More On the Real Costs of Forest Fires

The Santa Barbara Independent reported last week that two “trail gnomes” were charged with starting the Jesusita Fire last Spring [here].

More than seven months after the Jesusita Fire scorched nearly 9,000 acres of the Santa Barbara front country — destroying 80 homes, damaging another 15, seriously injuring numerous firefighters, and costing $17 million in its wake — two men have been charged in connection with the start of the fire.

The SBI also reported that prosecutors will “seek restitution” from the suspects.

What prosecutors do intend to do, however, is seek restitution on behalf of the victims of the Jesusita Fire, a pricetag that’s floating in the millions of dollars, considering the injured firefighters and destroyed homes.

That price tag has not been fully calculated, but one thing is for sure, the costs and losses from the fire vastly exceed the suppression expenses (which were closer to $18.6 million, not $17 million [here]).

In other news, mudslides resulting from the Station Fire [here] are threatening roads and homes in Los Angeles [here]:

As many as 90 vehicles were stranded after rocks and mud flowed down the hillside amid heavy rains along a 12-mile stretch of Angeles Crest Highway north of Los Angeles in an area where a massive wildfire burned earlier this year, said county fire Capt. Frank Reynoso.

The suppression costs of the Station Fire approached $100 million, but the damages (which are on-going) have not been appraised as yet. The damages, which include hospitalizations from excessive smoke, exceed the suppression costs many-fold.

In other news, the City of San Francisco settled a lawsuit brought by the US Justice Dept. on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service for two small fires on the Stanislas NF in 1999 and 2004. The price tag: $7 million [here]:

The city of San Francisco has paid $7 million to settle federal claims for wildfire damage to a national forest allegedly caused by negligent maintenance of power line rights of way.

The 1999 Pilot fire and the 2004 Early fire burned 5,698 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest in Tuolumne County.

The fires resulted from trees growing too close to the high-voltage power transmission lines of Hetch Hetchy Water and Power, owned by San Francisco, according to two civil lawsuits brought by the federal government against the city and its utilities agency.

What do these news items have in common? They all provide unimpeachable evidence that forest fires cause damages far in excess of suppression costs.

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Pre-Fire Evacuations in Australia

Australian authorities have prompted evacuation of residents in some some parts of south Australia because of an impending heat wave (see below).

Australia was the first country to officially adopt “Leave Early or Stay and Defend”, a fire policy that calls for homeowners to evacuate or else defend their own properties from wildfires. The Aussies have now abandoned the second part and applied the first part with vigor, since there are no fires at present.

Last December the US Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the National Association of State Foresters endorsed “Leave Early or Stay and Defend” in their Quadrennial Fire Review 2009 issued last January [here].

The QFR advances new core strategies for reinforcing fire management’s role in ecosystem sustainability by developing strategic management response capabilities that are more flexible and agile and further in line with the national response framework. While continuing to promote the concept of fire-adapted human communities, the QFR outlines new strategies to realign fire governance by rethinking federal, tribal, and state and local roles and responsibilities for wildland urban interface fire prevention and protection. Tied to this mission strategy of building a new national intergovernmental wildfire policy framework, are specific strategy elements for developing community fuels reduction zones in the interface, supporting leave-early or stay-and-defend alternatives for property owners while working with communities to assure that community fire prevention regulations are in place along with adequate local response capability.

The “Leave Early or Stay and Defend” fire policy did not work out well for Australia. Last February wildfires ravaged the state of Victoria in southeastern Australia. Close to 200 people were killed and more than 2,000 homes incinerated. Termed “Black Saturday”, it was the worst fire disaster in Australian history, a history replete with fire disasters.

A Royal Commission was formed to inquire, consult, and report on the fires and the fire suppression efforts associated with “an unprecedented loss of life, extreme property damage, and major community trauma and displacement.” That Commission issued an interim report last August [here].

The “Leave Early or Stay and Defend” fire policy was excoriated in testimony to the Royal Commission and blamed for the deaths, along with insufficient fuels management due to interference and lawsuits by Australian “greens”.

The impending heat wave with winds bodes some nasty fire weather for Australia, should a fire ignite. Authorities have called for a pre-fire evacuation, something unprecedented. There are no fires, but residents are being asked to leave anyway. The “Stay and Defend” part of the equation has been scotched.

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14 Nov 2009, 9:56am
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Station Fire Review

Last summer the Station Fire [here] burned 160,600 acres, destroyed 90 homes, killed two Los Angeles County firefighters, and devastated the Angeles National Forest. The largest fire in LA County history, the Station Fire cost nearly $100 million in suppression expenses alone and inflicted economic damages of 10 to 50 times that amount.

In November the LA Times printed a story blaming an alleged delay (of a few hours) in aerial attack for the catastrophe:

Missed opportunities let Station fire become a disaster

By the time heli-tankers arrived in force, the blaze had leaped Angeles Crest Highway. The last best chance to prevent a catastrophe had vanished.

By Paul Pringle, LA Times, November 1, 2009 [here]

On a sizzling August morning, as flames burned unchecked down the road, fire crews milled about at an Angeles Crest Highway ranger station. Others were parked along the pavement — a critical line of defense — their engines quiet and hoses slack.

It was more than an hour after first light, and some six hours after U.S. Forest Service commanders had determined that the fire required a more aggressive air attack. But the skies remained empty of water-dropping helicopters — tankers that were readily available.

Then, after the sun had heated the hillsides above La Cañada Flintridge, and as the first chopper finally began unloading on the flames, the fire gathered speed and shot over the highway, turning tall pines into torches. The last best chance to stop the blaze without significant losses vanished. …

The LAT story is odious yellow journalism, especially considering that a year ago they published a long screed condemning the use of aerial firefighting tools (a story for which they won some sort of journalism booby prize):

Air tanker drops in wildfires are often just for show

By Julie Cart and Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers, July 29, 2008 [here]

The bulky aircraft are reassuring sights to those in harm’s way, but their use can be a needless and expensive exercise to appease politicians. Fire officials call them ‘CNN drops.’ …

It is fascinating (like watching a train wreck) that those who would ground the aircraft and ban fire retardant are the first to whine when the aerial drops on a fire in their neighborhood are an hour late (according to their expectations).

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Tom McClintock on Forest Fires and H.R. 2899

Floor speech by U.S. Representative Tom McClintock, 08/31/2009 [here]

I want to thank my colleague from Utah, Mr. Bishop, for organizing this special order for the House tonight, and for the attention he has devoted to the suffering in my district caused by the lunatic fringe of the environmental movement that seems to be so firmly in control of our national policy on public lands.

A generation ago, we recognized the importance of proper wild lands management. We recognized that nothing is more devastating to the ecology of a forest than a forest fire. And we recognized that public lands should be managed for the benefit of the public. We recognized that in any living community — including forests — dense over-population is unhealthy.

And so we carefully groomed our public lands, removed excessive vegetation, and gave timber the room it needed to grow. Surplus timber and undergrowth were sold for the benefit of our communities. Our forests prospered and our economy prospered. And forest fires were far less numerous and far less intense than we see today.

But that was before a radical ideology was introduced into public policy — that we should abandon our public lands to overpopulation, overgrowth, and in essence, benign neglect.

We are now living with the result of that ideology. Forest fires, fueled by decades of pent up overgrowth are now increasing in their frequency and intensity and destruction.

One victim of this wrong-headed policy is the environment itself. Recent forest fires in my region make a mockery of all of our clean-air regulations. Anyone who has seen a forest after one of these fires knows that the environmental devastation could not possibly be more complete.

These policies also carry a serious economic price. Timber is a renewable resource — if properly managed it is literally an inexhaustible source of prosperity. And yet, a region blessed with the most bountiful resource in the state has been rendered economically prostrate. A region that once prospered from its surplus timber now is ravaged by fires that are fueled by that surplus timber.

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5 Nov 2009, 10:22pm
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Kootenai Foofurb Fire Hydrologic Damages Reported

The Bitterroot National Forest has released a report on the damages to watershed hydrology caused by the Kootenai Creek Foofurb Fire [here].

The USFS let this fire burn because it was allegedly providing resource “benefits”. Instead, the fire blew up, resource damages ensued, and over $2.5 million was eventually spent to suppress it [here].

The Kootenai Creek Fire was ignited by lightning July 12 on the Bitterroot National Forest, 7 miles northwest of Stevensville, Ravalli County, Montana. The fire grew to 780 acres by July 25. A small crew of firefighters were withdrawn on that date after “temporarily securing the SE/SW corners of the fire by utilizing natural barriers and aircraft.”

A series of windstorms in September reactivated the fire and it expanded to over 6,500 acres, threatening private property miles to the east.

The hydrology damages report is [here]. Among the findings: 5,388 acres burned in the 20,121 acre Kootenai-Larson Creek watershed (27%). Of the burned acres, 2,694 burned with moderate to high severity. That amounts to half the burned acres, or 13.4% of the total watershed acres. In the Brooks Face watershed 1,120 acres burned out of the total 1,380 acres (81% of the watershed). Of those, 560 acres burned with moderate to high severity (50% of the burned acres, 41% of the total watershed acres).

The report includes this statement:

Possible watershed responses to this fire are:

1) an initial flush of ash,

2) overland flow and associated rill and gully erosion on steep slopes,

3) rainfall-derived flash floods with above-normal peak flows,

4) rainfall-derived debris flows and associated alluvial fan deposition,

5) mobilization of floatable woody debris during snowmelt and rainfall-derived flash floods and
debris flows, and

6) snowmelt water yield increases due to changes in evapo-transpiration.

Response 1 is most probable the first year after the fire, and has a probability near 100%. Responses 2 through 5 are most probable the first through third years after the fire, and will disappear as grasses and forbs re-grow within the high severity burn areas. Response 6 is likely to occur for decades, but will diminish over time as conifer vegetation regenerates.

The assumption is that conifers will naturally seed into the burned over areas and will grow for decades without being subjected to another severe fire.

That assumption fails to account for the Bitterroot NF Let It Burn program, which is responsible for allowing the fire to inflict the damages in the first place. As long as the Bitterroot NF sits back and watches forest fires burn away in the middle of summer, in the name of “resource benefits”, forest resources (including hydrology and conifers) will continue to be damaged severely.

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Mission Creep at the Willamette National Forest

An unusual Guest Viewpoint was printed in the Eugene Register Guard yesterday. Kim Titus, USFS BLM, shared some “insights” from her short (4-month stint) as acting supervisor of the Willamette National Forest.

GUEST VIEWPOINT: Wildfire and forest strategies changing with the times

By Kim Titus, Eugene Register Guard, Oct 28, 2009 [here]

Monday was Meg Mitchell’s first full day as the new supervisor for the Willamette National Forest. As I finish my short assignment on the Willamette as acting supervisor, I wanted to share a few insights from my experience.

In the last two months, most of my time has been in support of fire suppression efforts on both the Canal Creek and Tumblebug fires.

The latter will be the third-largest fire ever fought on the forest, and it grew exponentially in just a few days. It required 1,200 firefighters and associated support services and burned almost 15,000 acres. As I write, the Tumblebug complex is still not contained, but the rains have stopped the progression of the fire.

When a fire starts on federal land, our first priority is always firefighter and public safety, and secondly to protect important structures and natural resources.

But this time we didn’t try to put the entire fire out. We strategically put our resources into the north and portions of the east and west sides of the fire, to protect the Middle Fork of the Willamette River and private land, and to provide a buffer from the east winds that were driving the fire. The other side of the fire was simply monitored. …

Despite the weak justifications given, Let It Burn on the Willamette NF represents a significant shift in policy and is not consistent with their Land and Resource Management Plan or their Fire Management Plan.

Many other national forests have adopted WFU (wildland fire use) or similar Let It Burn language into their Plans; the Willamette NF has not, nor have other westside Oregon NF’s. When and how did their policies change?

Titus stated, “There may be times when letting a portion of a fire burn makes sense ecologically, economically and morally (since protecting firefighters is a moral issue).”

Without addressing the merits of that statement, if such times are foreseeable, then it would be reasonable to plan for them with a proper NEPA process. The decision to let the third largest fire in WNF history burn away should not have been made with zero public input, especially since it was not a spur-of-the-moment decision but part and parcel of “an evolving fire strategy within the U.S. Forest Service.”

Some questions arise:

Why has the public been excluded from the evolving strategy?

Who specifically changed the policy, and under whose authority?

Who made the decision to let the Tumblebug Fire burn?

How many acres were consumed by the Let It Burn portion of the fire?

What environmental and other damages ensued, and what were the total costs-plus-losses from that fire?

Will the new fire policy be placed into the WNF LRMP?

Personally, I don’t get a warm fuzzy from this letter. It’s not an outreach to the public. It’s the temporary supervisor using the local newspaper to create a defacto mandate for the incoming supervisor. And the policy change is without proper (legal or scientific) foundation.

My email has been full of comments about this. Here are a few:

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USFS Issues Excuses for Mill Flat Fire

The Mill Flat Fire [here] ignited July 25 in the Dixie National Forest. Bevan Killpack, Pine Valley District Ranger and Rob MacWhorter, Forest Supervisor for the Dixie NF, decided the fire should be allowed to burn unchecked. One person was assigned to monitor the fire and a 29,000 acre “maximum manageable area” was designated. The Mill Flat Fire was declared a foofurb, a “fire used for resource benefit”, despite the fact that no benefits were elucidated, no EIS created, and no public involvement or hearings held.

As of August 22 the fire was 550 acres. Then a week later the wind came up, the fire blew up, and by August 31 the fire was 10,382 acres. The fire roared into New Harmony, Utah, forced the evacuation of 170 New Harmony residents, destroyed three homes and damaged eight buildings.

Some benefit, eh?

The residents of new Harmony were understandably miffed, and Gov. Gary Herbert grumbled about it [here]. Thye usual pro-holocausters, on the other hand, praised the fire and sneered at New Harmony residents:

“New Harmony is no longer New Harmony,” [long-time Utah wilderness activist Dick] Carter said of building homes in fire-prone areas. “It’s out of harmony and it’s been out of harmony a long time because we have failed to understand the consequences of growth and that’s the thing Governor Herbert and others will have to deal with.”

Then just yesterday the USFS offered a non-apology apology.

Forest Service misses ‘red flag’ assessment

A jump from 40 to 100 acres a day burned should have been a warning.

By Jason Bergreen, The Salt Lake Tribune, 10/25/2009 [here]

U.S. Forest Service administrator Bevan Killpack defends the choices made in fighting the Mill Flat fire in southern Utah this summer, but acknowledges that officials should have seen the fire growing quickly days before it reached New Harmony.

“We weren’t focusing on the acreage as much as where the fire was,” said Killpack, a Pine Valley District ranger who oversaw the benefit resource fire. “We were looking at 100 acres growing every day, but it was staying on the mountain.”

The resource benefit fire started small in July but began to consume 100 acres a day around Aug. 26, according to a fire behavior analyst who reviewed the forest service’s daily communications and papers in late September. The blaze was burning 40 acres or less a day prior to that, Killpack said.

“That should have told us something,” he said Thursday. “We should have realized 100 acres was substantial. That should have been a red flag and we missed it.”

So the “benefit resource fire” or “resource benefit fire” (the SLT used both in order to cover all the bases and really emphasize how wonderfully “beneficial” the Mill Flat Fire was) turned out to be a disaster that benefited no one and nothing, except to make pro-holocausters happy.

Nothing warms the hearts of anarchists, arsonists, and revolutionaries more than burning down small towns in the West, unless it’s burning down large cities and/or forests.

The USFS is sort of sorry about what happened, but their hands are tied. Let It Burn is a centrally inflicted policy emanating from Washington DC. The local officials were just following orders.

But Killpack said fire personnel had correctly monitored the resource benefit blaze by testing and measuring wind, temperatures, fuel moisture and other aspects of the blaze throughout July and August.

However, Killpack later admitted, “I was nervous with it the whole time.”

They made the best and most accurate decisions with the science they had available to them, he said.

Ah hah! It’s the fault of the “available science”. Evidently the USFS has been procuring their science from the dime store or picking it off DC garbage scows.

It’s a real hoot when the folks responsible, sitting in the ashes of the devastation they engendered, claim to be channeling “science”.

If there really was any science behind the decision to incinerate the Dixie NF and surrounding towns, then the USFS could have presented such when they issued the Environmental Impact Statement beforehand. However, the USFS did NOT prepare any EIS beforehand or afterward, nor request or present any “science” allegedly considered when the Let It Burn decision was made.

The purpose of the NEPA process is to bring into public review all the science considered before any action is taken that will have significant impact of the environment. But there has never been any NEPA process for “benefit resources fires”. There is no telling what was running through their minds. There is no transparency, no process, no public involvement in Let It Burn.

Western townsfolk are left to wonder how to deal with the USFS these days. Putting pro-holocausters in charge of forest fires has proven to be a very bad idea.

Question #1: Is it socially responsible to defer landscape stewardship to an outfit full of holocausters, knowing that their stated mission is to incinerate whole regions in catastrophic forest fires?

Question #2: Wouldn’t it be better to care for our forests, watersheds, landscapes, in a manner that does not result in inflicted disaster and destruction?

Question #3: Isn’t it about time the USFS is disbanded and dissolved and the National Forests returned to their rightful owners, the residents of the watersheds?

Eightmile Creek Fire Indictments?

The revelation that the Boise NF is deliberately lighting unauthorized, unplanned, illegal, essentially arson fires [here] in the middle of summer is more than troubling.

In their urgency to “reintroduce” fire, agency functionaries capriciously broke the law, endangered the public as well as agency firefighters, destroyed forests, polluted water and air, killed wildlife, and left behind a wasteland where once stood a forest.

The alleged “backfire” set on the Eightmile Creek Fire was nowhere near the lightning-ignited fire. The “backfire” was deliberately set to burn additional acreage that the original fire was never going to burn (it had already settled down and stopped growing).

The “backfire” tripled the size of the Eightmile Creek Fire, a so-called “fire used for resource benefit.” The only benefit the Boise NF came up with was “diversify forest continuity,” ecobabble nonsense for fragmenting the forest with moonscape burns.

“Our objective with natural ignited fires in designated forest areas is to evaluate them for the benefits we hope to achieve, which in this case is to diversify forest continuity, modify heavy fuel conditions, and provide different wildlife habitats,” said Cecilia Seesholtz, Boise Forest Supervisor. “About 23 percent of the Forest is approved for resource benefit fire management, and with each new lightning caused wildfire we evaluate social, economic and resource factors.” … [here]

The “objectives” of the Boise NF notwithstanding, the Laws of the Nation must be obeyed. A slew of federal laws require environmental impact statements, studies, consultations, public involvement, public comment, reviews, official decisions, appeals, and other procedures BEFORE any government agency undertakes actions that will significantly affect the environment.

USFS statements to the effect that wildfires are let burn without suppression expressly and categorically “for resource benefit” are frank admissions that those fires will have significant impact and effects on resources, in the estimation of the USFS as well as others. NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) is clear and concise about it: significant effects require an EIS, whether or not those effects are characterized as detrimental or beneficial:

“Significantly” as used in NEPA requires considerations of both context and intensity:

(a) Context. This means that the significance of an action must be analyzed in several contexts such as society as a whole (human, national), the affected region, the affected interests, and the locality. Significance varies with the setting of the proposed action. For instance, in the case of a site-specific action, significance would usually depend upon the effects in the locale rather than in the world as a whole. Both short- and long-term effects are relevant.

(b) Intensity. This refers to the severity of impact. Responsible officials must bear in mind that more than one agency may make decisions about partial aspects of a major action. The following should be considered in evaluating intensity:

Impacts that may be both beneficial and adverse. A significant effect may exist even if the Federal agency believes that on balance the effect will be beneficial.

From Sec. 1508.27, the Environmental Quality Improvement Act of 1970, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4371 et seq.), sec. 309 of the Clean Air Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 7609), and E.O. 11514 (Mar. 5, 1970, as amended by E.O. 11991, May 24, 1977). Source: 43 FR 56003, Nov. 29, 1978, unless otherwise noted.

The abrogation of NEPA by allowing lightning-ignited fires to burn unchecked is one thing, but without a doubt the matter is pushed over the line into deliberate criminality when USFS personnel set the Let It Burn fires without notice, due procedure, or even disclosure.

The deliberate incineration of Eightmile Creek was a USFS secret. The individuals involved knew they were breaking the law and kept the truth under wraps — until revealed by SOS Forests [here].

The Boise NF undertook a major Federal action that

* negatively affected public health and safety;

* impacted the unique characteristics of the geographic area including natural, historic, and cultural resources and ecologically critical areas, including but not limited to threatened and endangered flora and fauna, historical/cultural values, water quality, air quality, climate change, public recreation, public scenery, and local, state, and national economies;

* resulting in highly controversial effects on the quality of the human environment;

* involving highly uncertain, unique, and unknown risks to the human environment;

* was an attempt to establish a precedent for future actions with significant effects and represents a decision in principle about a future consideration;

* was related to other actions with cumulatively significant impacts;

* adversely affected districts, sites, highways, structures, and objects listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and caused loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural, and historical resources;

* adversely affected endangered and threatened species and their habitats that have been determined to be critical under the Endangered Species Act of 1973; and

* violated Federal, State, and local law and requirements imposed for the protection of the environment.

Institutional arson is still arson.

This matter is serious and has national import. We request that the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho, or if they are unwilling, the State of Idaho Office of Attorney General, or both, mount a full investigation of the Eightmile Fire and actions taken on that fire by the US Forest Service. We further request that all findings be presented to the public in an open and transparent manner, and if criminality has occurred, that the alleged perpetrators be indicted and prosecuted.

The Eightmile Fire — USFS Arson?

The Eightmile Fire on the Boise NF this summer was portrayed by the US Forest Service as a “natural” fire ignited by lightning, but in fact two-thirds of the total acreage was burned in USFS-set “back fires” that never merged with the original lightning fire.

The Eightmile Fire [here] was a controversial Let It Burn fire that incinerated 1,264 acres of the Lowman Ranger District on the Boise NF this summer. Despite complaints by residents inundated by smoke, the USFS not only refused to contain and control the fire, they deliberately expanded the fire with drip torches, doubling the fire area and inflicting further harms on natural and human built environments.

The Boise NF was declared a “Let It Burn Laboratory” by the USFS in 2007. That summer over 2 million acres in Idaho were burned deliberately by the USFS, including 1,250 square miles [here] of the erosion-sensitive Idaho Batholith [here] in the Payette, Boise, and Nez Perce National Forests.

The objective of the Boise NF leadership is to burn as much of the Boise NF as possible, whether by lightning or by purposeful arson on the part of USFS employees. Such was the case with the Eightmile Fire, ignited by lightning July 12, 2009.

The fire was immediately declared a foofurb (a “fire used for resource benefit”) even though no “benefits” were projected, measured, or documented, no EIS was created, and no NEPA process was undertaken or even envisioned.

Boise NF officials, led by Boise Forest Supervisor Cecilia Seesholtz, initially reported that the Eightmile Foofurb Fire was within the Lowman Burn (1989). That falsely painted story was a fabrication – the lightning strike was well east of the old Lowman Burn and the Boise officials knew it. But it seemed more palatable for their public image to present the new fire (a Let It Burn fire) as safely within the old burn.

SOS Forests disabused the USFS and informed the public of that lie, forcing the Boise NF and InciWeb to withdraw the falsehood and post the truth [here].

That episode did not sit well with Boise NF officials. Their goal, as stated above, is to burn as much of the Public Estate under their oversight as possible. In anger at being discovered in their lies, they proceeded to expand the Eightmile Fire deliberately.

When the fire stalled at 400 acres, fire crews were sent in to rekindle it. Using drip torches, those crews ignited a new wall of flame ahead (downwind and upslope) of the now smoldering ashes. The new fire torched another 840 acres and precipitated a call to Hotshots, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

Although the official accounting has not been released (and may never be, unless extracted by judicial order), an estimated $1.2 million was spent suppressing the USFS-set portion of the fire.

The set fire never made contact or merged with the lightning fire, which had subdued itself.

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Let It Burn Fires Blow Up All Over

Across the West wildfires that have been deliberately left uncontained have blow up out of control, drawing angry criticism of the US Forest Service from residents impacted by months of smoke and now onrushing flames.

The USFS designated over 100 fires ignited last summer as Let It Burn fires, allowed to flame and smolder for months until perennial fall winds whipped them into firestorms.

Let It Burn fires that have blown up in recent days include the Kootenai Creek Fire [here], Lily Lake Fire [here], Abby Fire [here], Lawrence Mountain Fire [here], Bielenburg Fire [here], Ninko Creek Fire [here], Table Mountain Fire [here], Arnica Fire [here], Bearpaw Bay Fire [here], and the Gunsight Fire [here].

The Kootenai Creek Fire [here] was ignited by lightning July 12 on the Bitterroot National Forest, 7 miles northwest of Stevensville, Ravalli County, Montana. The fire grew to 780 acres by July 25. A small crew of firefighters were withdrawn on that date after “temporarily securing the SE/SW corners of the fire by utilizing natural barriers and aircraft.”

A series of windstorms in September reactivated the Kootenai Creek Fire and it has grown to 6,300 acres as of yesterday. Private property miles to the east is now threatened by the fire, and 121 firefighting personnel have been recalled to fight it, along with helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Over $2.5 million have been spent on suppression, many times the amount that it would have cost to contain and control the fire in July.

The same windstorms have reactivated many wildfires that the USFS allowed to burn unchecked for weeks and months. Communities miles away from the ignition points are now threatened.

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Fire Fund Grab by DC Parks Averted

The Washington Times reported last week [here] on the backroom switcheroo diversion of dedicated firefighting monies to racially exclusive “festivals” in DC parks. The Obamaloids hoped to steal $2.7 million from firefighting, allegedly to be funneled through a “non-governmental community organizer” group named Washington Parks & People.

Unfortunately for the remoras attached to the underbelly of the Obama Admin, the U.S. Senate put the kibosh on the fire funds diversion yesterday:

Senate rejects wildfire funds for D.C. parks

By Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, 09/24/2009 [here]

The Senate this week told the Obama administration to stop spending stimulus bill wildland firefighting money on urban parks in the nation’s capital — the first time either chamber has voted to reject one of the administration’s stimulus spending decisions.

With fires raging out West, lawmakers said, it was ridiculous to spend firefighting money in Washington, which has no national forests and isn’t considered a forest fire danger spot. In a voice vote Tuesday, senators voted unanimously to prohibit the U.S. Forest Service to spend any of its $500 million in wildland fire money in the city.

“This is ridiculous, it is outrageous, and we should not stand for it,” said Sen. John Barrasso, the Wyoming Republican who sponsored the amendment to the Interior Department spending bill.

The money, part of the $787 billion stimulus bill, came from a $500 million fund the Forest Service was given for “wildland fire mitigation.” …

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21 Sep 2009, 11:04am
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin
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Station Fire Damage Assessment in Progress

Do wildfires provide benefits? Or do wildfires inflict short- and long-term deficits and damages to landscapes: vegetation, wildlife, habitat, air, soils, watersheds as well as homes destroyed, other property losses, suppression costs, public health and safety emergency expenditures, etc.

Setting aside for the moment the $100 million suppression costs, as yet untallied emergency services costs, and the value loss of private homes and property, did the Station Fire provide “resource benefits”?

No, as a matter of fact, the environmental crisis is ongoing and long-lasting. The steep and now denuded slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains are expected to undergo massive erosion, mud-debris flows, and flash floods when the expected winter rain storms occur. More homes and roads will be destroyed by mudslides. Vegetation, wildlife, and people will be damaged again.

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that a bevy of environmental experts will be documenting and assessing the damages, and suggesting and implementing mitigation actions (more costs) where they might do some good (prevent more damages).

Station Fire studied by experts looking at the forest’s future

By Thomas Himes, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 09/19/2009 [here]

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST - A team of 45 scientists, economists and engineers have been commissioned by the US Forest Service to document Station Fire losses, predict the future impact of those losses and make recommendations to minimize risks in the future.

The Station Fire charred plant life and seared soil as it burned across 160,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest.

Before the fire, healthy shrubs and soil diffused and absorbed rainfall as it made its way down mountainsides to rivers and reservoirs, according to US Forest Service soil scientist Eric Nicita.

“If it rains on unburned areas, little plants act like pumps” and soil absorbs water into roots and the water table Nicita said.

But the Station Fire has made healthy shrubs and soil a scarce commodity in the Angeles National Forest, according to Nicita.

In burned areas, “hydrophobic compounds turn into gases and puts a wax like coating on the soil,” Nicita said. “The longer water has to accumulate, the greater the chance it has to cause erosion.” …

Note: for a recent excellent study on soil sealing, see Causes of Post-Fire Runoff and Erosion: Water Repellency, Cover, or Soil Sealing? by Isaac J. Larsen et. al. [here].

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21 Sep 2009, 10:58am
The 2009 Fire Season
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Smoky summer stokes demands for firefighting changes by Interior Alaskans

By Jeff Richardson, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner September 18, 2009 [here]

FAIRBANKS — Following yet another smoky, inferno-filled summer, fire officials acknowledged on Thursday that it’s probably time to update the strategy for battling Interior Alaska blazes.

The state might begin considering a “smoke response plan” when air quality in the Interior becomes hazardous, said Chris Maisch, state forester with the Alaska Division of Forestry. He said more areas near Fairbanks also could be made a higher priority in the state’s fire management plan.

Maisch made the comments at a public meeting at the Alaska Division of Forestry warehouse, where officials gathered to discuss the controversial 2009 fire season. Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, said he called the meeting after receiving numerous complaints about the “let it burn” status that most fires in Alaska are given.

About 40 people attended the meeting, which came after a summer that saw nearly 3 million acres of land burn in Alaska. The past six years have been the worst period for fires in recorded state history, with more than 16 million acres blackened.

The current fire protection plan, which was adopted in 1998, gives areas across the state one of four fire-protection designations. The vast majority of Alaska is given “limited” protection status, which calls for virtually no response.

Tom Irwin, the Commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources, said it’s usually a sensible approach. Fires are a natural part of a changing ecosystem, and the state doesn’t have the personnel or money to battle every blaze that emerges during a busy season.

“The fact is, Alaska is going to burn no matter what resources we throw at it,” Irwin said.

But a frustratingly smoky season in Fairbanks has some residents clamoring for changes. While lives and personal property are taken into account when prioritizing fires, the effect of thick smoke on a region isn’t currently taken into consideration.

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Firefighting Funds Diverted to DC Park Fests

Here’s a novel way to spend federal firefighting dollars: on festivals in Washington DC urban parks. From the The Washington Times:

EXCLUSIVE: Forest fire funds aid D.C. festivals

By Stephen Dinan, The Washington Times, September 11, 2009 [here]

Even with forest fires raging out West, the U.S. Forest Service this week announced it will spend nearly $2.8 million in forest-fire-fighting money in Washington — a city with no national forests and where the last major fire was probably lit by British troops in 1814.

The D.C. aid is going to two programs: $90,000 is slated for a green summer job corps, but the vast majority of the money — $2.7 million — is going to Washington Parks & People, which sponsors park festivals and refurbishes urban parks in the Washington area.

Forest Service officials didn’t return messages left seeking comment on why they spent money from their “wildland fire mitigation” stimulus fund in Washington, but members of Congress said city parks don’t deserve the money while fires are scorching millions of acres of land and owners are losing homes.

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The real cost of wildfires

by Bob Zybach, guest opinion, the Oregonian, 09/14/2009, [here]

The tab for U.S. wildfires as commonly reported by the news media is only a fraction of the full costs experienced by the public.

Darrel Kenops’ recent commentary in The Oregonian (”Balancing protection with beneficial use,” Aug. 25) makes the point that we export our environmental impacts to international destinations when we cannot find ways to locally meet our nation’s needs for forest products. Excellent point. But lost in this discussion are the year-in-and-year-out costs that citizens must bear each time a wildfire scorches mile after square mile of Oregon’s forests.

Real costs for wildfires are stupendous and insidiously invisible. It isn’t just the billion dollars or more diverted each year from other useful programs in federal and state budgets to stamp out fires as typically reported by the media. Most expenses are never assigned to the bottom-line costs of wildfire.

For example, less tangible values such as damaged wildlife habitat, degraded soil and lost recreational opportunities are difficult to value monetarily; yet, these are greatly valued by the public, as are clean air, clean water and beautiful scenery.

With co-authors Michael Dubrasich, Gregory Benner and John Marker, we have published a one-page checklist of real costs [here] that also should be tallied when the news media covers wildfire.

On this list are property costs, including damage to federal, state, private, utility and municipal facilities; public health, including asthma, emphysema and coronary disease; indirect firefighting costs, including crew training, equipment and inventories of supplies; and post-fire costs, including timber, agriculture and home losses. The checklist goes on to detail air and atmospheric, soil-related, recreation, aesthetic and energy effects, plus the loss of cultural and historic resources.

We estimate that, nationwide, the true costs of wildfire, over and above seasonal fire-fighting expenses, range between $20 billion and $100 billion a year — or between ten to fifty times what is typically reported to simply put out fires.

So what can be done? There are those who think that passive management of our publicly-owned forests is the correct path: those that espouse the “naturally functioning ecosystem” and “let-it-burn” school of forest management.

I doubt the public has much appetite for the kind of fires that occurred in the past, as described by Kenops, before we began excluding fire from the landscape. The massive fires of the past - extinguished only when winter weather arrived - are not acceptable today. Also not acceptable is the status quo. In effect, public policy for the past 20 years has been to fight nearly every fire that ignites, yet do nothing to manage the consequences of insect-infested, diseased, wind-thrown and overstocked forestlands.

There are successfully tested alternatives to passive management. Actively removing excess woody biomass, thinning stands of trees for beneficial use, and selectively employing prescribed fire are among them. These activities all have costs but some can be done profitably: creating long-term jobs, reducing risks for severe fire, beautifying our forests, protecting our resources, and offsetting our international dependence on energy and forest products.

These activities will have their own environmental impacts. But then, so does doing nothing. And, in the long haul, doing nothing is proving to be much, much more expensive.

Bob Zybach is the program manager for Oregon Websites and Watersheds Project Inc. [here]. Also see the U.S. Wildfire Cost-Plus-Loss Economics Project website [here].

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