Summer fire ignites debate over practices

Summer fire ignites debate over practices

26 January 2009

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USA — The last embers of the 2008 East Slide Rock Ridge Fire in Jarbidge have long since burned out, but a recent report from agency professionals has reignited discussion on the fire techniques and strategies used to fight it.

Conducted by a team of U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Nevada Division of Forestry professionals, the report was ordered by Harv Forsgren, regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service’s Intermountain Region. It found several areas of concern in the way the fire was fought – and included criticism of the way a new strategy, dubbed Wildland Fire Use, was conducted with this fire. The strategy uses fire to burn out areas of dead and decaying trees and vegetation.

Claims in the report included:

• A shortage of rangers and staff with Wildland Fire Use experience utilizing the practice

• The one ranger with training to administer the fire was handling three additional wildfires hundreds of miles away.

• Analysis of current and predicted fire weather, behavior and fuels indexes was lacking.

• Weather and fire potential predictions were not considered in the decision process to use the Wildland Fire Use strategy.

• The fire’s management area was not defensible.

“Because of the lack of critical information, it is not clear from reviewing the documents if the East Slide Rock Ridge fire met guidelines for (Wildland Fire Use),” the report said.

Edward Monnig, Humboldt Toiyabe Forest supervisor, said the report identifies a number of management and process steps that could be improved in the future fire management.

Monnig said the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest will take a “hard look” at how it conducted 2008 operations, but will continue to use fire as a tool to manage the “ever increasing amount of fuels in our forests.”

“Fire has played an important role in our ecosystems and our ecosystems are adapted to these fires,” he said. “In balance and over the long run, the East Slide Rock Ridge Fire will benefit the Jarbidge Wilderness.”

Monnig stressed the positive aspects of the report, particularly the fact there was an excellent safety record with the fire.

The August blaze began in steep, rugged terrain. Summer winds quickly spread the fire beyond where it was originally anticipated to stay, eventually encompassing a 60,000 acre area – the equivalent of 94 square miles – although it left large pockets of unburned area within its perimeter. It escaped the forest and burned more than 2,000 acres of BLM land and 1,661 acres of private rangelands.

The fire also made a run toward Jarbidge and Murphy Hot Springs. Top tier firefighting teams had to be brought on to suppress the fire, costing nearly $9 million.

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