Retired Forester...now fishing instead of working
Lets play a game. Klick you are a fire, "manager." You have 200 wildland firefighters at your disposal. Fire A is called, "Chiwaukum Fire." It threatens 860 homes immediatly. Fire B is 4 small fires. Two fires are close to Carlton but not threatening much yet and two are in rough terrain miles from road. Weather is extreme all over. Where do you send people?
That is exactly what happened.
I was working the Mills Canyon Fire out of Entiat when the agencies decided that it was getting out of hand and was going to make a run at Wenatchee. So they demobed the Type II team and brought in a Type 1 team to take over the fire.
The Type II team was being reassigned to several small fires in the Carlton area. The Type II team asked me to move north with them. I remember then saying that Mills Canyon was going to be a mess and those small fires up at Carlton would be a much easier assignment. I decided to stay at Mills Canyon Fire since if it ran to Wenatchee it would encounter my home once it cleared Burch Mountain.
Nobody today, remembers Mills Canyon Fire. They still remember Carlton and will for a very long time.
That Mills Canyon Fire. I was assigned to it in the afternoon and headed for the office. Given the weather forecast we were making a guess at the acreage by morning. My guess was 24,000 acres. I was wrong, it was only 18,000 acres in less than 12 hours. Map out 18,000 acres and see what you would do to stop it.
Chiwaukum was a lucky break. I was driving back through Plain when it blew up. I remember asking the guy with me if he had a fire shelter and he said no. My reply was that it didn't matter if we got an ember fall we were toast anyway.
We got VERY, VERY lucky on Chiwaukum and on Carlton Complex we got unlucky.
And sometimes it doesn't matter if you get it right.....you just don't have the resources or capability to stop it. In 1994, we had a thunder cell move through the forest with over 2,000 lightning strikes. I was looking at the strike map and asked which fires were going to be assigned to teams. THREE.....Round, Hatchery, and Tyee. Out of 2,000 strikes they picked the three that needed to be contained. Round went to 2,000 acres or so....Hatchery and Tyee went from July 26th into October. I did three assignments on Tyee that summer.
It is one thing to get it wrong and lose a fire, it is scary when you do everything right and just don't have the resources to overcome weather and fuel conditions.