Firefighters will let some blazes burn this summer

Jeff DeLong (more stories by author)

7/10/2004 07:32 pm

(Note from reporter Julie K. Smithson: One of the NPS employees interviewed had her name misspelled. Please be sure to visit this URL/website address for photos of the fires that fire "managers" would really like to just let burn, and consider how you'd feel about that stance if YOU lived near a National Forest staffed with employees of such a mind set: Here's a website with fire photos from such conflagrations in Arizona, which is updated as 'community photographers' continue to submit new photos of these needless events -- were responsible timber harvest not painted as irresponsible:

July 10, 2004

By Jeff DeLong or 775-788-6328, environment reporter

The Reno Gazette-Journal

Reno, Nevada

To submit a Letter to the Editor:

When spikes of lightning ignited the hills west of Reno the last day of June, it triggered a million-dollar battle featuring airplanes, helicopters and hundreds of firefighters.

More than 100 miles to the northwest, the same weather hammered Lassen Volcanic National Park, with lightning sparking nine different fires there.

Today, one is still burning. And no ones trying to put it out.

The Reno fires were big and dangerous, quickly chewing through more than 1,000 acres and threatening a Verdi neighborhood. The rapid response by firefighters, while costly, kept the fires from growing much larger and may have saved expensive homes.

At about two acres and burning in remote and rugged backcountry, the largest of the Lassen fires poses little threat, officials said. But the smoke rising into Lassens skies signals a shift in strategy by land managers who want to let some fires burn.

"We're allowing the natural process to take place," said Mike Lewelling, the [National] parks fire management officer.

First spotted by a fire lookout on July 4, the so-called Bluff Fire had already been smoldering for days under the forest canopy. On Saturday, the fire was consuming duff, pine needles and twigs, blackening logs on the ground.

Under careful observation, the Bluff Fire could grow to 300 acres within a couple of weeks, Lewelling said.

"This doesn't mean we'll allow the fire to do its own thing. We'll definitely stay one step ahead of it," he said, adding that managing a fire in such a way is really more difficult than putting it out.

But as the fire creeps across the forest floor, its helping to thin a landscape unnaturally thick with trees and brush -- the result of decades of aggressive fire suppression [NOTE: AND the planned extinction of logging, i.e., responsible timber harvest] that has actually increased the danger of large, explosive and potentially deadly wildfires.

For years, the [National] Park Service and other agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have set controlled fires to reduce the amount of fuels that feed wildfire.

But increasingly, they are also allowing fires set naturally by lightning to do much the same thing.

"Lightning fires have been a natural occurrence over the landscape for thousands of years," said Marilyn Harris [IMPORTANT sic: her name is Marilyn H. Parris], Lassen [National] park superintendent. "During the last 100 years, we've become so successful at putting all fires out [NOTE: AND stopping almost all logging] that we've allowed unnatural accumulations of forest fuels to build up."

The so-called fire use strategy is gaining popularity.

Next year, officials with Nevadas Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest will begin preparing a plan to let some lightning fires keep burning in the more remote stretches of Central Nevada forests, said Mike Dondero, fire and aviation chief for Humboldt-Toiyabe [National Forest].

"It makes for a more natural environment," Dondero said.

In the Sierra, several lightning fires were allowed to keep burning last summer in Stanislaus National Forest. Earlier this summer, another fire smoldered under the observation of officials in Inyo National Forest.

Nearly 30 lightning fires were sparked by late June thunderstorms in Eldorado National Forest west of Lake Tahoe. Most were quickly extinguished, but officials planned on letting two in the Mokelumne Wilderness continue to burn as part of that forest's fire-use goals.

Those plans were ultimately canceled by Regional Forester Jack Blackwell due to extreme fire danger in the Sierra.

This summer, all lightning fires in the Sierra will be extinguished, and none allowed to burn, Blackwell decided.

We certainly intend to do it in future years, but this is a touchy year with the fire danger the way it is, said Matt Mathes, regional spokesman for the Forest Service.

Some areas, including the Carson Range west of Reno, may never be candidates for the strategy.

There, the forests proximity to neighborhoods and other factors, including strong down-slope winds, make fire use too dangerous, said Kelly Martin, fire management officer for the Forest Services Carson Ranger District.

"It's not that we're not thinking about it, but it would be a very, very difficult thing to do," Martin said."Ecologically, it would be a great thing to do but the potential is too great."

Copyright Reno Gazette-Journal

More stories by Jeff DeLong:

One of which is:

Fire burns west of Reno

July 10, 2004

By Jeff DeLong

The Reno Gazette-Journal

Reno, Nevada

To submit a Letter to the Editor:

More than 200 firefighters aided by air tankers and water-dropping helicopters battled a wildfire that blackened at least 50 acres Friday west of Reno, near ...

Jack Blackwell (Forest Service)
Pacific Southwest Regional Forester
USDA Forest Service
1323 Club Drive
Vallejo, Calif. 94592
Fax: 707-562-9091

Mike Dondero (Forest Service)
1200 Franklin Way
Sparks, NV 89431
775-355-5315 or 775-331-6444
Fax: 775-355-5399
Humboldt-Toiyabe - Described variously as Fire Staff Officer, Fire Manager, Fire Management Officer, Fire and Aviation Officer, Fire and Aviation Chief, and Deputy Incident Commander. From article on May 10, 2004, titled "Summer Hazard: Officials brace for wildfires": High temperatures, drought conditions could make 2004 season severe  Carson City, Nevada - Images of the horrific fires that scorched Yellowstone National Park more than a decade ago crop into the mind of Mike Dondero when he thinks about the approaching wild-land fire season in Nevada. "I think we are looking at a repeat of 1988 when Yellowstone burned," said [Mike] Dondero, the Las Vegas-reared fire and aviation chief for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. "The whole Western United States is going to have a severe season."
From August 2001 Government Executive magazine: ...Dondero hired people away from other forests, BLM, the Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. We have a big fire program on the Humboldt-Toiyabe," he says. "And firefighters like to fight fires."
This is a short one but a must-read from June 2004:
Fall 2003 Interagency Fire Management Overview (16-page pdf file)

Marilyn H. Parris (National Park Service)
Lassen Volcanic National Park
PO Box 100
Mineral, CA 96063-0100
530-595-4444 Ext. 5101
Fax: 530-595-3262

Mike Lewelling (National Park Service) (ARB - Air Resources Board; 4-page pdf file -- important read regarding fire)

Kelly Martin (Forest Service)
1536 S. Carson St.
Carson City, NV 89701 (or 89705)
Fax: 775-884-8199

Matt Mathes (USDA Forest Service)
Regional Media Relations Officer
Pacific Southwest Region
1323 Club Drive
Vallejo, CA 94592

Additional researched information:

From the Payson, Arizona, Payson Roundup's Letters to the Editor:

Neighbors prayed for us
July 13, 2004


I am a resident of The Heber/Overgaard area.

Two years ago, when the Rodeo/Chediski Fire burned through our neighborhood, and we were evacuated for two weeks -- the most stressful two weeks of my life, I might add -- it was you folks, the good people of Payson who prayed for us, cared for us, fed us, and encouraged us.

We thank you all for the kindness you showed to us.

As we searched the media for latest information on the fires that threaten the Rim area, you were in our thoughts a hundred times a day.

We prayed for you, as I know your townspeople did for us.

So far, so good. You can count on us to keep up the prayers and the good thoughts. I know that does not ease the anxiety, or relieve your fears, but I hope it helps to let you know we understand what you are going through and we are here for you should the need arise.

Sandi Webb

Heber/Overgaard, Arizona

Will a lesson be learned from the Willow?
July 13, 2004


When I heard the initial news report that the local Forest Service officials had made the decision to let the Willow Fire burn, as "there was no immediate threat to any structures," that decision threw me for a loop.

I could not believe what I had just heard.

I said to my wife at the time, "if this is true, it is an irresponsible decision on their part we have extremely dry, heavy fuels out there, extremely low humidity and no rain in sight and there is always a possibility for erratic winds in that area, this could easily explode to several thousand acres in a couple of hours."

Well, we all know what happened.

There never should have been a question as to what course of action to take -- instead there should have been an immediate order to attack this fire with all appropriate available resources at hand.

I am thoroughly convinced that this fire could have been contained to only a few acres with maybe a few thousand dollars in cost had this decision been made.

Instead we ended up with a flaming inferno that is going to cost the taxpayer many millions in fire fighting expenses; thousands of dollars in lost sales tax revenue; and the risk to all residents' health from smoke, ash and soot.

Due to the magnitude of this fire and the press it has received, you can bet it has drawn special attention from the insurance companies and surely we can expect an increase in our property fire insurance rates as a result.

It is one thing to let a fire burn and keep an eye on it -- under normal moisture conditions -- but to allow this to happen under current conditions was strictly irresponsible.

Is there no accountability here?

Our community may have dodged a bullet on this one, but unless there are changes made with the decision making process, we may not be so lucky next time -- God forbid!

We owe a debt of gratitude to our many men and women that have done a superb job in protecting our community from this fire, you are to be commended for an excellent job you have done and are doing.

L. Johnson

Payson, Arizona



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