Monday, January 8, 2018

Transparent Communication is NOT an Option

Dave Lasky, now a module lead at Gravitas Peak Wildland Fire Module.  Photo: Mike Caggiano, Colorado State University.  

In the FAC Net's new blog series, Fantastic Failures, Dave Lasky bravely shares the painful lessons learned from his experiences with pre-fire mitigation efforts and the devastating 2010 Four Mile Canyon Fire on Colorado's Front Range. The lessons are extremely valuable and worth sharing.  

Mr. Lasky details his past efforts as a fire and fuels crew boss and the over 600 acres treated within what became the Four Mile Canyon Fire perimeter. Hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent to remove hazardous fuels in the area with the intent to reduce fire severity and protect homes. 

The fire burned 6,181 acres and consumed 162 homes. Following the fire Senator Mark Udall commissioned a study to determine if previous fuels treatments had meaningfully prevented structure loss. The study answered that question with a resounding NO - years of work had not significantly reduced structure loss.  In his words, Mr. Lasky was left feeling "about two inches tall."

So what did he learn?

Doing something is NOT better than doing nothing. They cut fewer trees than they should have, just to accomplish "something," hoping that communities would allow them to reenter and accomplish more. Now he is interested in applying limited resources to only those communities that are fully committed. 

It's NOT just about cutting trees in the WUI. In retrospect, Lasky says, "we spent far too much money on fuels reduction and not enough on assisting residents with fire resistant building materials and landscaping." Embers from nearby fire were the cause of structure losses.

Mitigation is an ongoing process, NOT an event. Reducing fuels along roadways proved ineffective without routine maintenance of the grass that grew in the absence of the trees. The fuel breaks did not hold. 

Treatments are NOT complete until prescribed fire is introduced. Cutting trees and leaving slash piles without funding to promptly burn them is not mitigation but simply rearranging the fuels into a potentially more hazardous situation. Theirs created ladders to the tree canopy and in some cases allowed for flaming logs to roll downhill jeopardizing firefighters.

Transparent communication is NOT optional. In an era of climate change and commensurate extreme fire behavior, Lasky says, "we have an ethical responsibility to be more forthcoming with residents about the limits of risk reduction". He compares mitigation now to airbags in a car. "Airbags can save lives but if you drive into a telephone pole at 90 miles an hours, airbags won't do much." 

For more on Mr. Lasky's valuable lessons learned, read the full blog post here.  And if you're interested, the full report on the Four Mile Canyon Fire can be found here

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