The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station has just released an August 2012 study titled, “Fourmile Canyon Fire Findings.” We’ve discussed the 2010 Fourmile Canyon wildfire outside of Boulder, CO a few times before on this blog, including this post from Andy Stahl titled, “Fourmile Canyon Fire Report Confirms Firewise.”
Here’s an excerpt from the Rocky Mountain Research Station’s abstract to their new study:
“Fuel treatments had previously been applied to several areas within the fire perimeter to modify fire behavior and/or burn severity if a wildfire was to occur. However, the fuel treatments had minimal impact in affecting how the fire burned or the damage it caused….This report summarizes how the fire burned, the damage it caused, and offers insights to help the residents and fire responders prepare for the next wildfire that will burn on the Colorado Front Range.
On Tuesday, Bob Berwyn wrote this article for the Summit County Citizens Voice titled, “Report: Wildfire mitigation work largely ineffective in moderating Fourmile Canyon Fire.” Below are some excerpts from Mr. Berwyn’s article:
A report on the 2011 Fourmile Canyon Fire will probably raise more questions than it answers for firefighters and land managers, concluding that, in some cases, the ferocious fire near Boulder may have burned more intensely in treated areas than in adjacent untreated stands.
That may have been due to the relatively high concentration of surface fuels remaining after treatments, as well as the higher wind speeds that can occur in open forests compared to those with denser canopies, Forest Service researchers concluded in the report published last month….
The report also concluded that beetle-killed trees had “little to no effect on the fuels within the area burned by the Fourmile Canyon Fire, the fire’s behavior, or the final fire size,” explaining that crown fires are “driven by abundant and continuous surface fuels rather than beetle-killed trees.”….
In the end, the report found no evidence that fuel treatments changed the progression of the Fourmile Canyon Fire, and that the treated areas were “probably of limited value to suppression efforts on September 6.” Large quantities of surface fuels in the treatment area also rendered them ineffective in changing fire behavior.
Satellite photos taken after the fire clearly showed that the fire burned just as intensely inside treatment areas as it did in adjacent untreated stands. In some cased, the fire appears to burned more intensely in treated areas, the investigators said, explaining that additional surface fuels, as well as higher wind speeds, may have been factors….
[T]he report once again calls for a change of approach — instead of increasing expensive fire protection capabilities that have proven to strategically fail during extreme wildfire burning conditions, efforts should be focused on reducing home ignition potential within the immediate vicinity of homes, the investigators concluded.
Certainly one new study about one wildfire isn’t the be-all, end-all. However, how does the new research and scientific findings coming from a comprehensive look at the Fourmile Canyon Fire mesh with the constant drum-beat supporting logging for “fuel reduction” and “thinning” we see coming from some quarters at this very blog?
9 thoughts on “Report: Prior fuel treatments ineffective at moderating Fourmile Canyon Fire”
Andy- when I’ve read the various 4 Mile fire reports…I have always gotten the picture that the fuel treatments were not large enough to make a difference and were not complete (well, duh, you need to remove the fuels to finish the job). I believe that home treatments and other treatments are both useful..we just need to understand why homeowners don’t do theirs and how best to design the others.
Let’s review what the paper says about fuel treatment efficacy also, people on the blog might want to look at the photos of the fuel treatments on pages 25-27. (which seem kind of light to me, but I’m not a fuels person) and the maps and aerial photos on pages 55-58.
Some people just refuse to accept the reality of this…that when you get really extreme conditions of humidity, temps,and high winds, there is no power, no planning, no treatment, no nothing that will stop a fire from going where it wants. Nada. I am tired of reading statements from pols (and others who should know better) that “demand this fire be stopped”, and usually call for more aerial attacks. We are now experiencing more and more extreme weather, for whatever reason that none of us are smart enough to explain. We will have to learn to live with these blowup fires, and concentrate our prevention efforts in and around the homes and structures along the forest perimeter.
I don’t think anyone “refuses to accept”; but just like earthquakes- you can do things to be safer in the 4-6’s without thinking that will help in the event of a 9.
Sharon, there are many out there (who have never fought wildfires or any type of fires) in positions of responsibility who are regularly quoted in the media using exactly the type of comments I allude to. Governors and such should know better, or keep their mouths shut. I know it is simple ignorance and I guess we should be kind to the ignorant.
Please also remember that the post was rather specifically dealing with extreme fire conditions, so I was commenting in that same vein. I don’t advocate doing nothing, but the notable losses of homes in recent large fires clearly shows that much, much more can and should be done to make these forestland homes more fire resistant. Education? More stringent insurance requirements? Better county/state building codes? Probably all.
I am with you on all those, Ed.
I think, considering all the discussion of drought and wildfire, it’s interesting that the Fourmile Canyon Fire burned after one of the wettest winters in the state’s history.
Sharon, your point about the scale and completion of fuel treatments is well-taken and there have been other fires and other studies showing that fuel treatments have been effective in moderating fire behavior.
I think (hope) the results of the Fourmile Canyon report will help inform planning for upcoming fuel treatment projects. And since I always like to localize my comments with knowledge that I have specific to my area (Summit County) I see a lot of the same patterns of fuel treatments here that were described in the report – small, scattered, not completely finished in terms of removing or masticating the slash, large slash piles standing for several years after the treatment.
Maybe it all goes to show that every fire is different, and every area has very site-specific needs for treatment. the challenge is knowing in advance what those needs are.
This report shows how half-fast fuel treatments work — they don’t. The ability of the environmental industry to turn landscape-scale fuel management projects (that can conceivably be performed at no cost and at great benefit to taxpayers) into scattered, highly expensive landscaping projects and THEN claim that “fuel treatments don’t work” is impressive.
I have photographic documentation of several hundred acres of “fuel management” projects on the Umpqua NF (of 230,000 total acres documented), and they are a joke. Leaf-raking, pruning, and black plastic protected piles of dried fuel don’t greatly affect wildfires. Or rural employment opportunities. I’m guessing a similar history to this wildfire’s fuels.
Poor resource management results in poor results. Most of these results are predictable and, thus, preventable. Having lawyers, politicians, and activists manage our forests isn’t working. We need real foresters, replicable science, and legitimate businesses in place to make actual changes for the better.
Well said Bob…Thanks