Firefighters will let some blazes burn this summer
(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: http://www.rgj.com/multimedia/galleries/html/2004/07/372/
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: http://www.paysonroundup.com/)
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."
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 ...
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.
Will a lesson be learned from the Willow?
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.
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