The Chief’s Wildland Fire Direction Letter

Below is the text of the letter referred to in the WSJ article from yesterday and here is a link to the letter itself..

Regional Foresters, Station Directors, IITF Director, Deputy Chiefs, and WO Directors

The 2021 fire year is different from any before. On July 14, 2021, the National Multi-Agency Coordination Group raised the national preparedness level (PL) to 5, the earliest point in a decade and the third earliest ever. There are currently over 70 large fires burning across the nation and 22,000 personnel responding, which are both nearly three times more than the 10-year average for the month of July. Severe drought is affecting over 70 percent of the West, and the potential for significant fire activity is predicted to be above normal into October. Our firefighters are fatigued, especially after more than a year of almost constant deployments, beginning with helping Australia in January 2020, and continuing through a difficult 2020 fire year and then supporting the vaccination effort in early 2021. In addition, COVID-19 infections are rising again. They are degrading our firefighting response capacity at an alarming rate, which will persist until more Americans are vaccinated.

In short, we are in a national crisis. At times like these, we must anchor to our core values, particularly safety. In PL 5, the reality is we are resource limited. The core tenet of the Forest Service’s fire response strategy is public and firefighter safety above all else. The current situation demands that we commit our fire resources only in instances where they have a high probability of success and they can operate safely and effectively. We will rely on the tested principles of risk management in determining our strategies and tactics.

At this time, for all of these reasons, managing fires for resource benefit is a strategy we will not use. In addition, until further notice, ignited prescribed fire operations will be considered only in geographic areas at or below PL 2 and only with the approval of the Regional Forester after consulting with the Chief’s Office. We are in a “triage mode” where our primary focus must be on fires that threaten communities and infrastructure. There is a finite amount of firefighting resources available that must be prioritized and fires will not always get the resources that might be requested. We will support our Agency administrators and fire managers as they make the best choices they can, given the resources at hand, the immediate threats, and the predicted weather.

Let me be clear. This is not a return to the “10 a.m. Policy.” This is the prudent course of action now in a situation that is dynamic and fluid. When western fire activity abates, we will resume using all the tools in our toolbox, including wildfire and prescribed fire in the right places and at the right time.

I know we all continue to remember the sacrifices of the fallen. Let us honor them by ensuring we do all we can to get everyone home safely, every single day. Thank you for all you are doing. I’m proud to serve alongside you.

Randy Moore

10 thoughts on “The Chief’s Wildland Fire Direction Letter”

  1. Why are we consistently chasing our tails? This policy should have been implemented June 01, given the preparedness potential and drought situation of the West.

    Seeing the tragic video of the town of Greenville on the Plumas this morning just makes my blood boil; such a loss. We have got to do better, treatment regimes around the WUI can be most effective. It looked like a green mass of thick, mixed conifer, extending to the edge of town. No words, damnit!

    • I agree, the focus must be on the WUI rather than treatments out in remote areas away from communities.
      What is the USFS going to do ensure that local jurisdictions include effective fireproofing measures in their zoning and building codes? The FS is NOT the entity that gave building permits to those homeowners but the agency gets the blame when a house with a cedar shake roof ignites and burns!
      Local jurisdictions need to step up and be part of the solution!
      Homeowners MUST take responsibility for maintaining a fireproof zone around their homes!

    • For years I have advocated a ban on Let Burn fires, during the peak 3 months of fire season. It’s more about the IA resources that get tied up, especially when such a fire escapes into more hazardous areas, closer to towns. Pretending that you can control a ‘free range’ wildfire in the mountains for weeks on end is… unadvised. The escape is always blamed on “unforeseen weather conditions”. Well, isn’t THAT what weather DOES??!! (especially in the mountains)

      Then, there’s always the monetary damages of turning a $6000 lightning fire into a $100,000,000 firestorm, not to mention all the other impacts that go along with big fires.

  2. I’m curious about how R5 handles “managed” fire. In my region, the RO is engaged is discussions if we’re going with something less than full suppression to reintroduce fire on the landscape. We don’t go to them with less-than-ideal situations so they’ve never said “no, you can’t do it”, but they could if they wanted to. Does R5 not have a similar process?

    I understand why the Chief had to write this letter, but it seems like my FSupe and RF should be able to make the determination of “is this the right tool in the right place at the right time?”.

    • I did see a public map of the San Bernardino that proudly proclaimed that they fight every ignition on their Forest. (Although I have to think that some Wilderness fires, at the 10,000 foot elevation would be ‘managed’ )

      I think that Let Burn decisions in R5 go to the Forest Supervisor. District Rangers used to be able to do that, but since fires have gotten so big, they often slop-over onto other RDs.

      • I’ve worked on a SoCal forest – it is full suppression all the time, everywhere, wz included, so not surprised at the San Berdoo’s declaration.

  3. What I don’t understand is why the “sit report” this morning still shows 50+ “managed fires” in various regions. Yes, not all of those are Forest Service fires (some are park service), but after this letter appeared I was thinking that all of the FS “managed fires” would be removed from that category on the sit report.

    • Maybe it takes a while to figure out exactly how (develop strategy and tactics to) suppress “formerly managed” fires and get the equipment/personnel to do it.

  4. Forest Service firefighting strategies, for all of the talk about collaboration, etc. seem to forget about the needs of other landowners. Last year, in the 2020 Labor Day fires in Oregon, there was a mention online that the Beachie Creek and Riverside Fires would join together. Then, there was a mention online that there was a “stand down” on fire suppression on one or both of those fires. I wasn’t sure what to think. At a presentation last fall (after the fires were contained/controlled), it was mentioned that local private forest landowners would have sacrificed a lot of timber if the fires had been allowed to join as the FS overhead team wanted to happen. Yet, up until that point, most of the firefighting had been done by private landowners due to the sudden onset of so many weather-driven fires at once and the lack of other local firefighting resources. The “stand down” was a meeting about what was a stake if the FS strategy was implemented. The FS backed off and the fires never joined together.


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