Why the West is Burning

Vladimir Steblina

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.
 

Vladimir Steblina

Retired Forester...now fishing instead of working
I have no dog whatsoever in this debate i just have one question. It is a question and that it all.

We have spent two billion dollars this year fighting wild fires, the most we have ever spent.
My question is this. Aside from protecting structures how much influence does fire fighting have on the amount of land burnt vs just letting it burn? Again apart from protecting structures.

Rob, can you restate your question??

Are you asking how effective wildland firefighting is??
 

Rob Allen

Active Member
Rob, can you restate your question??

Are you asking how effective wildland firefighting is??


1. for a moment take protecting structures completely out of the equation. That's worth every dime.

2. I am in no way making any kind of reflections on people who fight fires.

3, My question is entirely about strategy and it is a question.

I ask this question also with a little bit of an assumption ; that with the rain the next 3 days the fire will essentially be extinguished. ( the fire in my area)

so my question is. Apart from protecting structures. How much more forest land would have burned without any work being done on it and how does that amount of forestland relate to the money spent on fighting the fire?

or another way..

Given that weather conditions are usually what puts out a fire how much land is saved by fighting the fires until weather puts them out?

I am not asking how effective are fire fighting tactic are. I am asking how efficient the strategy of fighting fire is?
 

b_illymac

Soap Lake Posse
WFF Moderator
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.
exactly right. i remember a stubborn fire in Montana badlands. every evening we would get a thunderstorm and it would go another 20,000. i remember not being able to sleep because i had each limb going to a corner of the tent to hold it down and 50 plus mile an hour wind with lightning all around each night. it was a surreal experiance.

when the weather lifted we had the task of following a dozer line and burning out the thin strip of fuel between the black and the line. most of the crew didnt make it all day due to the heat. this is a hotshot crew. a tuff fucking crew. maybe 25 miles that day. maybe more. towards the end it was decided we would tie in with several small engines who had the task of burning out a few hundred yards. we took up position to watch for spot fires. i look through this heat and saw this blurry engine guy try to stomp out a spot fire and he in an instance was facing 10 foot flames. it was actually comical to me. i probably had heat exhaustion too. had we not had a huge amount of resources at the end point all of our work would have been for nothing...we caught it but again guys there is only so many resources across the west.
 

b_illymac

Soap Lake Posse
WFF Moderator
1. for a moment take protecting structures completely out of the equation. That's worth every dime.

2. I am in no way making any kind of reflections on people who fight fires.

3, My question is entirely about strategy and it is a question.

I ask this question also with a little bit of an assumption ; that with the rain the next 3 days the fire will essentially be extinguished. ( the fire in my area)

so my question is. Apart from protecting structures. How much more forest land would have burned without any work being done on it and how does that amount of forestland relate to the money spent on fighting the fire?

or another way..

Given that weather conditions are usually what puts out a fire how much land is saved by fighting the fires until weather puts them out?

I am not asking how effective are fire fighting tactic are. I am asking how efficient the strategy of fighting fire is?
wildland firefighters save ungodly amount of land and structure in a year. this group that thinks most fires burn unmanned dont quite understand how it works...
 

freestoneangler

Not to be confused with Freestone
wildland firefighters save ungodly amount of land and structure in a year. this group that thinks most fires burn unmanned dont quite understand how it works...

I don't think you get what Rob is asking. At what point is the expenditure and risk to personnel not worth it? Again, in areas where there is no threat to people or property. If we spend nothing and have 2.1M acres of black forest or spend $20M (or $40M, or $80M) and have 1.1M acres burned, is that worth it?
 

Vladimir Steblina

Retired Forester...now fishing instead of working
Here is today's Situation Report: https://www.nifc.gov/nicc/sitreprt.pdf. It is published every day at 5:00 am you can get a current copy just by searching SIT REPORT.

It is a summary of fire fighting efforts throughout the country and even includes some data for Canada.

On page 10 it gives total fires and acreage burned to date. Notice that this fire season there have been almost 50,000 reported fires that were put out. Most fires are stopped at very small acreages just as they start burning. I believe the statistics are like 99%, but it is those one percent (it is always a problem with the one percent) that cause all the problems.

Most of the situation report deals with the large fires that were once small fires. So the answer is yes, you want to catch fires while they are small. That is the priority, even in an on-going fire situation new starts are given priority.

Fires are prioritized and those areas with no threat to people or property get much lower priority. Lately, those fire include those with concerns about fire fighter safety. Wolverine was one of those on the shores of Lake Chelan and it came roaring out of the area after a month. There were lots of comments and concerns from the public about what happened there.

The public needs to understand that fire fighting is dangerous work. In the immortal words of OSHA a burning forest is by definition
"a unsafe workplace". It is also uncertain as to fire behavior due to weather changes and even the ability of a large fire to create its own weather.

Given all that it is amazing how well of a job firefighters do on wildland fires.

But back to the original point. Yes, it makes sense to spend money to catch fires when they are small. It is the best return on investment. It is the reason for smokejumpers, rapell crews, and initial attach crews. Those
 

Rob Allen

Active Member
Here is today's Situation Report: https://www.nifc.gov/nicc/sitreprt.pdf. It is published every day at 5:00 am you can get a current copy just by searching SIT REPORT.

It is a summary of fire fighting efforts throughout the country and even includes some data for Canada.

On page 10 it gives total fires and acreage burned to date. Notice that this fire season there have been almost 50,000 reported fires that were put out. Most fires are stopped at very small acreages just as they start burning. I believe the statistics are like 99%, but it is those one percent (it is always a problem with the one percent) that cause all the problems.

Most of the situation report deals with the large fires that were once small fires. So the answer is yes, you want to catch fires while they are small. That is the priority, even in an on-going fire situation new starts are given priority.

Fires are prioritized and those areas with no threat to people or property get much lower priority. Lately, those fire include those with concerns about fire fighter safety. Wolverine was one of those on the shores of Lake Chelan and it came roaring out of the area after a month. There were lots of comments and concerns from the public about what happened there.

The public needs to understand that fire fighting is dangerous work. In the immortal words of OSHA a burning forest is by definition
"a unsafe workplace". It is also uncertain as to fire behavior due to weather changes and even the ability of a large fire to create its own weather.

Given all that it is amazing how well of a job firefighters do on wildland fires.

But back to the original point. Yes, it makes sense to spend money to catch fires when they are small. It is the best return on investment. It is the reason for smokejumpers, rapell crews, and initial attach crews. Those

Thank's thats what i was looking for I'll read the resports tonight.
I have no doubts about the courage and sacrifice of firefighters.
 

hbmcc

Active Member
Besides those for wilderness, are there environmental protection protocols in firefighting now?

Also, this is an incredible amount of valuable knowledge that was presented by @b_illymac and @vladimir-steblina. Thank you so much gentlemen!
 

hbmcc

Active Member
The firefighting discussion held to some general broad brush overviews of fire activity. It is a completely different existence inside one of these monsters. Fires have a life of their own.

I was district crew, so if we didn't get to a spot small enough for two or three guys to handle with a shovel and pulaski, it was another few hours for more help. It's usually 6p when we actually get to a smoke that was confirmed at 3 and we were radioed the location.

One to five acres are a fun but dirty camp out. At best you get to a shower and chow and water after 40 hours work; 24 hours after it is called contained and no smokes. Some crews have more luxuries than a pack with canteen and jacket. It's a cold slow night wandering through soot looking and smelling for glowing embers. This is the fire everyone wants. They are just a statistic.

Edited
 
Last edited:

freestoneangler

Not to be confused with Freestone
Amazing what a nice widespread rain and snow event does to a wildfire thread. So did we ever answer Rob's question?
 

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