12 Jul 2008, 6:46pm
The 2008 Fire Season
by admin

Assuaging Fears About the Basin Fire

USFS fire managers held a meeting yesterday in Carmel Valley yesterday evening to calm fears about the Basin Fire. It is questionable how well they did that.

From the article about the meeting in the Monterey Herald [here]:

Calming fire fears in Carmel Valley

By LAITH AGHA, Monterey Herald, 07/12/2008

As the Basin Complex Fire burned Friday, prompting a voluntary evacuation near Arroyo Seco, fire management team officials held a public meeting in Carmel Valley Village to douse fires in the rumor mill about the blaze’s proximity to the valley’s more populated areas.

About 250 people filled the Tularcitos Elementary School auditorium to hear what officials had to say and to ask questions that reflected growing concerns in the community.

Though the fire claimed another 21,000 acres along the eastern front Friday, fire officials said they are confident containment efforts will keep it from approaching the village and most Cachagua neighborhoods.

“The threat of it breaking containment is very low,” said Cal Fire spokesman Rick Hutchinson.

Jerry McGowan, incident commander of the Basin Complex Fire’s eastern side, said he is sure the fire management team will meet the July 30 containment date.

“I feel pretty confident we will beat or match that,” McGowan said.

The fire is at least eight miles from the village as the crow flies, but about 15 miles away when factoring in undulation of the terrain, Hutchinson said. Winds are mostly blowing from the north and northwest, which means “the fire wants to go to the southeast,” and away from the village, Hutchinson said.

Before the fire could reach the village, or even Cachagua, it would have to jump two firebreaks. One is nearly done and the other is being held as a proposed backup plan.

Today, the day after the meeting, a Voluntary Evacuation order was issued for Upper Cachagua, Paloma Creek, Lower Carmel Valley Road, and Arroyo Seco as the Basin Fire grew another 3,000 to 5,000 acres, a gain of close to 20,000 acres in two days.

The combined acreage of the Basin/Indians fires is now over 200,000 acres. The two fires merged last week.

Fire crews have been bulldozing the first line at a width of 60 to 100 feet, Buck Silva of the U.S. Forest Service said. Controlled burns inside the firebreak have widened the barrier in many sections, Hutchinson said.

Rumors have been circulating from the village to Cachagua about the severity of the fire’s threat to more densely populated areas. On Thursday and Friday, many village residents said they heard the village was being evacuated. During the public meeting, a concerned resident said she was told by firefighters that the fire would reach the village within six hours.

McGowan reassured the crowd there is no truth to the gossip.

In fact, the Basin Fire has been expanding in some areas at about one mile per hour. Six miles in six hours is not unfathomable. Spots fires sparked by flying embers have been erupting as much as a half mile beyond the fire front, so a firebreak of 60 to 100 feet is not guaranteed to stop it.

Currently winds are N and NW, blowing into the fire front. Should the winds shift to S and SE, Carmel Valley could indeed be overrun. More from the Monterey Herald article:

Carmel Valley Fire Chief Sidney Reade announced that the emergency telephone notification system became operational in Monterey County on Friday. It was not expected to be available until later in the year, but installation was expedited in response to the emergency situation in the county.

Speaking from Carmel River Ranger Station earlier Friday, Cachagua Fire Protection District Capt. Rod McMahan said some Carmel Valley residents — particularly those living in close proximity to the village and in communities such as White Rock — may be feeling more insecure because they haven’t seen work going on by fire crews. All they have seen are the huge plumes of smoke that make it look as if the fire is moving toward them.

“There’s a big difference how people (in Cachagua) perceive the fire than in Carmel Valley,” McMahan said, because Cachagua residents “are closer to the fire.”

Indeed the Basin Fire has been backing into the wind and moving north toward White Rock and Cachagua. Voluntary evacuation notices were issued for those areas today.

McMahan said firefighting forces began entering the Cachagua area two weeks ago from Highway 101 onto Carmel Valley Road, so Carmel Valley residents never saw them arrive.

This is a strange statement, since nearly everybody in Carmel Valley enters the valley from Highway 101 onto Carmel Valley Road. The only other entry points are Los Laureles Grade off the Monterey-Salinas Highway and via Arroyo Seco from Greenfield in the Salinas Valley. The latter has been rumbling with fire trucks for a month. It is doubtful that many residents failed to notice the fire trucks.

“We’ve been fighting this fire for two weeks and it’s just now arriving,” McMahan said. “We’ve had the luxury of time and a great deal of resources coming through here.”

Again a strange statement. We been fighting the fire for two weeks, but now it’s here. Doesn’t say much for the success of the last two week’s worth of efforts.

McMahan estimates about 500 people live off Tassajara Road where mandatory or voluntary evacuations have been issued. About 2,500 people live in the Cachagua area, he said.

As of Friday afternoon, the fire was within a quarter-mile of the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy observatory atop Chews Ridge. Fire crews cleared the area around the observatory to protect it, said spokesman Eric Neitzel.

The fire hadn’t spread into Miller Canyon at that point, where about a dozen structures — mostly houses — were wrapped in foil blankets Thursday. But the fire was expected to move into the canyon at some point, he said.

I don’t know about you, but my fears are assuaged. Of course, I live about 500 miles away.

In a separate meeting in Big Sur, the fire managers patted themselves on the back:

Late Friday, at a community meeting in Big Sur, a group of about 60 residents gathered to get updates from fire officials.

“My incident management team has done its job,” Mike Dietrich, incident commander for the U.S. Forest Service on the Basin Complex Fire, said. The firefighters, who normally work 14-day stints, finished their 21st day Friday.

“We have a lot of repair work to do. … (But) the fire was a happy fire today. It laid down pretty much,” he said.

Yes, the Basin Fire has laid down over 116,000 acres so far, and it continues to lay down with each passing hour. Happily. It’s a happy fire.

Mike Dietrich was Incident Commander on the Zaca Fire last summer. It too was a happy fire that laid down over 240,000 acres. The Zaca Fire was the largest in California since the 1800’s and Dietrich et al spent $120 million in fire suppression costs on it, the most ever for a Calif fire.

Two jet loads of new crews arrived Friday — one from Alaska and one from the East Coast — to relieve crews who have been battling the blaze.

Dietrich told the group that while “the Basin Fire is not out, the west side is probably 90 percent contained.” It was announced at the meeting that the Big Sur Health Center is open again and offering free and discounted services to residents.

The west side of the fire is the Pacific Ocean, or more properly Highway 1, which hugs the cliffs above the pounding surf. So Dietrich is probably right. There is only a 10 percent chance that the Basin Megafire will catch the Pacific Ocean on fire and spread to Hawaii.

Meanwhile, Tassajara Hot Springs has been burned over as the Basin Fire has moved more than five miles northward and eastward in the last two days.

But calm your fears, the fire managers have things well in hand. Pay no attention to the smoke headed your way. The Voluntary Evacuation order is just that, voluntary. The professionals will let you know when it’s time to run for your lives.

14 Jul 2008, 9:31pm
by bear bait

Don’t you just love the casual telling of 20,000 acres burned as not a big deal. In the old days, I’d think of that as 31 and a half sections. 31 and one half square miles. In the coast doug fir belt, of 100 year old second growth doug fir that ran about 50 mbf per acre, that would be a Billion board feet of burned timber. No laughing matter. A substantial number. Enough timber to run a large sawmill in those days for 20 years. And the company logging a thousand acres a year would be noticed. The land would be looking pretty sparse after ten years of that kind of logging pressure. But, the useful life of a sawmill is not much more than 20 years. Technology and machinery upgrades cannot be fully realized as remodels on older mills.

20,000 acres of dead mature timber would be a salvage operation that would stop the cutting of green timber for years as the salvage ran its course and the bugs and fungus finally won. 20,000 acres of land is more than 6 miles wide and 5 miles long. The land for a medium sized city of several hundred thousand people. And that number just rolls off the tongues of press spokespersons effortlessly, without the shock and awe a catastrophe of that size should elicit.

20,000 acres is a hell of a ranch. And that was the loss to fire in one night, and one of many nights to come across the West. It all adds up, and over a few weeks, vast tonnages of particulates have become airborne, green house gases injected into an overworked atmosphere by the millions of pounds, and the visual loss and the personal loss and the historical loss and the comfort of homes lost, all are overlooked by those who would want to say it is your fault for living near the wildlands that nature has meant to burn but man has interfered. Balderdash!!!!

Humans can remove fuels, space trees, and when the fuels have been reduced, introduce intelligent fire at appropriate times of the year. The people who knapped the Clovis points were accomplished burners, and had to do without weather satellites, barometers, and agency trained fire behaviorists. They might not have gotten it right every time, but the whole of their effort was very successful at providing for their existence on the landscape for 10,000 years or more. None expect perfection, if they are realistic, but all would think efforts in the right direction are needed and overdue. We have to reduce fuels, and to do that, vegetation has to be cut and disposed of in an environmentally acceptable manner. The argument today is not if, but how. Yet, the Enviros continue to parade a conveyor belt of slice-of-science papers that are in turn reported as big picture altering epiphanies. Wrong!!! It is about oxygen, vegetation, and an ignition source to remove it all in conflagration as opposed to setting fire to fuel reduced areas at optimum times of the year. Man calls the shots, sculpts the landscape, and he and the environment become one in a singularly sublime working landscape. This is not a Timber Baron view nor is it a Sierra Club view, of how the world should look. It is the great compromise view of how mankind can exist in the world with a greater degree of harmony than is now experienced. It can be done. The Clovis point knappers could do it, cause some extinctions, favor other plants and animals that grew into dominant species in certain places, and the atmosphere did not go Ice Age on them, yet, and the global heating has not pushed the delete key on agriculture.

But if it is your house that just went oxidized, all the worldly good of fire in the environment is not a balm that wears well. There has to be a better answer, and the time for discussing options is now.

14 Jul 2008, 10:15pm
by Mike

Read it again, bear. The Basin/Indians Fires have consumed two hundred thousand acres, or as of yesterday, 201,764 acres. That’s 315 (three hundred fifteen) square miles. At a suppression cost to date of $89,000,000 (eighty-nine million dollars).

Of course, that country is oak and brush (formerly oak/pine savanna) so there was no significant timber value. Just wildlife, watershed, recreation, etc. values lost.

Up north on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest the Iron Complex Fire has burned over 40,000 acres (63 square miles) in pretty decent timber. And it’s still getting bigger. Imagine a 63 square mile clearcut. Hard to imagine? That’s because there are none.

And on the Klamath National Forest the Siskiyou Complex is now 35,400 acres (55 square miles). Back when it was 4,000 acres the brainiacs in charge decided to Let It Burn until it got to 40,000 acres, but they have abandoned that plan. The new plan is to Let It Burn until it gets to 90,000 acres. It’s not all good timber; much of the area was burned over in 1987. So it’s a reburn, much like the Biscuit Fire.

And much like the Biscuit Fire there is no reason to believe the Siskiyou Complex can be held to a mere 90,000 acres. I foresee mega numbers, like 250,000 acres before that fire is contained.

And on the Six Rivers National Forest the Unokom Complex is 22,000 acres and growing. That’s not counting the Blue2 Fire which was hacked off the Complex and made into its own fire. The Blue2 is “only” 4,000 acres now, but the “strategy” is to Let It Burn. There is no telling how big these fires will be by October. All in timber country.

On the Mendocino Complex at least 26,000 acres of redwoods have burned on private land. The state and federal governments decided to let the landowners fight those fires themselves. You’re on your own, buddy. We’re busy. Oh and by the way, thanks for all your decades of tax payments.

And on the Tahoe National Forest the American River Complex is 19,000 acres and scheduled to burn until October. Old growth sugar pine is going up in smoke on that one.

All told more than a million acres have burned in California so far this year, at least half that acreage in forest. The timber loss is in the $billions but the loss to watershed and habitat is far in excess of that.

Over $200,000,000 (two hundred million dollars) have been spent on suppressing the California fires, and the 2008 fires season hasn’t really begun yet north of there. The 2008 federal fire budget will be spent by mid-August.

But this is a rich country, right? We can afford to spend $billions burning up hundreds of $billions in multiple forest values, because the rich can be taxed more and more, and money flows like water here. Who cares if their landscapes are incinerated by the millions of acres every year? It’s not like it’s an issue that politicians talk about. Nope, we’re stinking rich, and Burn, Baby, Burn is the new American motto.

14 Jul 2008, 10:28pm
by Mike

As a comparative value, the amount spent on suppressing the California lightning fires is approximately equal to the tax break Congress just gave the Weyerhaeuser Corporation.

Money like water, pouring out the coffers in a flood. Too bad it’s your money and you’re not standing in the stream.

15 Jul 2008, 2:20am
by Tallac

Crunching some of the numbers more, an average of $200.00 an acre, but up to $700.00 per acre, has been spent so far this year on various California Fires.

That’s just suppression costs.

Can’t wait to get the bill for rehabilitation, or as they say at Sierra Club, “restoration.”

15 Jul 2008, 11:36am
by Mike

Cost per acre is a deceptive number. Big cost per acre but small acres is better than small cost per acre but big acres.

That is, if a fire can be contained at 1,000 acres for $1 million, that’s $1,000 per acre. Seems large. But if the same fire is allowed to expand to 100,000 acres and costs $50 million to contain, then that’s only $500 per acre. Half the cost per acre, but $50 million from the taxpayers instead of $1 million. That’s 50 times as much outlay.

There will be no money for rehab. The fire suppression costs are burning it all up. The USFS will attempt to raise some rehab money via salvage logging, but the enviro-left crazies will sue to stop that. End result: massive wastelands of charred forest and agency bankruptcy. Burned up, burned out.

15 Jul 2008, 12:48pm
by Tallac

I realize cost per acre varies fire to fire, but needed to wrap my head around an average, trying to put into perspective the costs for thinning, prescribed burns, etc. that may have prevented over 1,200 square miles going up in smoke.

I know those numbers vary from project to project too, and my simple analysis is somewhat flawed.

Just attempting to get a handle on cost to benefit ratios, vs. doing nothing and then suppression and rehabilitation, if any, costs.

You must have those real world numbers on this site somewhere and I’m sure I’ll find them to refresh my memory.

15 Jul 2008, 12:55pm
by backcut

That ain’t necessarily so, Mike. The USFS is getting better at quickly putting up salvage sales that win in the lower courts. If the Forest Service and the timber industry could reach some kind of coordination or “synergy”, salvage sales could be offered, bought and completed before the project could be seen by the Ninth Circuit Court. The Power/Freds Fires on the Eldorado NF completed their paperwork and offered the first of many sales just 7 months after they were contained.

Chad Hanson couldn’t react quick enough and he lost that lower court battle. The next opening (and one in which he picked the judges he wanted) came up 9 months later. With better coordination, we could have moved out all that salvage (along with mega-tons of non-merchantable fuels) in just 7 months after the first sale was awarded.

We should make the public’s decision easier:

Which color of trees do you want us to cut?:

1) Green?
2) Brown??
3) Black??!?

By the end of THIS fire season, we’ll have plenty of #2’s and #3’s

I always enjoy your writing, Bearbait!

PS My blog is newly-filled with pictures from the wilds of Mount Borah, ID, and environs.

15 Jul 2008, 1:03pm
by Mike

The cost per acre to do fuels management varies quite a bit. It all depends on what activities or treatments are carried out and where and how.

However, in the best forest restoration projects the fuels removed are sold and thus the treatments show a profit, not a loss. The private sector knows how to do that. The public sector eats money for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is famously prodigal, so it is a tougher case on public lands. Still, the possibility of breaking even on public forest restoration is high, which means the bottom-line (and per acre) cost of decent restoration forestry is negligible.

Coupled with the enormous LOSSES associated with forest fires, over and above the fire suppression costs, the opportunity cost/benefit of restoration forestry is hugely positive on the benefit side.

The real way to account for fires is cost-plus-loss. The economic utility of restoration forestry lies in minimizing the cost-plus-loss of potential fires.

15 Jul 2008, 1:10pm
by Mike

I don’t know who or what a Chad Hanson is, nor do I care. Burning down forests for salvage pennies is the most destructive thing imaginable. Would you burn down your (uninsured) house so you could sift through the rubble for marketable debris?

Of course not. That would be insane. Yet that is exactly the program the USFS operates under today.



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