20 Jan 2009, 8:50pm
Federal forest policy The 2008 Fire Season
by admin

Whoofoo Review Finds Faults

The East Slide Rock Ridge WFU Fire was ignited by lightning Aug 10, 2008, on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest about 15 miles southeast of Jarbidge, Nevada. Officials of the H-TNF declared it a WFU (Wildland Fire Use fire or “whoofoo”) immediately and let it burn unchecked.

The ESRR WFU Fire [here] was only 300 acres on Aug 17th, a week after ignition. But by Aug 20th it had grown to 5,000 acres and was threatening 30 historic cabins and the Pole Creek Guard Station. By Aug 21st the fire was nearly 10,000 acres and had spread out of the Maximum Manageable Area (previously established at 113,000 acres). Even so, the whoofoo designation was retained.

On Aug 21 the ESRR WFU Fire grew to 11,250 acres and the wind was blowing. Wiser heads prevailed and the whoofoo designation was scrapped. A Type 1 IMT (the big boys) was requested to suppress the fire. However, on Aug 24th all personnel were evacuated as high winds pushed the fire to 14,489 acres. The next day the fire doubled in size and threatened over 100 residences in the community of Murphy Hot Springs, ID.

By Aug 26th the ESRR WFU Fire was 38,595 acres and zero percent contained, but winds died down. Two days later the fire was 47,701 acres and aggressive backburning and aerial attack had slowed the fire front. On Aug 29th Governor Gibbons, US Congressman Heller, Nevada State Forester Pete Anderson, and other government and local officials visited helibase, received a briefing, and toured the fire area. The next day the fire reached 54,329 acres, close to its final size.

On Sept 10th the final acreage was 54,549 acres. Suppression costs to that date were $9,571,300.

For more discussion of the East Slide Rock Ridge WFU Fire see [here, here, here, and here].

An unsolicited “private comment” printed in the Elko Daily Free Press last week revealed that the USFS has issued a review report of the ESRR WFU Fire. The in-house report criticizes the decision to declare the fire a whoofoo. It turned out to be a very expensive mistake, one that (some) agency officials are willing to admit.

Jarbidge fire review confirms Forest Service mismanagement

By GARY ZUNINO, Comments, Elko Daily Free Press, January 13, 2009 [here]

The U.S. Forest Service has released the findings of the review team that examined the decisions that led to the catastrophic and very expensive East Slide Rock Ridge Fire last summer. As many of you may remember, the fire started from a lightning strike in the Jarbidge Wilderness and was allowed to burn, resulting in the loss of more than 50,000 acres of some of the most beautiful and productive lands the State of Nevada had to offer.

The suppression cost of the fire was in excess of $7 million of taxpayer money, which does not include the cost of the natural resources that were lost or the reclamation costs.

The report was put together primarily by federal employees, many of whom work for the USFS. I must compliment the team for their frank and honest assessment. My comments in this letter are restricted to only the decision making process to allow the fire to burn and are not related to the tactical operations that took place once the decision was made to finally try to suppress the fire.

The report concluded:

“Agency administrative documentation of the Wildland Fire Use (WFU) decision … did not include an objective analysis of current and predicted fire weather, fire behavior, and/or fuels indices. Because of the lack of critical information, it is not clear from reviewing documents if the ESRRF met guidelines for WFU.

“Weather and fire potential predictions were not considered in the decision process leading to the WFU determination or management of the ESRRF.

“Pre-planned WFU implementation protocols were not used.

“There were critical information gaps in the new Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest guidance document. There was a lack of fuels information, weather monitoring or fire history analysis to support time-dependent decisions.

“There is a lack of operations/line officer experience and/or capacity within Interagency Multi Agency Coordination/Operations. …There is a lack of knowledge/experience/planning process to manage a complex WFU or a series of WFU’s at one time.

“There has been little experience with fire and ecology in the fuel type within that Wilderness, which led to fire behavior predictions that underrepresented reality and a lack of adequate contingency plans. … Sub-Alpine fir is infamous for its ability to transition from inactive to active fire behavior quickly.”

I very much respect the hard-working employees within the USFS. However, as I stated in my letter to Governor Gibbons that was printed in this newspaper back in August, the decision made by the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest supervisor to allow the ESRRF to burn was not prudent or defendable in August and is still not defendable in January. This review of those actions by an independent team confirms such.

As a citizen, taxpayer, and someone that values the resources this state has to offer, I believe we deserve better. This was an avoidable situation and the USFS was advised multiple times that if swift action to suppress the fire was not taken there was great potential for a catastrophic fire to take place. Unfortunately, those words of wisdom were not headed and more than 70 square miles of a very special place of Nevada needlessly went up in smoke.

As I also stated in my August letter, I am fully aware the forest health in the Jarbidge Mountains is in miserable condition. I again state that I am not against the use prescribed fire, under the right conditions, to improve forest health. I am, however, adamantly against the senseless waste of Nevada’s natural resources and taxpayer monies.

Gary Zunino of Spring Creek works in the firefighting education field but writes this commentary as a private citizen.

21 Jan 2009, 3:36pm
by bear bait

This is perhaps the only fire where criticism was heard above the Forest level, and elected officials asked the Regional Forester for an evaluation and protocol review. I have to wonder what would happen if all the fires over 20,000 acres had to go through a mandatory evaluation and protocol review as did this one.

This we do know: The USFS is “winging it” with WFU. Like we didn’t know that all along. All that has happened is that they finally got caught by a Regional Forester. Now you have to wonder if it goes further, or to other regions. I would think not. It will be up to local, concerned citizens, to keep records, go to briefings, and keep up on the process on project fires in their neighborhoods. Only then can there be a public accountability of actions. It is the old tree falling in the forest and none there to hear it, see it, or report it, let alone determine if it made a sound. I could look for broken branches of a predetermined caliper, and break them in a sound room and record the sound of the limb breaking, and then determine that the falling tree did make a sound. There are ways to determine if prudent and good judgement is being made on these fire responses. The USFS needs to know they are going to be observed and reported on as to fire responses.

21 Jan 2009, 5:03pm
by Larry H.

I think we should call the Whoofoo program by a new catchy name consistent with its intent.

“Deathly Forests”

22 Jan 2009, 11:03am
by bear bait

You wait, the USFS will re-name the WFU planned areas “Forests in Transition: Where Darwin runs backwards.” In celebration of ObamaNation, these are our Diversity Forests, our red forests, our black forests. In winter, our white forests, and in time, our white snag forests with a carpet of green [tickbrush].

22 Jan 2009, 4:51pm
by YPmule

That is an excellent suggestion bear bait, to have every fire over 20k acres evaluated.



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