USFS Fire Lab and Wuerthner: Wind Drives All Large Blazes

Below are excerpts from a couple of articles about the fact that wind and weather conditions drive all large wildfires.

From the Missoulian:

Larry Bradshaw was riding his motorcycle down U.S. Highway 12 on Monday afternoon when he noted the building smoke and stiffening winds.

It was an acute observation for a meteorologist who has worked at the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula since 1992, and still maintains the National Fire Danger Rating System.

Bradshaw tuned into the scanner a few hours later and listened as chaos unfolded ahead of the West Fork II fire, the blaze jumping the highway he’d ridden hours earlier before making a run east down the Lolo Creek Canyon.

“The winds were really strong out of the west,” said Bradshaw. “The inversion broke there earlier than it did in Missoula.”….

“It was the same recipe used on every fire – it’s dry and it’s windy,” said Finney. “We have a canyon situation and a couple fires low in the canyon. The fires have topography working in their favor – the canyon topography helping with the winds.”

The tools used by fire managers to predict the interaction of wind, topography, weather and fuel were developed here by the likes of Bradshaw and Finney and dozens of other scientists working up and down these hallways, part of the government’s Rocky Mountain Research Station….

“The thing we have to realize is that fires are inevitable. They’re impossible to completely exclude from the landscape,” Finney said.

“By trying to do that and doing it so successfully, what we’ve done is saved up the fires for the worst conditions. When you get rid of all the fires under moderate conditions, all you have left are the extreme ones.”

The other article is a column by George Wuerthner, which appear at The Wildlife News:

As large fires have spread across the West in recent decades, we hear increasing demands to reduce fuels—typically through logging. But logging won’t reduce the large fires we are experiencing because fuels do not drive large fires….

The ingredients found in all large blazes include low humidity, high temperatures, and drought. Assuming you have these factors, you can get an ignition if lightning strikes. But even an ignition won’t lead to large fires.

The final ingredient in all large blazes is wind.

Wind’s effect is not linear. In other words, increasing wind speed from 10 mph to 20 mph does not double fire spread, rather it leads to exponential fire growth and increases the burn intensity….

Most large fires have wind speeds of 30-50 mph or more. Wind makes fire fighting difficult since embers are blown miles ahead of the burning fire front. It is also the reason why wind makes fuel reduction projects ineffective.

Wind drives flames through and over fuel treatments. Even clearcuts with little or no fuel will not halt a wind driven fire. The wind driven fire just dances around and over any fuel breaks.

The biggest problem with fuel reductions is that one can’t predict where and when fires will occur. The likelihood of a wildfire will encounter a treated forest in the time scale when fuel reduction are effective is incredibly low.

The vast majority of acreage burning around the West are occurring in higher elevation forests like lodgepole pine and various fir species that naturally burn at infrequent intervals, often hundreds of years apart. As a consequence, a fuel treatment in such forests is a waste of time because the probability of a fire occurring at all in the time when fuel reductions are effectiveness is extremely low.

Even in drier forests like ponderosa pine that burn more frequently the chances that a fire will encounter a fuel treatment while it’s most effective is around 1-2%.

There is a role for fuel reduction projects. The best ones are targeted near communities and other areas of interest. The idea being one cannot predict where a fire may start, but one can predict what you don’t want to burn up in a fire. So focus fuels reductions adjacent to those places.

The most important fuel reduction projects should occur in the communities themselves. Removal of wood piles from adjacent to homes. Clearing pine needles from roofs. Getting rid of flammable building materials like cedar shake roofs.

Reducing the flammability of homes are the kinds of “fuel reductions” that work and should be encouraged. If these fuel reductions were implemented religiously, we wouldn’t have to worry about wildfires in the hinterlands, and we could permit these blazes to do the important ecological work they perform without continual interference from humans, yet feel secure in the knowledge that our communities were safe from wildfires.

66 thoughts on “USFS Fire Lab and Wuerthner: Wind Drives All Large Blazes”

  1. The role of wind, humidity in the spread of fire certainly outpaces the role of fuel. One of the fastest moving fires I personally experienced moved very quickly (about as fast as a man can walk) through a large clearcut that had been dozer-piled, but not burned.
    This fire was pushed by a fall cold front in western Montana at 4500′ elevation, when humidity dropped below 10 percent and wind gusts were 30-40 mph. Bark and small twigs, branches lying on bare ground were burning. It was an unbelievable example of the power of wind/humidity. Fuels were a minor factor in this situation. And believe it or not, the fire was naturally extinguished the next day by a wet snowfall!

  2. A quick count of untrue statements in Wuerthner’s article results in at least 17 items that just aren’t true. It is obvious that he hasn’t worked on many wildfires, if any, at all. Active management seeks to keep fires small, contained and less intense.

    • Larry, can you please list the “at least 17 items” in Wuerthner’s article that “just aren’t true” as you allege? Thanks, Larry.

  3. yes, it too often seems that George is anxious to condemn most thinning projects except those few cases he mentions, and in the past he has put out embarrassingly erroneous statements on their effectiveness. Although I may be dubious about their effectiveness in places, I have seen too much awful information put out about the alleged negative impacts of such thinning. But it can be a waste of funds in places.

    But the point is still well taken that the largest fires are most often driven by weather, my experience in Biscuit showed me that., It roared over places I never thought had enough fuel to burn. The central wilderness area which burned the hottest surely did not have a fuels problem.

    But although some of the largest and most rapidly spreading fires may be driven by weather, I do think that treatments can much reduce how hot it burns and mortality. This appears to have been the case in many places, especially those that burn under more moderate conditions. With enough fuel and understory carrying fire into the canopies, a moderate blaze can get hot fast.

    But I think his point on treatments in high severity fire regime areas is also valid. I welcome contending views. The point is that it may be hard to say where those areas are, estimates for the area dominated by moderate regimes in the central rockies vary from 20 to 60 %.

    • Larry: It’s very telling (and tiring) that your failure (once again) to provide concrete examples or documentation is characterized as “jumping through my hoops.” You have a rich history of failure to provide documentation to some of your more outlandish claims on this blog over the years. If you can’t produce one ounce of documentation, or even one simple example, of the supposed ” “at least 17 items in Wuerthner’s article that just aren’t true” then we’ll just have to consider you a liar….or a drama queen. Take your pick Larry. *smirk*

      • YOU posted it, so YOU defend it!! You have a rich history of posting stuff, refusing to defend it, and instead deferring to a study’s author. This is yet another example of that practice, Matt! Greg knows what I am talking about, when we see Earth Firster George’s slanted bias. How can I be a “liar” if I am just stating my opinion? *SMIRK*

        BTW, lovely insult, Matt. Yes, I know you post George’s stuff, just to pester those of us who have lived and worked through these issues. Forgive me for “taking the bait” but, I stand by my statements.

        • Jimmy Christmas Larry! What am I supposed to defend? YOU are the one saying there are “at least 17 items in Wuerthner’s article that just aren’t true”….but then in typical Larry Harrell fashion you can’t provide one single example or any documentation to back up your allegations.

          And yes, Larry, I have a history of asking you guys to simply go out and contact the authors of studies or articles directly if you take exception to their words or thoughts. That’s a history that will continue as long I am a contributor on this blog. The fact that some of you guys always seem to want to get me to defend other people’s words and thoughts is just bizarre and tiring. Do you honestly fail to recognize how ridiculous it is for you to blast me for other people’s words and thoughts? Of course, the maddening irony here is that YOU, LARRY, fail to defend you own words and allegations. This fact isn’t lost on anyone here.

          • No, there IS a difference! I choose NOT to waste my time responding to such faulty views. It isn’t that I “can’t”, Matt. YOU posted the article and it is up to YOU to defend what you posted! If you think that posting articles with wrong information is acceptable, then we could surely post a ton of stuff by timber companies and other pro-management entities, then not back it up. However, we rarely do that, in search of higher truths and solutions to our forest problems. You think you are “winning” if you can make us expend the time to debunk Wuerthner’s stuff. I contend that we have debunked his views over and over and over again. Even in this thread we have two people who question this latest thing that YOU posted. I’m done with this thread, and I claim total victory.

            • Bizarre, Larry. Just Bizarre. For the final time, it is YOU who made the allegation that Wuerthner’s piece contains “at least 17 items that just aren’t true.”

              When I asked you to “please list the ‘at least 17 items in Wuerthner’s article that “just aren’t true” as you allege” you not only failed to do that, but you now claim it’s my job to defend Wuerthner’s words and thoughts (even though you won’t share with any of us examples or documentation regarding what these supposed “17 items that just aren’t true” are about).

              How are we supposed to use this blog as a mutual learning tool if you continue to make allegations, but then fail to provide any examples, evidence or documentation?

              For the record, if you posted an article from the timber industry which I believed contained “items that just aren’t true” what I would do is specifically list or mention which items I believed “just aren’t true” and why. But, hey, that’s just me Larry.

                  • enough my dudes, enough, is enough. smirk…..

                    But relying on wuerthner was a serious tactical mistake when others have said it much better and do qualify as scientists. Need I mention Prof William Baker whose well published and cited works make certain people tremble. Others also come to mind. Wuerthner is but a straw man too easily burned, the pleasure of which diverts better minds from the serious work that awaits us. I have too often wanted to kick him myself in my weaker moments.

                    I appreciate that Derek mentions that george is known to be a good soul in person. Best remember that. Now on to Baker….Or have you not read him?

  4. Hmmm.. isn’t the Finney of the Fire Lab the same one who was quoted here

    Finney’s research on optimized treatments reveals that how you spatially arrange fuel treatments across the landscape is much more important than how much of the area is treated. Using the fire behavior modeling software FARSITE and FlamMap, Finney and his colleagues at the Missoula Fire Lab have shown that treatments on only 20 to 30 percent of the landscape can be effective in reducing the threat of crown fires and other severe fire behavior if the spatial arrangement of the treatments interrupts the fire’s rate of spread. Mark Finney – “Fires are typically large compared to the size of the average treatment, so they just go around them. You aren’t getting any collective benefit of these individual treatment areas, even if they perform great individually. If they are alone; it is like one sandbag in the middle of the Mississippi River. We had to ask – what are we trying to do with fuel treatments? If we aren’t modifying the largest fires and their extents; then what are we actually accomplishing?”

    If Wuerthner says “Even in drier forests like ponderosa pine that burn more frequently the chances that a fire will encounter a fuel treatment while it’s most effective is around 1-2%.” It seems like if we’ve seen photos of the Wallow Fire, and Waldo Canyon, which were both helped by treatments.. is that 1 to 2% of fires last year, or acreage, or ????

    Doesn’t he have to have some rationale (facts found to conclusions drawn) to say that? It’s difficult to argue with something that seems to be pulled out of a hat.

    Wuerthner says: The vast majority of acreage burning around the West are occurring in higher elevation forests like lodgepole pine and various fir species that naturally burn at infrequent intervals, often hundreds of years apart.

    But in Colorado, anyway, most of the WUI is on the Front Range in ponderosa (you can check our WUI maps here although there are many approaches to mapping it and this is only one possibility) so how can the problem be about WUI (as others have said) and also be about LPP and spruce (I don’t think Wuerthner really meant fir)..

    Anyway the Wuerthner piece reads like an op-ed.. full of unsubstantiated knowledge claims. Which is OK, but I don’t think all that helpful to this discussion.

    • As you know Sharon…I’m gonna be leaving soon in search of “fuels treatment efficacy photos,(but the bosses asked me to stay-with time off to write),” and I’m running through the rolodex in my brain trying to find places to go. There’s just not that many places to go. There just hasn’t been that many “fuels treatments” done…and I know of some good ones….but the odds of a fire burning through them is small. When the USFS in Montana has been logging less than 1% a “decade,”….the odds are small. I will be going to the Wallow fire…and I hope that the “fire researchers” are flocking there to do their “published” research…and I’m sure they are since they’d be STUPID not too. The best example I have is in my backyard…at Chadron…which I will post soon.

      How can you show the efficacy of fuels treatments…when so few fuels treatments are being done. Maddening.

      • Derek, sorry I can’t link but am having trouble with copying links in the WordPress app on my IPad. But if you search the blog on “fuels treatment” you will find a link for a webinar, where researchers are studying impacts of fuel treatments. Give someone involved in the research a call and they can tell you where their plots are.

        Perhaps you should visit Waldo Canyon.. and remember many communities are doing them without the FS so just because the FS is n’t doing much if you look spatially at the big picture, others may be doing treatments.

        I think we also posted on Russ Graham’s work on Hayman and the Warm Fire.. can’t remember about treatments and Hayman, but there was explicit stuff about fuel reduction affecting suppression strategies on the Warm Fire.

        I’d call the Missoula Fire Lab and the Lessons Learned Center and ask them whom you should talk to to find out about some places to go.

        Like I said, sorry I can’t link but if you search on this blog for Wallow, Warm Fire , Waldo Canyon and “fuels treatment” for the webinar information, you should find some stuff.

      • Keep in mind that fuel = habitat, so the negative ecological impacts of fuel treatments escalate as the area of treatment increases. The only way to increase the chances that fire will encounter treatments is if a very large fraction of the landscape is treated. The cumulative impacts become an issue, especially for species that prefer dense/complex forests e.g., goshawk, pileated woodpecker, marten, fisher, and spotted owls.

        • Tree

          More contradictions

          “The only way to increase the chances that fire will encounter treatments is if a very large fraction of the landscape is treated. The cumulative impacts become an issue, especially for species that prefer dense/complex forests e.g., goshawk, pileated woodpecker, marten, fisher, and spotted owls.”
          –> But natural catastrophes like the Rim Fire which has destroyed Fisher corridors and habitat are ok because you don’t like fuel treatments? Can’t you see the box that you have put yourself in. You’d make a good president – stand in front of the microphone and answer yes to one reporter and 10 minutes latter say no to another reporter asking the same question.
          –> Consider that when fuel treatments are applied as a natural off shoot of sound forest management, the treatments don’t happen all at once and for any disturbance on one small stand there are adjacent stands that haven’t been treated recently. The harvesting practices that you despise so greatly will generally reduce the need for separate fuel treatments.
          –> You are wrapped up in landscape level treatments instead of dispersed small scale sound forest management practices that act in concert over the landscape

  5. There was a widely distributed report on how those treatments did on the wallow fire where they really did work to protect homes, great aerial photos of how a severe fire dropped from the canopy when it hit the treatments. Dave Peterson with the USFS PNW Research station has pubs out on this and dave has published on impacts . of treatments elsewhere.

    I have pics of treatment impacts from the 2002 Davis fire on the Deschutes but interpreting them is dicey since weather conditions may have also had a large impact at the time on how much cooler those areas burned, ..

    And george bungles the facts when he says something so obviously wrong such as this.

    “The vast majority of acreage burning around the West are occurring in higher elevation forests like lodgepole pine and various fir species that naturally burn at infrequent intervals, often hundreds of years ”

    That is hardly the case, he does things like this all the time which really skews his cred in my book, it is too often that he bungles a decent argument with something sloppy and easily refuted. He needs a real scientist looking over his shoulder to trim his overstatements which are too common,

    But enough about george, he has been saying much of the same for 20 years. Enough on personalities please, Just the facts.

  6. As someone who has fought “large wildfires”, and having run for cover on more than one, the very idea someone would claim that fuels don’t drive large wildfires is, well, offensive. Burning fuels often create the wind that spurs fire crowning. I don’t know any of you, but I have read articles from Wuerthner that make you wonder why he has credibility with anyone other than those that want to believe in his off-the-cuff assertions and embellishments.

    • Jeff

      Very Appropriate comment. Once you see a moderate fire climb the fuels ladder, heard the roar, and seen the rate of fire spread speed instantaneously go from 5 MPH to 40+ MPH, you know where the wind comes from. That blowtorch won’t stop until a good sized open patch brings it back to the ground. What happens when it gets to the other side of the opening depends largely on whether or not there are ladder fuels waiting to explode.

      • Fire creates its own weather, which is well documented. Wuerthner creates his own reality, which he documents himself. Why people continue to read and discuss his stuff is difficult to understand. He has virtually no credibility in the scientific and wildfire management communities, and undermines the credibility of those organizations and individuals that promote his (mostly) nonsense. I’m not sure what the wind and humidity conditions are in Death Valley, Antarctica, or the Indian Ocean at the moment, but without fuel, there are no wildfires, ever. George is a nitwit when it comes to wildfires and forest management and, as Larry states, it’s really not worth the time and effort to continue pointing out why that is after all these years.

    • Jeff: Here is some footage from a one-hour, one-mile wide tornado in Alaska that was created by a wildfire:

      The videographers called this a “firenado” and is the same thing I had fun calling a “pyronado” in my PhD dissertation. Mostly they had been documented in Australia to that time (2003), where they are/were called “fire whirls.” The wind can be seen uprooting trees and blowing them into the air in a few spots of the video at the 1:17 mark and near the end. Note the fuels that are the basis of this phenomenon. We also named hurricane-force winds created by catastrophic-scale wildfires “pyrocanes” with the same whimsical perspective we used to name pyronados. Not near enough attention paid to wildfire-created weather conditions then or now, in my opinion.

      I don’t think Wuerthner’s claims are as “offensive” as they are just plain ignorant. It would seem as if he might have learned something in all of his years writing and lecturing about wildfires, but apparently he has not. Too busy promoting his agenda to others with similar perspectives to bother with facts or by consulting with actual experts on the topic, apparently.

    • fuel is a necessary element but not always a limiting factor. when you were running for cover, was it windy? hot? low humid? drought year? In many forest types, there is almost always enough fuels to sustain a fire, but not always the right weather conditions.

      • Tree

        Do you realize that you don’t need the right weather conditions if there are ladder fuels? Once you get a crown fire, the fire creates its own wind and heat. The blow torch effect dries out the trees ahead in its path and the fire literally races through the trees. This isn’t just me, read the comments of others here who have fought fires.

        You don’t seem to accept the science that no matter whether or not it was ” windy? hot? low humid? drought year?” sound forest management can reduce the probability of it turning into a catastrophe and thereby reduce the total acres burned. Drought years and bad fire weather is an important reason for practicing sound forest management. You just can’t say ‘oh well, its nature’s way, there was nothing we could have done’. There are cases when that is true but the cumulative effect of sound forest management is a significant reduction in total acres burned in any fire season compared to what would have happened without sound forest management as I explained in another post that clearly demonstrates that a significant reduction in harvest activities on USFS lands post 1990 resulted in a continuous increases in total acres burned.

        • Wait a minute, I am perfectly willing to accept that thinning and other kinds of management can have a strong impact on fire behavior in places but contending that a decrease in federal harvest is responsible for an increase in acres burned seems a far stretch at best.

          Might…ummm….weather have a lot to do with it? Hmmm??? As pointed out by others, in a large wind driven blaze, the fire can just move around treated areas. Biscuit was throwing flaming brands 2 miles ahead of the fire front.

          The vast park of Biscuit was not commercial timber lands with ultra mafic soils and it never would have been harvested. Ditto many other large burns such as Wallow and the large burns in southern CA shrub lands. I can go on and on with this with numerous other examples from lands that were not suitable for management of timber. How much of Wallow was in the harvest base? Not much.

          I am strongly supportive of thinning and much heavier than some would like but it is hard to see it having much of an impact outside of small areas.

          • Greg

            I’m confused – Please show me why you aren’t contradicting yourself.

            –> You accept that thinning harvests “and other kinds of management can have a strong impact on fire behavior in places”?

            –> So, explain why a major reduction in federal harvests which includes thinnings and final harvests wouldn’t “have a strong impact on fire behavior in places”?

            • The vast portion of that federal cut came from clear cut logging of wetter west side forests in the PNW and Alaska, few of which have burned. These cuts were not the kind of thinning that might have affected fire behavior in drier east side forests or the rockies. But I agree that more aggressive thinning in those drier areas could have had an impact on fires-perhaps, although the jury is still out on that.

              • Greg

                I am having trouble believing that the vast portion of that 8 billion board foot reduction in federal harvests came from clear cut logging of wetter west side forests in the PNW and Alaska.

                –> harvests basically went from 10 billion board feet to two billion between 1990 and 2001. I would sure like to see a reference backing up your “vast portion” statement.

                –> even if half of the reduction was in wet forests that burn very little, that still leaves us with a 66% reduction in cut (from 6 to 2 billion) in harvest activities in not wet forests which I would have expected to increase total acres burned.

                • If I recall correctly, about 600 million was coming off the Tongass while only about a billion came from all of Region 1, which is north idaho and MT.

                  Much less from regions 2, 3 and 4 since there is not much to cut since it is much higher elevation, or drier ground. Between the productive forests of AK, N CA, OR and WA, that is the largest portion of the federal cut since after all, there was a lot more to cut. At its height, the Willamette target was 700 mm bd feet but they hit a billion once. Umpqua was about 500 million, Siuslaw about 400 million, Siskiyou 400 million etc etc. I do not know about the WA forests but they were way up there too, especially the Olympic

                  Some west side sales were able to take out 100,000 bd feet an acre or more.

                  of the 10 billion, I expect that about 7 billion came from AK, west side OR, CA, WA and interior Northern CA. More or less, lots of big trees, good volume,, I can’t cite the numbers but they are in that ball park. Maybe higher.

                  That aside, I was glad to see clearcut harvest of old trees stopped but i have always been supportive of aggressive thinning across the regions-within reason.

                  And just to keep the pot boiling here, I found it amusing or disturbing that some enviros shrieked about that clearcut logging but thought that complete mortality in a fire was fine since it was “natural”…….

                  Well, i have an attachment, sentimental I know, to large old live trees. We have lost too many in hot fires and i want to keep what we have left.

                  Those wet west side forests have hardly burned, if only that it is too easy to put them out, Biscuit an exception at 500,000 acres but little of that was commercial timberland,

                  Largest fires are on interior dry side, driven by weather and I believe, different fuel profiles with dense ingrowth under old canopy and in the dry SW

                  Many west side forests have hardly changed due to fire suppression with some exceptions of course in drier portions of SW Oregon.

                  • greg: You probably missed my Comment to Sharon, but several of the largest forest fires in history occurred in western Oregon: the Tillamook 6-year Jinx; the Yaquina; the Coos; the Nestucca; and the B&B Complex are the main examples. They mostly haven’t burned in our lifetimes because they burned before — and the second-growth was largely clearcut. In total agreement on the need to preserve our remaining giant trees through aggressive thinning — which produces jobs and tax revenues and doesn’t require any sort of subsidy. Good for wildlife, fishing, water, and air quality, too.

      • Of course, “fuel” is in ample abundance, in our western National Forests. “Normal” in our western forests means hot, low humidity and dry fuels. Mountainous terrain always means winds, too. Sooooo, for months, conditions are always ripe for wildfires, making them a moot point, bringing us back around to fuels.

  7. Greg…I’ve read the studies on the Wallow…but if it hasn’t been “published,” then it never happened. LOL. But I gots a feelin that it will be “the best available science” soon. I used one of the photos for a story I did on the Wallow. It was taken by a cool lady named Kari Greer…who’s not only a wildland firefighter…she’s also a professional photographer who the USFS hires to photograph fires in the west. If you’re a “wildland firefighter junkie,” check out her website. SHE…is the go-to gal for fire photos. What an exciting career.

    I don’t think anyone is proposing “fuels treatments” on 60% “skyline” slopes…nor do I think they would do much good. NOT without some RX burning at regular intervals. Therefore, using steep slopes on recent fires in Montana as an “example” of the futility of “thinning”….isn’t correct thinking in my mind.

    I’ll try and post my Chadron State Park “efficacy of fuels treatment thinning in P-Pine” photos this weekend…you’ll like them. Just so burned out on work.

    I’ve communicated with George in the past…and while I disagree with him of course…he’s an eminently decent and polite guy.

  8. There is an ongoing effort by peterson et al on Wallow but the results may be too anecdotal for publication in a journal. I am not sure what it involved but there were longer efforts beyond the initial reports. He does have a pub out on impacts of treatments on a fire up in the Okanogan and I am sure that he has a complete handle on any other efforts to evaluate. but I have not followed him for awhile. There was that one pub on thinning impacts on sites in the north end of Biscuit by Crystal Raymond I think, maybe dave was 2nd author.

    There was also a FS pub out that talked about how treated areas fared in the Hayman fire.

    Reports were also out of impacts in Tahoe fire in 2007 (?)

    I think the point is well taken that although such treatments can work on a small scale to protect large trees etc, they don;t seem likely to be capable of impacting large fast moving fires. I may be wrong. They do use them to establish fuel breaks along roads and such to use as anchor points for fire lines, a good idea, but I do not know how well they work.

    I had a better handle on the lit awhile ago but there was enough out there.

  9. And oh yeah, schoolhouse fire on pomeroy district of the Umatilla, I got some aerial pics of that I can send showing how thinning in the young ponderosa really did a lot to calm the fire, Very impressive, but once it got past the treated area it got hot again, I saw the area myself.

    Some other treated areas that burned in the fire were harder to interpret. But they also seemed to work although less strongly.

    Ponderosa is of course some of the easiest ground to treat, so not typical, Mixed conifer stands seem another can of worms.

    • Thanks for the info Greg…I need to start compiling all relevant research. The research done on the Hayman fire found that thinning alone was no good…and the best was thinning/RX burn. BUT…I do believe the thinning done was the “old school” chainsaw leave the limbs and tops in the unit. Just like when I was logging. I shiver now at the thought of all the “surface fuels” we were leaving behind.

      I’m a big fan of “whole tree harvesting(WTH).” I’m also a fan of RX burning…but if WTH removes all the surface fuels (except the 10 tons/acre of woody debris for nutrients)…then do you really need RX burning? RX burning has a narrow time frame window…and costs money. Money that could go to laying out more thinning units. I don’t really know of any “best available science” research that examines the efficacy of WTH. BUT…since I do believe that WTH has been the norm for the last 25 years…there should be examples out there…or will be soon…and I think the Wallow would be one of them.

      Frankly, I’ve looked at a lot of the research…and there really isn’t a lot out there. the pace IS picking up…but the ones I can think of deal with “modeling,” and not so much first hand actual. I read a lot of the “Rocky Mountain Research station” research…and there’s tons of stuff on obscure species…which I think shows the “recent history” research needs to get an EIS through a judge….but not a lot on fires. In a way the research mirrors the trends in USFS forest management. Species was the en vogue thang in the 90’s and 2000’s…let’s hope wildfire will be the thang in the 2010’s.

      Research done by Philip Omi in 1989 after the Yellowstone fires was one thing that turned me onto the “clearcuts don’t burn” phenomenon (he found something like 80% of the regen suffered low or no severity, while 90% of the mature suffered high). But I think he said it best later. He said something along the lines of, “Back when most research was read only by those in the forestry profession, there wasn’t a lot of research on fuels treatments because it was common knowledge amongst forestry professionals that fuels treatments worked…and noboby wanted to research something that was already common knowledge.”

      I’d like to do a book titled “Forestry and Fire.” A book longer on photo proof of the efficacy of fuels treatment and shorter on dry research (which also must be included). The public is reluctant to wade into the research, but a photo is worth a thousand words…right! Would be very useful to the general public and politicians don’t ya think. I got the idea a few years ago when I was browsing in the gift shop of my local district ranger station…and saw George Wuerthner’s coffee table photography book celebrating wildfire. In a USFS gift shop…with no book offering the opposing view.

  10. There was research on the Black forest experimental forest i n N CA that said the same thing about burning slash, Can’t remember who wrote that one -Carl Skinner maybe?. The need for that seems very apparent. I believe that they found the same thing on the Biscuit thinned sites as well as the tahoe sites where some treated areas had not been burned yet. The question I have is how much of it you really need to burn to get your objectives,

    If i recall correctly the black forest sites where slash was crushed into the ground fared pretty well too.

    Yes whole tree harvesting seems the way to go in many places. Of course some might scream about ground impacts which are actually minimal on FS lands these days, Some people will scream about anything, having seen enough god awful logging during my decade as a tree planter, I think I have a clear grasp on how much things have improved with BMPs on federal lands.

    I am not sure about the clear cut angle, I have heard otherwise from some burns in western Oregon. Surely, dense younger pole sized stands regenerated after logging can burn a lot hotter such as seen in Quartz fire in upper Applegate in 2002.

    I have a lot of pics of this but they are in Kenya while I am now in Vietnam so I can;t access these. I collected pics from all over the place but found few people interested, certainly not many enviros who had made up their minds already. But heck, I got the phd and they do not.

    I like Matthew Koehler, I like his tone and his contributions here but there are too many enviros I would like to throttle. If I have such strong sentiments it is perhaps due to my deep tribal ties. If i had to spend much time with industry hacks, I would want to throttle them too.

    • I can’t speak for the “clearcuts don’t burn” in the PNW. My area of interest pretty much stops at the Idaho Montana border. Here’s a link from this blog that share my photos of it in Montana. I have seen steep “skyline” clearcuts burn, but one of the “emerald green islands” in the recent West Mullan fire appears to be a skyline unit.
      (make sure to click on the “clearcuts I and II” at the bottom of the story to see more.)

      As Sharon noted somewhere….Chuck Finney did some modeling research that found such treatments on 20-30% of the landscape does inhibit fire growth. And from my amateur anecdotally point of view, when looking at many of the fires in the “roaded” Montana forests…it appears the Incident Commanders tie their firelines into these regen clearcuts to eventually stop the fires.

      On another tack…does any regeneration harvesting work into your “restoration” program?
      For wildlife needs. here’s a link that sums that up.

      I know little of the PNW, but as I understand it Elk has been all but extirpated from Federal forests? Isn’t the USFS mandated by law to manage for “species viability and diversity”? I don’t think letting elk find their way 10 miles to the nearest Weyerhauser land fits that bill. The only “zone of agreement” I see in the PNW is thinning regen clearcuts to “speed their way to late successional.” Why not clearcut some of those 50 year old regen clearcuts just like Weyerhauser does…but to promote forage and not regen?

      And what about the early seral species that are less charismatic than Elk?
      Here’s a link that sums it up:

      Anyway…nice talkin to ya Greg. I promised myself I wouldn’t post for awhile…since I have to think in other directions. I have no time for Mathews’ tone. I’m sure he’s a decent man, father, husband, and son when his ire isn’t up. But I did use his tone to create my “radical logger” persona.

      • Well, people ought to be nice to him, he is one of the more thoughtful activists I have heard from, If he was not posting here it would just be a lot of singing to the choir and I will drop out, So, best if some temper their responses or you might lose him and me. If I yawp about enviros it is since I know them better, but there are some flaming idiots on the industry side I could yawp a lot louder about. How some of them got their doctorates I will never know.

        BTW, Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson are doing exactly that to get more early seral habitat in the PNW, there was a good article on this awhile back in High Country news, I could care less if the clear cut plantations and young saplings on federal lands but I get chills when older stuff comes down.

        I appreciate your informed, thoughtful comments Derek. The pics of the clearcuts surviving the fires were quite a surprise, not at all what I have been led to believe in other places but the pics are certainly proof in those locations.

        • I hope you don’t drop out because someone didn’t “temper their responses.” Some individuals have said pretty negative things about me and I haven’t left. I chalk it up to the cost of doing important stuff; pushing for those of different views to talk civilly, and realizing that we are breaking new ground by trying to be civil.

          Also, I am a fan of the Four Agreements.. and try not to take anything personally. All of the agreements are things to attempt but not necessarily achieve.

          The Four Agreements are:

          1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

          2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
          Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

          3. Don’t Make Assumptions
          Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

          4. Always Do Your Best
          Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

        • Well..I photographed them on 8 different Montana fires from Bozeman to Libby. The Mayor of Breckenridge Colorado used them to “convince” some that MPB salvage clearcuts would be an effective fire break around the town. Colorado is ” hazard tree” clearcutting along hundreds of miles of roads…so in the future…we may see not only “green islands” but also “green arteries” LOL.

          I’m more interested in the “forest role reversal” part of it all. Picture a 30 year old lodgepole regen clearcut surviving the MPB…then picture in 20 years if and when the MPB deadfall burn off and the 50 year old “green island” survives….then it becomes the only hiding and thermal cover available.

          There’s a series of old clearcuts around Breckenridge…I have no doubt when they enter the deadfall phase of their MPB epidemic ( which should be beginning….about now) the public will “discover” these regen clearcuts and start recreating in the green islands. Now do you suppose they’ll thank the loggers or even know they were clearcuts….no.

          As hard as Matt has tried to convince the media to tell who owns what in a fire…I’ve tried just as hard to convince the media to report on them. Every reporter in Montana is now aware of them…but It would appear the media is reluctant to report on what either the “radical enviro” or the “radical logger” has to say! LOL. But as the wildfires continue into the future, and I think we all agree they will only get worse…these green islands will be to hard to ignore.

          Anyway…you sound like you have interesting work Greg. Say…33 years ago I was logging on the Targhee in Idaho…and a bunch of “hippie’s” showed up to plant trees…and it made a pretty big splash in the local Morman media when it was reported that the girls worked “shirtless” alongside the men! LOL. Now was that the “Hoedads”?? LOL Of course, at the time…I had hair down to my waist LOL. The only hippies I knew were logging or workin in the oil fields. LOL. Ahhh….those were good times. Lemme tell ya, West Yellowstone was a GOOD time in summer.

          Anyway…enuf of the clearcuts.

          • Derek, you might understand that the narrative in the PNW is how clearcut regen burns a lot hotter but i was never wholly convinced, I thought the point was overstated in places but valid in others. I am not sure what accounts for better survival in the clear cuts you have seen, lack of fuel from MPB seems to account for it.

            yeah, that was hoedads surely, and yes some women did work with shirts off which got too much attention and notoriety, one reason I felt it ill advised, but let me tell ya, see enough of that and the thrill wears off really quick,

            Asking people to put shirts on was an argument I could not win and anyway, it was way out in the hills where the only outsider was FS inspector.

            They felt if men could do it why should they not also be able. My rap was that may be true but for the rural people we worked near, the women they knew would not do that for love or money so go argue with their women folk about the issue.

            I was with them for 12 years, was president in 1980. I was on that targhee contract in ashton district in 81 if that is the one you are talking about, it was auger planting which was no fun. Blaah, the fact that our mechanic was a serous alkie only made it much harder, despite the awe inspiring scenery.

      • Derek: Clearcuts don’t burn in the PNW, either. I was doing a comprehensive photo documentation of the B&B Complex, which clearly shows this pattern, when USFS dropped all funding because we were posting our findings on the Internet, and they contradicted the official assertions of the Sisters RD “experts.” Aerials should clearly show the effects, in which the fire followed straight property boundary lines separating government land from industrial lands, and where the fires jumped Highway 20 in the few areas that had been reasonably treated in the Suttle Lake area. Even small clearings along the Skyline Trail (“PCT” in Forest Service-speak, although they also use this same acronym to mean precommercial thinning) and other hiking trails in the area often caused the fire to drop to the ground. Much of it was documented until the forced shutdown. Matthew is also familiar with this fire and shares my thoughts on its cause (but maybe not our suspicions regarding the perps).

          • General assertions shown to be false or unlikely: 1) the fire was caused by lightning; 2) it was an unavoidable result of “natural” “fire return intervals”, 3) it was an “ecologically healthy” event that would result in a cyclical return to desired conditions.

            One specific example: During the “very first” public tour of the wildfire, hosted by the Sisters RD ecologist — which I was videotaping — I was pulled aside by the local bus driver and informed that it was actually the second public tour she had been hired for, and that the same USFS personnel had hosted a similar tour a few days earlier that was unreported and restricted to environmental organization reps (maybe why the ecologist had suddenly dyed a purple streak in her hair). The tour was attended mostly by USFS personnel and older people from Eugene attending an RV convention in Redmond, with one of the very few pre-tour questions being whether a pet dog could come along to get some exercise. The official description of the participants (since removed from the USFS website many years ago) described a diverse group of knowledgeable people from all over the region, which was another complete fabrication. It was a charade, totally misrepresented in official accounts, featuring such questionable practices as BAER culverts being purchased from New Mexico and mechanically installed to stop soil erosion on flat ground. The silviculturalist (raised in LA), couldn’t pronounce “evapotranspiration” and had to defer or be prompted on all technical questions.

            Here are some of the videos we posted from that tour that caused our working agreements (PNW Research Station, OSU Forestry, ORWW, and USFS) and funding to be terminated:

        • “Clearcuts don’t burn” ?? Two fires in 2002 on the Umpqua National Forest were evaluated for their effect on the forest. Excerpts from the March 2003 Wildfire Effects Evaluation Project by the Umpqua N.F. are make clear the impact of creating more tree plantations:

          “Plantations had a tendency to increase the rate of fire spread and increased the overall area of stand-replacement fire effects by spreading to neighboring stands.” Page 4

          “Fire burned most plantations with high intensity and spread rapidly through the canopy of these young stands.” Page 20.

          “Plantation mortality is disproportionately high compared to the total area that plantations occupied within the fire perimeter. Page 26-27.

          “Crown fire spreads readily through these young stands: rates of fire spread can be high, and significant areas or mortality can occur in and adjacent to these stands.” Page 32.

          Finally, the report says that the fire behavior in forest that had not been converted to tree farms was normal. “The pattern of mortality in the unmanaged forest resembles historic stand-replacement patch size and shape.” Page 64.

          “Large blocks of old-growth forests – rather than large contiguous blocks of young growth or highly simplified forests – are the best scenario for reducing catastrophic wildfire.” Jerry Franklin, David Perry, Reed Noss, David Montgomery, Christopher Frissell. Simplified Forest Management To Achieve Watershed And Forest Health: A Critique. National Wildlife Federation.

          • Tree: Thanks for providing all these examples of where, actually, “Clearcuts DO Burn” ….and burn hot and intense sometimes. Of course, Derek Weidensee will either ignore your comment and citations, or won’t even bother reading comments that contradict his point of view (which he has admitted to on this site already) as he continues to proclaim “Clearcuts don’t burn” (except for all the times they do, which he wouldn’t tell us about). Hell, how is Derek’s “Clearcuts don’t Burn” campaign any different than someone claiming “Old Growth doesn’t Burn” (which, by the way, I’ve never heard anyone in the conservation community claim)?

            • Hold it, Derek has said clearly a few times that he knows nothing about the PNW, and offers no opinions on clearcuts there. His pics from the idaho/Mt area are intriguing and a surprise to me.

              What it comes down to is data and clear evidence in the field. My assumption in the west side PNW is that densely stocked conifer plantations do burn hotter due to their density and ignitability of the foliage. Oddly it does seem that when some shrub and hardwoods are mixed in the fire can be tempered under moderate conditions. What bob saw on B n B might be explained by the lower density on that east side burn (?).

              At any rate, in our discussion of this Derek had been clear that he was not speaking to the PNW,

              Resolving this would be easy enough by looking at post fire imagery.

              One study that comes to mind is the one by Thompson and Spies looking at imagery of how Biscuit reburned salvage and non salvage areas burned in the 1988 Silver fire. Oddly, and for no apparent reason, the salvage areas did seem to burn hotter than non salvage. I know the person well who ran the planting after the salvage and the density of conifer regen was not nearly as high as they had on standard clearcuts. But the study of the imagery was convincing. Hmmm…

              Some may disagree with the authors of that study of logging impacts but if so, please refrain from personal snarky attacks on them as scientists or I am GONE, Stick to the science or it is not worth it to me any longer here. Spies is a noted scientist for the USFS, if someone disagrees keep to the study and lay off him. Or that is it, i am tired of the snark, This would not be acceptable in any professional environment i have worked in.

              • I do have a picture of a Biscuit clearcut that didn’t burn, while the adjacent old growth had nearly 100% mortality. Of course, there are other reasons why such a thing could happen, which I could easily “spin” if I wanted to. I think that 1988-era salvage projects were less “fuels-oriented”, leaving more logging slash on the ground, and maybe taking less smaller diameter trees, too. There are some significant variables at play, determining how well that piece of ground will inevitably burn.

                My last salvage project removed plenty of non-commercial fuels, and it even did well in surviving a recent “re-burn”.

                • From what I saw of silver salvage, they did not leave much fuel behind. They left a lot of stuff standing too. The thompson/Spies study seemed borderline, I do not recall them offering any explanations for the difference in fire severity.

                  Some such as Chris frissel with PRC , an astute scientist, says that wind speed is higher on logged areas while a lot of snags can dampen a fire. Others may strongly disagree with this since those snags also can torch off hot. Overall, according to the Biscuit EIS, plantations burned about as hot as the rest of the fire but most of them were in areas with generally cooler burns such as the north end where Silver burned in 88.

                  The density of the regen sure was not high on silver salvage. After all, they had to copter the planting crew in so they were not punching in too many trees. And with no post planting brush treatment, survival might have been even lower, I sure did not see a lot of regen stems on the salvaged parts near Hobson Horn. I have a lot of pics but not here. I gave all of them to Bernard Bormann with USFS PNW station.

                  • While wandering around the Tumblebug fire on the Willamette National Forests I noticed a few spots where the old growth trees left in the riparian areas suffered 100% mortality where the regen on both sides survived. I guess you can always know what the fire is going to do.

              • Greg…the link below is to a story I wrote about the clearcuts don’t burn phenomenon. You can look up the research by Jain and Graham and Philip Omi about the phenomenon…the complete title of their research is quoted in the story.

                My favorite image of the phenomenon is the Google Earth photos. Plug the latitude and longitude noted in the caption into the “fly too” box of “your” google earth and check em out. Use the “clock face” icon on the top of google earth to “go back in time” to check out “pre-fire photos.” Take a half hour and “Cruise around” a bit and look at the whole fire. The “green polygons” are unmistakable. The Google Earth images are HOW I found the location of the fires I photographed. Then…you could “Google Earth” the fire in the PNW and observe if the phenomenon applies there.

                Minds who seek perspective will look at it. Closed minds will fear to even look at it.


                • Derek

                  Job well done on your range magazine article.

                  According to Jerry Franklin and Co. at this link
                  You must have gened this up 🙂

                  This selective compilation of data and broad utopian conclusions by Franklin and Co. is apparently a key resource for our nature only, old growth friends. How dare you impeach the credibility of an environmental guru?

                  Link is courtesy of Tree in another thread here on NCFP

                • This is a surprise and a welcome one, i do not care what side it comes from but if someone has the data, they have me. Thanks for that.

                  This really goes contrary to the narrative in some circles but i am still not sure about the PNW, my tech thing here cannot handle google earth and i have no access to decent computer yet to dig into this. It does seem worthy of a good paper in a decent journal.

                  Pulling Dave Perry into this might be a good idea, retired prof of forest ecology at OSU, his perspective pretty much matches mine regarding thinning and fires, he might be better able to explain the plantation angle in the rockies and PNW, but he is kinda old and hard to rope in. We spent a lot of time poking around Biscuit together.

                  • If you could tell me what towns the Bisquit fire was near…I wouldn’t mind doin a little google cruise. At least what towns were close to the “managed” portion…where I could look at some clearcuts. Of course,,…my hands are filled with preparations…and I got a promotion!

                    • Congratulations on the promotion! Try east of Gold Beach, west of Grants Pass, and north of Selma. It’s a peculiar area of the world, though, and has a lot of Wilderness and has been severely burned twice in the past 25 years — you might have better luck with the B&B: west of Sisters, between Mt. Jefferson (north) and Mt. Washington (south).

                    • It did not burn severely twice in 25 years, the 1988 silver fire only had 15% high severity vs 45% in Biscuit which was a lot hotter. And silver was all roadless and wilderness, it had no plantations in it if I recall correctly except for maybe a few on the fringe. Silver fire had about the same severity as many fires in the klamath siskiyou which was why Biscuit was off the charts.

                      I could not get this through to people, the data was clear about 45% in high intensity/mortality but the damned enviros continued to say it was only 15% since they wanted to believe it was all OK. Hardly, I think it sucked. I repeated this correction endlessly to no avail, In Biscuit about 82,000 acres of old mature forest was burned over. Maybe this is natural, maybe dead trees also have a lot of benefits but I prefer them alive.

                      And too many were passing on $$%$ lies that the FS deliberately allowed it to burn. I came out of that detesting a lot of people. Talk about deluded…….. ( on the other hand, the industry side had its own crew of lunatics, who read even less……I could write an opera about this epic….)

                      Biscuit reburned silver in 2002 and interestingly, the severity in that sector pretty well matched silver. The hottest areas of Biscuit were to the south, much in the shrub dominated ultramafic soil that seems inclined to burn hot as hell when it does ignite.

                      The point about Biscuit is that past management had little impact on the fire, as pointed out to me, fire suppression in such remote steep terrain did not really take hold until about 1945 when they had air capabilities allowing quick access, Prior to that, not much they could do,

                      So canards about the FS mismanaging the lands with cuts hardly seem to apply here,

                      However, it appears that at least 25% of total burn area was burn out by the FS, this does not get a lot of attention on overall burn patterns and behavior,

                    • Out of the 500,000 acres on biscuit, only 15,000 were in cut over stands, 6,000 of those were silver salvage which hardly qualified as dense plantations. Overall, 45% of Biscuit burned at high intensity-meaning over 90% mortality, which is also how those plantations looked. Not markedly higher and those yowling about how plantations drove the fire are bullshitting themselves, nuts, I felt like i was dealing with illiterates, those data were right in the EIS but am I one of the only ones who read it carefully?

                      Other issue is that most of them were at north end of burn which burned a lot cooler overall with a much more mixed pattern of burn intensities, and it does appear that at least some hardwood dominated areas suppressed the burn. That also seems to be the case on plantations, lots of shrubs-depending on species, can temper a fire. Some may disagree, jury is out on that.

                      But I also know Quartz fire in upper applegate and the cut over sapling/pole timber stands torched hot. As others have pointed out, a higher surface area to mass with dense conifers more likely to torch.

                      Not knowing those cut over areas Derek has seen in the rockies, I can;t offer an opinion that holds water but his pics are convincing.

            • Matthew: The fire Tree was principally talking about was the 2002 Tiller Complex, which behaved approximately as he describes, causing relatively little damage and frying several young plantations as it created a patchy “mostly let it burn” pattern. I subsequently did extensive research on the fire history of the South Umpqua subbasin (not yet published and it is a long, political, story why), that was delayed a year because of two historically unprecedented stand replacement wildfire events that took place in the same subbasin as the Tiller Complex. The more recent 2009 fires (Rainbow and Boze) crowned and destroyed almost everything in their paths. Nothing of this latter nature — apparently caused by equally unprecedented fuel build-ups — had occurred on this scale in the previous 200 years. Killed a lot of old-growth and animals and could have been a lot worse.

              Subsequent “restoration” practices have been laughable and wasteful. And documented, thanks to modern digital photography. Claims of “old-growth not burning” were plentiful in both the scientific and preservation (I grew up when conservation meant something much different than how it is used now) communities 20 and 30 years ago — and which accounts for many of our misguided (in my opinion) practices and policies today: spotted owl “critical habitat” being one well-known example.

              So, yes, plantations can burn when conditions dictate — but in the 20+ years and 80,000+ acres of reforestation work that my crews and I performed from 1970 to 1990, I’m not aware of a single acre being lost to wildfire. Derek’s photographs tell — and clearly document — the truth of what he is saying: “clearcuts usually don’t burn in wildfires unless subsequent regeneration is allowed to develop closed canopies.”

        • Bob

          Clearcuts may not burn but the regeneration on them sure does in the south. The highest risk for burning here is in very young stands in dry conditions before any branches have self pruned. The needle drape comes to the ground. Fooofh, and its over.

          • Thanks, Gil: I’m somewhat aware of southern pine fire ecology, but did state “Clearcuts don’t burn in the PNW, either” as my opening sentence, and clarified that general comment with a subsequent brief description of the 2002 Tiller Complex, in which clearcuts were a major portion of the burning patterns. Otherwise, Derek is generally correct about most of the western US and has demonstrated that thesis with a number of documentary photographs. Larry and I have both mentioned similar photographs in our own collections in the PNW, which Derek clearly stated was not covered in his own work.

  11. and to blow my own horn, this is what I am doing in Vietnam. Most sprayed areas recovered but several million ha did not which baffles me, worth a closer look, US AID is kicking in about $100 million for mitigation of Agent Orange sites over next 5 years, mostly for cleaning up a handful of the most contaminated sites at Danang and Bien Hoa airbases. Scrapping off the soil and heating it although bioremediation seems to work well enough on less contaminated sites. I brought Mr Boi to Cornell to talk a few years ago and want to get funding for more work here, ironically enough, probably from US AID.
    Believe it or not, they now think pretty well of the US here, since after it was over we left, unlike the Chinese who they resent a lot, the bully neighbor next door.

  12. Oh heavens, are you suggesting that some people have been yapping without doing their reading? Oh no…..yes, you have offered much of value here Matthew, and people do not seem to do their homework before charging at ya, Imagine that….

    Perhaps you can summarize a few key points in his work, after that some may have to pass a quiz demonstrating their command of the lit before their posts are taken seriously.


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