Stephen Pyne, author and professor, writes in this opinion piece for the Washington Post that "Our approach to wildfires is all wrong." --- a must read for those of us who work in the wildland and the WUI.

 

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-09-13/opinions/42030482_1_w...

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She sounds roughly the same message that has been echoed for ages. Treating fuels, encouraging private property owners to make their homes & lands fire resistant. However, I don't subscribe to this "Hurricane model" of large fires. There would be far more devastation and cost to rebuild as much more that would be destroyed.

I don't intend this to be tooting my own horn of success, but as an Engine Boss of the Oregon Dept of Forestry. We as an agency are successful in our fire suppression efforts. Our philosophy is "keep them small." We'd rather throw a lot of resources at a small fire now, than have to pay for the "Big One." We have not been 100% successful in our efforts, but we do keep and are mandated to keep 90% of our fires under 10 acres. We have done so. We have done so well that the Board of Forestry has risen the bar to 97% starting this year.

Now, the Oregon Dept of Forestry has customers to keep happy. We protect all the private timber lands in Oregon as well as the BLM lands west of the Cascade Mountains. Our quick actions mean the timber industry stays in business. If we fail, people's livelihoods a effected. Though, there is also something lost in almost every large wildfire in the US.....houses. So, could there be success throughout the rest of the US if other agencies would adopt the same philosophy? I don't believe it would end seeing big fires. There are a lot of factors. Could it make a difference though? I don't know. I know locally, keeping fires small works well for us at the Oregon Dept of Forestry. I would only say that if people are looking for ideas. It might work elsewhere.

Bob; I want to preface my question by saying, in 34yrs in the fire service, I have never fought a wildfire. Could you explain "keep it small", is this a referance to a rapid response? Also do differant states use differant tactics and if so, why?

John,

Hope you don't mind my jumping in...

"Keep it small" does indeed relate directly to rapid response, which can only be done by local and state resources. The feds are farther out, therefore slower.

Every state does things differently when it comes to initial attack, mostly due to the three main factors that affect wildfire spread: weather, terrain and fuels (grasses, shrubs, trees, etc.). Another big factor is policies and procedures vary somewhat from state to state. Example: Texas is almost all private land while Oregon is 92% public land. In Texas volunteer FD's handle wildland fires most of the time. Huge difference in the way wildland fires are handled at the local level.

The biggest challenge we face is the spread of our population into and beyond the WUI, the wildland urban interface. I agree the proposed wildfire danger rating system will help standardize exposure factors, but wish those who built their homes 20 miles from the nearest fire station in a national forest would understand we're probably not going to make an attempt to protect their property. Hopefully they pay exorbitant insurance rates already - if they can get it.

John,

Yes, rapid response is a part. We're also a heavily equipped office due to our long history of large wildfires and WUI exposure threat. The office I work out of staffs 10 Type 6 Engines, 1 Type 3 Engine, 1 D-6 Dozer, 1 10 person IA hand crew, 1 contract Type 2 Helicopter, 1 Type 3 helicopter, and a statewide use air tanker (1 of 2 contracted by ODF itself) based at the local airport. The Engines are scattered throughout Jackson County's private timber and BLM lands, with the specialized resources based in Central Point, OR (our HQ).

Though our focus is wildfires in the area. We pretty much function as typical fire dept. At the 911 call, we mobilize 4-6 engines, dozer, & handcrew. Aircraft is dispatched as needed but only takes about 5 mins to be airborne and in route to the incident. Everyone works 5 8 hour shifts through the hottest part of the day. Crews are also subject to after hours immediate call back for off hour fires. So strategic placement of resources, quick responses, and aggressive tactics (still keeping safety above all else) is how we remain successful in wildfire suppression.

Being as we have a long history of wildfires, I don't get out of the area really. I honestly can't speak for other states or agencies. From some of what I've heard, some agencies or states, take a managerial approach to fires. Instead of putting them out, they will just monitor and let it burn until it becomes a threat. However, at this stage it's generally too late. If the "Hurricane model" were applied to large fires we've experienced locally. I suspect we would have rebuilt every bit of civilization in the county a couple times over since the late 80's.

Norm,

Thanks for the insight into Texas firefighting. Like I said I don't get out really, wish I did. I've been hearing lately that insurance companies are considering not providing fire insurance to people in fire prone areas with long histories of large wildfires.

Bobby, 

Wow, you guys are armed to the teeth! Sounds like you are in the eye of the storm in the Northwest. Stay safe out there.

Insurance company participation is one of the keys to the WUI solution.

Nationwide we must get more aggressive with prescribed fire and prevention if we're ever going to even approach getting ahead of our wildland threat. The worst wildfire of all time in the US destroyed several towns and killed 1200 people. It's just a matter of time...

Bob and Norm; Thanks for the education. Having seen the videos, I think I'm glad I stuck with urban firefighting.

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