Tuesday, July 28, 2015

CS Goal - Safe & Effective Wildfire Response

One of the core tenets of the Cohesive Strategy is a Safe & Effective Wildfire Response.  NASA materials are helping this goal along with the testing of new materials for fire shelters.  Check out this vid:

Also of keen interest is the relatively short amount of time it takes for the flame front to pass....

New Approach to Fighting Fire

Commissary Fire. Source: USFS.

Stephen Pyne, professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, considers the historical fire and land management contributions to the current situation on our landscapes in the West and offers a strategy of resilience which seeks to make the best of the hand we are being dealt.

From his article:

Resistance. Fire suppression continues to thrive because there are fires we need to stop, but the strategy has also reinvented itself from simple firefighting to an all-hazard emergency service model that effectively looks like an urban fire department in the woods. This makes sense in places defined by urban sprawl, but it's expensive, and it has not shown it can manage fire. If the strategy retains the strengths of fire suppression, it also magnifies suppression's weaknesses.

Restoration. Restoration’s ambition is to get ahead of the problem. Yet the vision has proved expensive and complicated. Federal, state, and local jurisdictions are all involved with many projects. Before controlled fire can, in fact, be controlled, there often need to be expensive pretreatments like forest thinning. Emissions from long-burning fire can linger, causing other problems. Between the financial, political, and social costs, there is little reason to believe that the country will muster the will to rehabilitate, at the rate or scale required, the tens of millions of acres believed by the Forest Service, Nature Conservancy, and the Government Accountability Office to be out of whack. Probably the best we can hope for is to shield high-value locales like exurbs and municipal watersheds.

Resilience. A new strategy from the West accepts that we are unlikely to get ahead of the problems coming at us. Instead of attempting to directly control burns, it confines and contains outbreaks. Of course there are some fires that simply bolt away from the moment of ignition, and there are some that must be attacked instantly because they threaten people or critical sites. But many fires offer opportunities to back off and burn out. These are not let-burns. Rather, fire officers concentrate their efforts at point protection where assets are most valuable. Elsewhere they will try to pick places—draw boxes—which they can hold with minimum expenses, risks, and damages. Some patches will burn more severely than we would like, and some will barely burn at all, but the rest will likely burn within a range of tolerance. Such burnouts may well be the West’s alternative to prescribed fire on the Southeastern model or to unrestrained wildfire.
Click on the article link above for more. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Piece of the Cohesive Strategy - Education & Outreach

Last week I visited with stakeholders in Lake and Klamath Counties (Oregon) when they met to discuss moving forward with partnerships and projects that embody the goals and principles of the Cohesive Strategy.  The group has a solid history of collaboration across landscapes with diverse partners.  Chief John Ketchum from Keno Fire Protection District and Dennis Lee from Oregon Department of Forestry shared with me this booklet.  The educational piece was developed collaboratively to address the specific hazards in Klamath County, OR and will be used as one of many pieces of the groups' overall educational and outreach objectives under the Cohesive Strategy.  Click here to see the entire booklet.  

And click here for the local news article. 

DYK - the Real Scoop on Retardant

There are lots of misconceptions about fire retardant...what it does and how it works.  Check out this short vid and get the low down.

Fighting Fire in a Rain Forest

Source: National Park Service Paradise Fire Response Team

Burning in the moss and lichen, the Paradise Fire is an historical first - burning over 1,600 acres in the Olympic National Park in Washington State. Click on the video above for an inside look at how fire burns in this rich environment. 

Although small in comparison to other fires around the west, this is the largest fire in the Park's history, with some new challenges for fire managers, crews and scientists. Read more here about how crews are approaching this fire. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Drought Monitor in the West

Uggh. More here

Source: National Drought Mitigation Center

Battling Wildfires from Space

U.S. firefighters battling wildfires this year will get a clearer view of these threats with new NASA-funded satellite-based tools to better detect fires nationwide and predict their behavior.
The new fire detection tool now in operation at the U.S. Forest Service uses data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite to detect smaller fires in more detail than previous space-based products. The high-resolution data have been used with a cutting-edge computer model to predict how a fire will change direction based on weather and land conditions.
This tool is another example of the high-value benefits from cooperative efforts between NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Read more about the program here

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fire is Relentless Thanks to Years of Drought

Dry lake in CA.  Source: NY Times
Check out this comprehensive article in the NY Times that outlines fires and firefighting in California's fourth year of drought.  

Sources: U.S.D.A. Forest Service Remote Sensing; NASA

The impact of drought in California is hard to miss. In the arid conditions, during California's now 12-month fire season, fire climbs quickly up mountain ridges, and spreads vertically from grasses to an abundance of ladder fuels including dead trees.  

Plans to Manage Eight Zones in CA with Fire

Photo Credit: Jeff Zimmerman
The ongoing extreme drought, now in its fourth year, is changing firefighting strategies. The U.S. Forest Service has just launched plans for each of its 155 national forests for the first time in 33 years. In California, the agency has identified eight zones in the Southern Sierras that should be managed by fire.   

The current situation on our nation's forests has been well described - a buildup of trees and other fuels that allow for mega fires, compromising our firefighters and our way of life.  Fire and land managers are now taking steps towards more active management of the landscape by using natural fire as an ecological tool.  Read more here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wildfire Awareness Half Marathon

A Nevada Division of Forestry helicopter drops water to signal the start of Washoe County’s Wildfire Awareness Run . Source: Carsonnow.org
What a fantastic way to engage communities in wildfire awareness education and raise money for a worthy cause.  The folks at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Living With Fire Program are always finding creative ways to bring important messaging to the public.

In collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management, Nevada State Parks and Desert Sky Adventures, they hosted a half marathon and 5k run to raise $15,000 for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.  The courses ran participants through some of Nevada's most infamous wildfire fuels, such as big sagebrush, bitterbrush, cheatgrass and rabbitbrush - including previous fire scars from 2006 and 2014 fires.  See vid and more about the event  here

When Large Fires Make Their Own Weather

Firenado - Chillicothe, MO May, 2014. Photo:Janae Copelin
Wildfires are forces of nature...sometimes creating their own weather, making them unpredictable and dangerous for firefighters working the fires. A wildfire generates its own wind as it grows in size and burns more biomass (plants and trees). Huge quantities of air are needed to support the chemical reaction, according to Bret Butler, research mechanical engineer at the U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana.  Read the full article here 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Effectively Reaching the Public in Washington

The Chumstick Coalition is no stranger to engaging communities for preparedness in north central Washington.  With catastrophic fires last summer and again this season, they are utilizing every tool in the toolbox to communicate with stakeholders and residents about being prepared for wildfire. Check out this fantastic full-color news insert.

$3.5 Mil for Prioritized Projects in New Mexico

New Mexico is prioritizing restoration of critical watersheds and putting its money where its mouth is. Last year Governor Susana Martinez launched a Watershed Restoration Initiative to proactively treat and improve public lands to protect landscapes, communities and the valuable water supply.  
$3.5 million in funding from the current capital projects spending package will be used to treat about 7,700 acres of high-priority watershed areas on public lands, which were identified in the New Mexico Forest Action Plan. 
New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary David Martin praised federal and local governments for their help with the watershed projects. “The interagency collaboration and local support on these projects is outstanding,” he said. Read more here.

Team Rubicon Vets Trained to Fight Fire

Team Rubicon fighting fire in AK.  Source Samantha Storms, BLM

Team Rubicon is a non profit organization supporting veteran careers through training in disaster response.  Recently, Team Rubicon partnered with the BLM to train up to 400 veterans for wildland fire response. Crews from Colorado and Wyoming have already been deployed fight fires in Alaska.  This partnership, directly linked to implementing the goals of the Cohesive Strategy and DOI Secretary Sally Jewell’s Order 3336 on Rangeland Fire Prevention, Management and Restoration, is proving to be successful. 

This partnership is enhancing the capacity to respond to wildland fire incidents and provide opportunities for veterans to receive fire fighter Type II certification, making them eligible for future career opportunities.

Read the full story here.  

Monday, July 6, 2015

Western Governors Talk Drought, Wildfire & Sage-Grouse

Idaho Governor Butch Otter chats with field trip participants during the 2015 WGA Annual Meeting.

In late June, Gov. Brian Sandoval hosted the annual meeting of the Western Governors' Association in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Hot topics included drought, wildfire, and sage-grouse. The Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources hosted a field tour for the Association, where attendees witnessed the on-the-ground effects of droughts on forests, and learned about what local land managers are doing to prepare for wildfire.

See recap of WGA's annual meeting here.  And additional news coverage here

Forest Shafer of North Lake Tahoe Fire District shares information about the increasing risk of wildfire due to drought. Photos source Kathryn Reed.

Using More Fire in the Southwest

Commissary Fire. Source US Forest Service.

Across New Mexico and Arizona (US Forest Service Region 3), there are several lightning-caused fires being managed for "resource objectives."  What does that mean?  It means taking advantage of low intensity fire activity to improve forest health, wildlife habitat and watershed health, and reduce the potential for high intensity, catastrophic fires in the future.  Employing a variety of strategies on the ground, firefighters "steer" the growth of fires and allow them to "skunk along" chewing up accumulations of pine needles, reducing ladder fuels and opening up tree canopies.  

The Commissary (Santa Fe National Forest), Red Canyon (Cibola National Forest), Moore, and Middle (both on the Gila National Forest) fires are all active right now and using the fires as a natural fuels reduction method on the landscape level. The Cohesive Strategy encourages the use of fire where allowable to help restore resilient landscapes.  

Congratulations to Cal Joyner, Regional Forester in Region 3 and his forward-thinking staff for recognizing when conditions are right to let fire do its job! 

Fire updates are available daily at http://inciweb.nwcg.gov.

Jet A Fuel Helping Fight Fires, Protect Sage Grouse and Communities

Fuel truck to support air attack. Source: Burns Municipal Airport.
Wildland fire is a frequent visitor in central and eastern Oregon. Rich with forested areas, expansive grasslands and sagebrush landscapes, the communities that call these landscapes home depend on them for clean water, diverse habitat, and a thriving economy.  

In November 2014, Harney County Judge Steve Grasty expressed his concern over the existing Jet A fuel capacity of the Burns Airport. On more than one occasion, large wildland fires had exhausted the fuel capacity pushing retardant aircraft farther across the state for refueling; losing critical time and resources to fight central and eastern Oregon fires.  Last fire season, the Airport ran out of fuel for firefighting planes nine times.

After Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced her plan to prioritize firefighting efforts in sagebrush ecosystems across the West, Judge Grasty again mentioned that having more fuel capacity in Burns would significantly improve initial and extended attack operations in the prioritized sagebrush landscapes, protecting critical sage grouse habitat and valuable forage for livestock and protect communities at risk.

The Judge’s concerns caught the attention of the Western Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy effort – a group of federal, tribal, state and local agencies and organizations dedicated to promoting collaborative efforts to achieve resilient landscapes, fire adapted communities and improved wildfire response.  

Joe Stutler, Co-Chair for Cohesive Strategy effort in the West contacted Ron Dunton, Acting Fire Director for the Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C. and Jeff Fedrizzi, the BLM State Fire Management Officer for Oregon to introduce them to Judge Grasty.  Dutton and Fedrizzi immediately recognized the value of this problem and the opportunities for success in finding a remedy for the fuel issue.

They worked with the Burns Municipal Airport, Oregon Department of Forestry and the Burns Fire Department to secure and transfer a 6,000 gallon fuel truck from Dayton, Ohio under the federal excess property program. This creative, collaborative solution is exactly what the Cohesive Strategy promotes to improve the effectiveness of wildfire response. 

The result?  Improved firefighting support and protection of valuable landscapes in sagebrush ecosystems and rangelands, and increased protection for communities at risk across central and eastern Oregon.  A trifecta of Cohesive Strategy success!

Wildfire an Increasingly Urban Issue

Source: Headwaters Economics

Wildfires increasingly are threatening urban areas—often repeatedly—putting more homes, lives, infrastructure, and other resources at risk.  

More than 15,000 wildfires burned in the continental United States from 2000 to 2013. During that period, 78 percent of wildfires burned in the West, 11 percent burned in Texas, and the remaining 11 percent burned in the Midwest, South, and Northeast.  
Cities in the West are particularly vulnerable to wildfire because the West contains conditions conducive to wildfire such as extensive and remote forest areas and frequent drought conditions. Wildfire increasingly is an urban issue. From 2000 to 2013, 127 urban areas (cities with more than 75,000 residents) were threatened by major wildfires (fires greater than 5 square miles in area) that burned within 10 miles of the city.  Read lots more here.