

They found that their models predict that global warming is at least 20 years away!

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5 May 2008, 9:09am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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California Forests Are Being Converted to Tick Brush

The Forest Foundation of Auburn CA and the National Association of Forest Service Retirees have issued a joint review of California forests. Their finding is that the lack of reforestation following forest fires is responsible for converting an average of 30,000 acres per year of forest to brush.

Nearly 150,000 acres of forest has been converted to brush over the last seven fire seasons in CA, not including conversion that has occurred in wilderness areas.

Recent homilies about “renewing the forest” with wildfire as uttered by obsequious government functionaries and power-grasping eco-terrorist BINGOs are supercilious, pusillanimous, and specious. Wildfires do not “renew” forests, they decimate and destroy forests and convert them to tick brush. Blood-sucking, disease-carrying tick populations thrive, but forest creatures lose their habitat when wildfires ravage forests. Those vegetation changes are permanent without intervention, because fire-type tick brush generates yet more fires that exclude trees.

But why should we wax eloquent on the subject, again and again and again? Let others carry some water. Kudos to the Forest Foundation and the National Association of Forest Service Retirees for their honesty and integrity. Here is the full text of the joint pronouncement:
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3 May 2008, 9:00pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Flawed Plan, Flawed Article, But We Clarify and Polish Our Apple

Science Mag, that bastion of political bias with occasional glimpses of actual science, published a garbled article which reviewed the blue-ribbon panel review of the languishing USFWS Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted. We have reviewed their review of the review, and present some clarifications for your illumination.

The article in question is Spotted Owl Recovery Plan Flawed, Review Panel Finds by Erik Stokstad, Science, Vol. 320, dated May 2, 2008. A parsimonious summary, all of one sentence long, is available [here]. But we shall provide you a little bit more than that. The article begins:

A blue-ribbon panel of scientists has confirmed major flaws in the proposed recovery plan for the northern spotted owl, a threatened species that has driven forest policy in the northwestern United States for nearly 2 decades. As did earlier reviews, the final one, by the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute (SEI) in Portland, Oregon, concludes that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS’s) plan does not put enough emphasis on protecting the owl’s habitat.

It also says that massive thinning of dry forests is needed to prevent habitat from going up in smoke—a recommendation that makes some environmentalists nervous.

Explanation: in 2006, fully 16 years after listing the northern spotted owl as an endangered species, the US Fish and Wildlife Service finally got around to drafting a Recovery Plan, something they should have done in Year One. It took a series of lawsuits to force them to do it.

But the Recovery Plan was fatally flawed, in that if it had been approved and followed, it would have been fatal to spotted owls, barred owls, owl habitat, old-growth forests, forests in general, rural economies, and various other species, communities, and institutions.

The USFWS’s Recovery Plan was dead in the water from the get-go, and everybody knew it. They withdrew it after a few weeks of high-pitched whining from all sectors. A private consulting company was hired to review the fatally flawed Plan. That company, the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute, appointed a “blue ribbon” panel and held a series of meetings. Their conclusion: back to the drawing board!

Ah, but with one added instruction: Stop Incinerating Spotted Owl Forests!!
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Painful Plea Copped in Tahoe 3 Tree Scandal

Speaking of restitution…

The poor woman charged with accidentally cutting three trees on the Lake Tahoe lot adjacent to her own [see here], which unfortunately (for her) belonged to the US Forest Service, has agreed to a plea deal. Instead of 20 years in the Federal penitentiary (more than any recently convicted eco-terrorist received) she will pay a $100,000 fine and perform 80 hours of community service.

Although the homeowner was busted by thug enviro cop functionaries of the arson-minded Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the fine will be sucked into the bottomless maw of the arson-minded USFS. From KRNV TV [here]:

Plea deal in cutting of Lake Tahoe Forest Service trees

A plea deal has been made for an Incline Village woman who was charged with two felonies after she hired a company to chop down trees on national forest land to enhance her view of Lake Tahoe. The deal with federal prosecutors will likely keep her out of prison.

Patricia Marie Vincent, 57, will pay $100,000 in restitution and do 80 hours of community service in exchange for her guilty plea today to a lesser charge.

She was indicted in January by a federal grand jury in Reno on felony charges of theft of government property and willingly damaging government property. Vincent faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of those original counts if convicted. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Rachow agreed to drop the felony charges and charge her with one misdemeanor count of unlawfully cutting trees on U.S. land.

That crime carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison, a $100,000 fine and possible restitution. But Rachow said under the plea agreement, she would face a year of probation, 80 hours of community service and pay $100,000 in restitution, $35,000 of which would go to the U.S. Forest Service and $65,000 to the National Forest Foundation.

The ultimate sentence will be decided by U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval on June 3.

In contrast, the incompetent pigs who burned down 254 homes last year at Lake Tahoe got off scott free. Oh yeah, that would be the nazi-like functionaries of the USFS, working in tandem with the nazi-like functionaries of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Funny how justice works in this country, or doesn’t work, or works for some power factions and gangs, especially powerful outside agencies of the bloated, corrupt, ruthless, legally-immune and dangerous-to-all Federal Government and their running dog, unelected, affiliate local gangs, but not for regular citizens.

Three Charged in X Fire

Three campers left their campfire unattended, and it erupted into a forest fire. The campers have been charged with Federal crimes and face jail, probation, fines, and restitution penalties.

The X Fire is burning on Tusayan Ranger District the near the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. It began April 29th and has consumed about 2,050 acres. The fire has been largely contained by Hot Shot crews and fire personnel of the Kaibab National Forest.

The three campers were apprehended without incident and have cooperated with authorities.

From the Arizona Republic in Flagstaff [here]:

Authorities track down trio suspected in X Fire

by Lindsey Collom - The Arizona Republic

When an unattended campfire touched off a 2,000-acre blaze just outside of Grand Canyon National Park Tuesday, it didn’t take long or much effort for authorities to track down the people believed to be responsible.

A trio of campers, visiting from Texas, returned the next day to the site in the Kaibab National Forest to retrieve a sleeping bag, court records show.

The three cooperated with authorities and, after being questioned, were summoned to appear in federal court in Flagstaff Thursday - even as fire crews continued to rein in the X Fire by dousing hotspots with water, digging at smoldering dumps and aerating the soil. …

The X Fire suspects could face a maximum penalty of six months in jail, five years’ probation and a $5,000 fine. A judge could also force them to pay what it cost to fight the fire. Murphy estimated the fire suppression tab to be $250,000 by Thursday morning.

Interestingly, the Kaibab NF spokesperson claimed that the X Fire has benefited the forest:

Meanwhile, Murphy says the forest is benefiting from the blaze, which has burned overgrowth and ground fuels while mostly sparing trees. Fire also releases nitrogen into the soil, promoting new growth.

“It’ll be nice again,” he said.

Also interesting is the fact that in 2006 Kaibab NF personnel burned 58,000 acres of that national forest in the Warm Fire, a whoofoo (Wildland Fire Use fire) that consumed 40,000 acres of old-growth ponderosa pine and Mexican spotted owl habitat. The Warm Fire was a deliberate act on the part of Kaibab NF personnel, and in direct violation of a Court Order and Record of Decision that prohibited such burning [see here for more about the Warm Fire].

Yet, in the case of the Warm Fire, no Kaibab NF personnel were charged with Federal crimes, jailed, put on probation, fined, or forced to pay restitution. The Warm Fire rang up a bill of over $7 million in suppression costs, ten times that in resource losses, and more $millions in subsequent forest rehabilitation expenses. That work has only begun, following a year of planning which also cost a pretty penny.

No one claimed that the stand replacing (total tree mortality) Warm Fire “benefited” the forest. Yet the perps went unpunished and are still collecting Federal paychecks.

All that is not an excuse or defense for the three campers who unwittingly started the X Fire. But whatever punishment the judge and jury apply to those three, something in excess of a hundred times more severe punishments should have been meted out to the Kaibab NF personnel responsible for the Warm Fire.

1 May 2008, 10:02am
The 2008 Fire Season
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Trigo Fire Blows Up

You may have been following the 2008 fire season on the new W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking Site [here]. If so, you might have noticed the Trigo Fire on the Cibola National Forest, Torrance Co., New Mexico. The Trigo Fire started April 15th, from human causes, probably a campfire probably left by illegals who just crossed the border.

Burning in pinyon-juniper, gamel oak, ponderosa pine, and grasses, the Trigo Fire was pushed by high winds toward the towns of Torreon and Manzano, where nine homes and nine other structures were burned.

The New Mexico Type II Incident Management Team was called in and as many as 500 firefighter fought the blaze. Fire departments from as far away as Phoenix sent support. FEMA approved New Mexico’s request to help pay for state and local efforts to fight the Trigo Fire, which exceeded $5 million. The Governor and a Congressional staffer delegation toured the scene last week.

Things settled down. It appeared the Trigo Fire was under control, 95 percent contained. Fire management transitioned to a Type III local team. Everybody went home.

Then yesterday the winds whipped up and the Trigo Fire blew up again. Embers blew over the containment lines and in a matter of hours the fire area has more than doubled from 5,000 to over 11,000 acres. Torreon has been evacuated again. The fire is climbing Capilla Peak and heading for the UNM observatory there. Highways 55 and 337 are closed.

The Southwest Area Type I IMT has been called in. Type I’s are the biggest responders, set up to handle 500 firefighters or more and all the equipment and support entailed. It costs upwards of a million dollars a day or more to fund Type I IMT efforts.

Heavy winds are expected in the area throughout the day with gusts of up to 50 miles an hour. Air tankers and water-bucket helicopters cannot be flown safely in high winds, and may not be used today.

Police are patrolling evacuated areas to prevent looting, which had been reported during the previous evacuation. At least one home has been burned during this latest blow up, and possibly many more. News is difficult to extract from any sources, but the best might be KRQE TV in Albuquerque [here]. (And it isn’t much; if you know of better news sources, please let me know).

The 2008 Fire Season has gotten off to a running start. More than 700,000 acres have burned in Texas (mostly grasslands). Two fires have erupted in Southern California, one near Santa Anita and one near Palm Springs. The latter is the Apache Fire and has closed the Pacific Crest Trail in the San Jacinto Wilderness. Arizona has had three major fires already, one burning today near the Grand Canyon and another, the Alamo Fire, that burned on both sides of the International Border. Like the Trigo Fire, the Alamo Fire might have been set by illegal immigrants. The lightning season has not started yet in the Southwest.

We are doing our best to track all these fires on the W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking Site [here]. Your assistance with information is greatly appreciated. Already SOSF stalwarts have chipped in some key news regarding the Apache Fire and earlier blazes in the Southwest. Thank you, Greg, Bob, and Wayne!

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