Responding to an Age of Megafires

A question for the Smokey Wire community: What role, if any, does forest planning and management have in this “new normal” megafire era? This the issue of our professional careers. Some grist for discussion:

1. If, with the Caldor and Dixie Fires, past forest management is irrelevant when it comes to megafires,

2. And because our current wildfire suppression resources are inadequate for stopping some wildfires such as Caldor, Dixie, Camp, and other fires once they become megafires,

3. And since any effort to slow climate change, even if successful — say, if the world meets the Paris accord emissions targets — will have no appreciable positive effect on forest health and susceptibility to fire in the near- or medium-term future,

4. And because there will be no mass emigration from WUI zones,

Then what is our course of action?

My take on these 4 points:

A. We must dramatically increase the pace and scale of forest health and fuels reduction. Doing so won’t prevent wind-driven megafires, but it will help reduce the number of smaller fires and perhaps keep some from exploding into megafires.

B. Assemble a wildfire air force of sorts. Maybe we need 10 times the number of air tankers and tanker bases, maybe more. Such a force would put enough retardant between fires and communities, and water on hot spots, to prevent widespread destruction of homes, business, infrastructure — even whole towns.

C. A significant increase in active management, as in my point A above, would at least serve to reduce emissions — GHGS and smoke — from wildfires of all sizes.

D. Forest management in WUI zones is more important than ever important, as will “hardening” structures to better withstand wildfires. However, the pace and scale of management and hardening will have to be dramatically increased, including forest management much farther from current WUI zone boundaries. To do this, city/county ordinances, state building codes, insurance companies, and federal policymakes must make commensurate revisions/action.

What’s your take?

59 thoughts on “Responding to an Age of Megafires”

  1. Understanding the basic fire triangle is the key to reducing the impact of megafires. We humans cannot control the “heat” or the “oxygen” elements of the triangle in wildlands, but we can significantly impact the “fuel” element, which is really the only option humans have to reducing megafires. Think through wildland fires before active human fire suppression. Most natural wildland fires were started by lightning, and once the combustion ignited, fire brands carried by wind currents set additional fires, and fire continued unabated until fires ran out of fuel, precipitation extinguished the fire, or temperatures dropped to a point that combustion stopped. We must replicate forest conditions with active management to manageable fire behavior levels.

  2. Wes Melo is right on track!

    As for your question:
    A. I totally agree!
    B. Retardant does not put fires out – neither does water (talking air delivery); without proper canopy density control, it is only an expensive (and risky) air show. A total rebuild of the fire organization and tactics, with an emphasis of more boots on the ground would be a good start! Prescribed fire is always a crap shoot, so I would not build a fuels reduction program with much emphasis on “overland” prescribed burning. Burning piles under snow, or actual biomass utilization is preferable! What we have now, no longer is successful (speaking West of the 100th Meridian).
    C. Agree!
    D. Agree, but the WUI needs to broaden to between three and four miles (depending on site conditions), to increase the successes of suppression of the most destructive fires (mega-fires, I believe is the new “buzzword”).

    • Retardant does not put fires out — no, but it can slow a fire. I hear you — with spotting miles ahead of the fire, retardant isn’t enough. But heavy retardant — say, as the Caldor Fire crossed the Sierra crest — with water drops on the spots…. This might have stopped the fire, or at best slowed it a bit so folks could evacuate.

        • My biggest concern with retardant, Steve, is the unpredictably of delivery. Too high of winds, too much smoke, etc. I agree with the utility it provides but the ground pounders have to available.

          I one got to experience a “field hearing” in Arizona over the Wallow fire. Had it been an earlier time I would have no doubt been lynched! ?. I was prepared for the questioning, and one was a rumor we didn’t use retardant. We used over 40,000 gallons the first day, with two dozers working the fire. I photographed some of the drops; anyway, burned through every inch of ground it was applied……

          • I hear you. Retardant isn’t a silver bullet. But I’m at a loss as to what to do. Can one even slow an unstoppable fire? What we’re doing isn’t working, and maybe nothing will. Can’t give up, though….

  3. I agree on all four points Steve! A combination of all four points is way past due. The annual mass incineration of our overly dense forests and the communities within simply can’t be allowed to continue without a focused effort to allow a change in forest practice, prevention and tactics.

  4. Some difficult questions that should be addressed include, but are not limited to, in no particular order:

    Which species and age classes will be selected for removal and where? Who decides?
    Will the removal of selected species enhance future climate adaptation and resiliency?
    What quantities are to be removed?
    What, if anything, will replace the removed vegetation? Will removal sites require restoration/rehabilitation?
    Can we avoid leaving slash on the ground awaiting its future removal or burning?
    If the unburned slash is retained, will it harbor pests and/or pathogens, or promote future fires?
    Will removals disturb: soils, watersheds, endangered species, transitional seral-stage habitats, aesthetic, recreational, or cultural sites?
    Will removals negatively alter existing microclimates and/or local weather patterns (wind, precipitation, water retention, etc.)?
    Will we accept the unavoidable degradation of creating more roads and the use of heavy equipment when said fuel reductions are performed?
    Can we ensure that non-native and invasive species can be excluded from establishing at removal sites?
    Where will the removed fuels go? Are there any possible uses for it?
    How often will areas with removals need to be revisited for retreatment?
    How much will it cost and who will pay for it?
    Is there any guarantee that vegetation removals will make things better and not worse?


      • Oh, so just ask the “experts,” they have all the answers?

        It seems to me that it will take a gathering of many experts and many stakeholders to address these significant issues, one-by-one; systems thinking will be required. Of course, there will be trade-offs and compromises, for sure, but the questions should be considered in great detail at many levels and worked out on a case-by-case basis; it’s all about conducting risk assessments and risk management. The basic formula is: What do you have? What do you want? How will you get what you want? How will you know when you’ve gotten what you wanted? What are the indicators that should be monitored, and how will you assign criteria to determine if the desired goals have been met, or not. Adaptive adjustments can be implemented (quickly) to correct any actions that are not found to be working. We all need to put our heads together and contribute our expertise and insights; the problems are getting ginormous and there should be a sense of urgency to find solutions to these problems; there’s a lot at stake.

        • Well let’s see; the National Fire Plan started development in 2000, the Cohesive Strategy came out of an Act in 2009. How’s that working? I think we are in worse shape today than in 2000!

          It will take experts, as well as practitioners to address the WUI problem, but as that group fiddles, the West will continue to burn. Action is needed now! I’ve reposted some work done in AZ on Facebook, from Instagram on fire hardening WUI. The rest of course was the Wallow and San Juan fires. The treatments are not for the faint of heart; I think they most resemble an open seed tree silvicultural treatment.

          Acceptance? Ah, mostly; losing 450 structures in the Rodeo – Chedeski fire in 2002 tends to loosen ones desire to not cut trees….

          As for groups, the FS has had the most luck with collaborative SS – such as 4-FRI, but these take time and lots of “love” to keep them moving forward.

          Time is of the essence; if something – on a much broader scale, is not done now, that which is worth saving will be a “futile call”.

      • Sure we can ask them but aren’t they some of the folks who got us into the pickle we’re in?
        In my decade in the USFS, as a non-timber forester, I watched lots of foresters and fuels specialists advocate for aggressive fire suppression to protect timber values! That contributed to fuel buildup.
        We need to ask a wide range of people in order to get to a well informed set of potential actions that consider a broad array of values from water to wildlife to plant communities, etc.
        Gonna take time but hey Smokey and his message have been hard at work for many years so it’s not like we’re going to fix the problem overnight; it was years in the making!
        Maybe it’s time to revise Smokey’s mantra to “Only you can prevent your home, in the WUI, from burning!” Needs a PR person to massage it but you get the idea; it’s the homeowner’s responsibility to fireproof their home.

    • Ironically, Region 5 has been doing all of that in the Sierra Nevada, since 1993. It WOULD be nice if the logging slash could be utilized, instead of burning huge piles on the landings. Many parts of the Sierra Nevada cannot safely be burned in prescribed fires without first reducing fuels. It is Congress who would rather spend money on wildfires than on forest management, in favor of their partisan politics.

      • The NY Times has an article today ($), “To Save Lake Tahoe, They Spared No Expense. The Fire Came Over the Ridge Anyway.”


        What characterizes the megafires of recent years, experts said, is their tendency to launch embers far ahead of the main fire front — sometimes by miles — and for the embers to land on parched terrain that is instantly combustible. This can rapidly expand the perimeter of the fire, which hops over one of the main containment tools: the bulldozed areas, known as fire breaks, that create a line of containment.

        The Tubbs fire in October 2017 jumped over what would normally be considered a formidable fire break — a six-lane freeway — and went on to incinerate 1,200 homes in the residential community of Coffey Park.

        “These spot fires are causing a lot of havoc,” said Craig Clements, a professor of meteorology and the director of the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center at San Jose State University, a group that is modeling the spread of the Caldor fire.

        “There’s just fire all around,” Professor Clements added, “and that makes it very difficult to suppress.” As a measure of how combustible the landscape has become, other scientists have calculated that embers have a 90 percent chance of becoming spot fires once they land.

  5. I looked in Google Earth to see what the South Lake Tahoe CA community looks like. It’s very illustrative to see subdivisions that are carved into the forest with few or no metal roofs visible in the sunlight in the photo. I did the same thing a couple of years ago when another resort area in CA was in the path of a fire. Similar absence of fire proofing measures!,+CA/@38.91601876,-120.01431307,1929.94913903a,2735.74216694d,35y,0h,0t,0r/data=CigiJgokCXYCIsSDxUZAETdWIi1exUZAGe8b8VcFqF7AIUYOhW8nqF7A

    I also looked to see if South Lake Tahoe is in the FireWise Communities program. Only one neighborhood within the city of South Lake Tahoe is participating in FireWise. Here’s a news update I found in Google –

    Meyers, CA Feb 5, 2020 – Residents of the Golden Bear Community have been recognized with a Firewise USA® designation by the National Fire Protection Association, making them the first South Lake Tahoe community to earn this designation.Nov 25, 2020

    Lower Montgomery Estates Community (Golden Bear) – Lake …

    To put South Lake Tahoe’s situation in context I’m going to compare the community to the Covid anti-VAX folks. The Delta variant is raging in the southeast U.S. where many people are unvaccinated and resisting getting vaccinated. The Caldor fire is raging in the Lake Tahoe area where only one neighborhood within the City of South Lake Tahoe is participating in the Firewise Communities program.

    There’s definitely a parallel in my mind: homeowners in South Lake Tahoe know they’re in a fire prone area but they haven’t taken the basic step of becoming a FireWise Community. Just like the anti-vaxxers who are relying on doctors to bail them out after they failed to take personal responsibility, the residents of South Lake Tahoe are expecting federal and state taxpayers to fund fire suppression in their community.

    That’s completely unacceptable!
    The first line of responsibility for protecting a home lies with the homeowner! The city and local fire district would be next in line to reduce the risk of loss of homes.

    I’ll address Steve’s other points later but suffice it to say, I do NOT support large scale logging, on public land, to reduce fuels when the homeowners, and local governments, in WUI are sitting on their thumbs! Their failure to reduce the ignition risk of their homes and communities has consequences as many of them may find out in the coming days; sad but preventable if you make defensible space around a home.

  6. I am always quick with an answer, sometimes not thinking all the way through the issue; that’s on me. In this case, I think you (OldWoodsman) have hit upon a dandy qualifier on forest treatments; of course those on the other side of the line (state and private, and homeowners) need to step up and also do their part.

    Your analysis of South Tahoe is a fantastic example of doing nothing, but expecting someone else to suppress a fire in uncertain conditions.
    Only one Fire Wise subdivision…… shaking my head….

    • No worries Jim, sometimes I react too quickly myself.
      So here’s a question for you and other readers —
      How do we get the homeowners and local jurisdictions to step up? Yup, the entire community of South Lake Tahoe should be FireWise by now!
      And how do we incorporate their role and responsibilty into National Forest planning?
      After some big fires in Colorado about 10 years ago I thought the insurance industry might step in and require fireproofing as a condition of insurance in the WUI. Perhaps some companies already do but that industry has some clout and could make things happen.
      There’s also an element of “it won’t happen here thinking” in how we perceive the natural risks on a landscape. Places that perhaps were a bit less likely to burn under previous climate patterns, etc. may now be much more likely to burn. That requires a change in human behavior to be ready for fire.
      As for spot fires way ahead of main fire, as part of more erratic fire behavior, a key factor is whether or not a windborne ember lands on fine fuels or on something less likely to be ignited by an ember. If it lands in a rain gutter full of dry needles on a house in a subdivision where no fireproofing has been done the likelihood of igniting and losing structures is higher than in a subdivision that’s been fireproofed. IMO we shouldn’t be managing public forests in large part to prevent fires in the WUI; there are too many important values to consider in addition to fuels.

      • >> How do we get the homeowners and local jurisdictions to step up?

        I think the insurance companies are going to take action, such as requiring Firewise compliance, in order to have a policy in a WUI or anywhere near one. They may simply stop writing policies for such homes, but state laws may prevent them from doing so.

  7. I support active thinning of out forests. Loggers could be first responders when a fire happens.
    Loggers start early in the morning hours. They have fire watch and watchmen when they are done for the day. They all have fire fighting equipment on hand. They all radio communications at all times. Having people in the woods is important. We can’t wait for the forest service to show up in the afternoon to assess the fire. (The stories that are told!)
    I have often heard we need more immediate resources and less bureaucracy. We really do need to put the fires out when they start. These are very dry times.
    The timber industry is pretty good at utilization of wood fiber. Thinning sales could pay for themselves.
    I was up the North Umpqua river today on Umpqua National forest ground in an area the burned in the Archie creek fire of last years labor day fires. I don’t think I have ever seen such total mortality of trees in over 20 years of viewing the aftermath of fires here in Oregon. And there is currently thousands of acres more forests on fire not far away. I really fear soon there maybe little left to burn of what was once one of the most beautiful forests in the world.
    If you haven’t been there it hard to imagine the total lost of forest. It is too late to save the forests we have lost but it is not to late to change our actions. These are not normal times and our forests policies and fire philosophy of last 20 years or longer don’t work.
    There is a sign in Glide, Oregon as you are heading up the Umpqua that reads “keep it wild”. I believe it was put there Cascade Wildlands promoting more wilderness area. It might as well say, “burn it up”.

  8. OldWoodsman,

    Many of the homes in the region are tiny little cabins that were built 70-90 years ago in amongst the (mature) forest and many families inherited their cabins from their parents and only use them seasonally. I don’t know if it is appropriate to raise the vaccination topic in regards to this instance. However, your point about creating defensible space using recommended Firewise measures is certainly applicable and should become a priority, at least for continuous residences and communities. It’s something that local authorities will need to address going forward, not just in the Lake Tahoe area.

  9. Steve, I think you left out one important assumption:
    5. The amount of money available won’t be unlimited.
    This should force decisions about prioritizing that would make “including forest management much farther from current WUI zone boundaries” much less likely. If we include the public in that prioritization/planning process, I think they might agree with OW that we shouldn’t be managing public forests in large part (or large parts of public forests) to prevent fires in the WUI.

    • Jon, is there a limit to federal gov’t spending these days?

      I think a large segment of the public may DEMAND that the USFS manage public forests in large part (or large parts of public forests) to prevent fires in the WUI.

      • There is definitely a limit to Forest Service spending – the anti-deficiency act definitely applies.
        The Infrastructure Bill has a lot of potential funding for wildfire/forest management…

        • If the National Forests were being actively managed, as they had been from WW II to the spotted owl, funding would not be a problem. Simply salvaging the dangerous snags that were created during the past 12 months of wildfires would cover costs. Instead, the decision is made to allow the situation to become worse and people to focus on taxpayer funding and the “climate crisis” instead. This is what predictably happens when we allow politicians, lawyers and urban environmentalists to rule our public lands instead of relying on experienced managers. In my opinion.

          • Maybe we should adopt indigenous burning practices and convert it all to grasslands and prairies. Although, even that won’t prevent uncontrolled future fires.

            Maybe we can salvage log it all (i.e., “actively manage it”) and cash in on the windfall, or should I say, “firefall,” and hurry up and put the winnings in the bank to collect interest before it’s too late (e.g., viable salvage period = approx. 2-3 years). Unfortunately, market forces will diminish returns when there’s a glut in the market and profits may be minimal. Hmmm. Decisions, decisions.

            • Salvage efforts on the Dixie and Caldor Fires will be a “Battle Royale” in the courts. Will the courts require an EIS for massive salvage projects? Personally, I think the entire burned areas should be included in any analysis, so that parts of the burn that won’t be salvaged ‘count’ towards the whole of the salvage projects. If those areas aren’t part of the analysis, they do not ‘count’ in court. We will surely see re-burns in those areas, during the next 10 years. How much fuel will those inevitable near-future fires find?

              • I’m not sure how “active management”gets defined as “salvage log it all,” but I agree with Larry that the entire area of a fire needs to be considered before determining how many snags are retained or avoided. So far as “glutting the market,” that might be true, but rural jobs and fuel reduction are also important values associated with salvage logging. Same with road maintenance, wildlife habitat enhancement and improved recreational opportunities. All requiring active management in order to achieve.

                • If by active management, you mean logging, none of these – roads, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities – necessary require that. Of course “maintenance,” “enhancement,” and “improved” strongly imply it, and shows how framing a question can be misleading.

                  • Jon: You are right. By framing “active management” as “logging” you have created a straw man, by how you framed your statement, that is easy to defeat. Which is misleading, as you point out. Obviously, active management is not limited to logging and includes all of the above.

                    • That’s why I qualified it by “if,” which means I was seeking clarification. It’s not hard to read this into your comments about salvage logging, but sorry if I misinterpreted them as support for logging.

  10. I think the public has become less informed about forests and forestry in the last 6 years. When we have Congressmen spouting conspiracy theories about National Forests, it’s pretty clear that the wheels have fallen off. More and more, it seems, “the answer” will be uncontrolled wildfires, in many parts of the west. It’s going to cost a LOT of money, no matter what happens. America seems happy to buy more new engines, airtankers and helicopters, without any sustainable plan. It makes for great photo ops and campaign ads.

  11. Here’s an excerpt from a recent article entitled “We Are Dealing With Fire All Wrong,” by Matt Simmons at The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) in Arcata, California.

    A lot of the money goes to so-called “heavy metal” suppression resources such as dozers and airplanes. But the evidence indicates that these methods are not only financially costly, but environmentally destructive as well,” (and are proving to be ineffectual in many cases).

    One common modern firefighting tool is the construction of dozer lines. A dozer line is constructed by having a bulldozer cut through forests and areas of vegetation. The hope is that the cleared area can act as a containment line for a fire. The problem is that bulldozing through the forest has detrimental ecological impacts. In order to construct a dozer line, all of the surface vegetation is removed and the soils are disturbed. This disturbance permanently damages the environment. Long after vegetation has recovered in areas burned by the fire, dozer lines remain as open wounds, oozing soil and mud into mountain streams. Dozer lines can also become superhighways for invasive plants to colonize new areas of the forest after a fire. Those invasive species, which are often far more flammable than natives, can then ironically make the next fire more severe. Not to mention, dozer lines create unmonitored access routes to our public lands that are often taken advantage of by illegal off road vehicle users and marijuana growers.

    The effectiveness of dozer lines has become a controversial subject with some firefighters arguing that money and lives are being wasted in a fruitless effort. During the 2018 Carr fire, numerous dozer lines were carved into the hills and ridgelines north, south and west of Redding in an attempt to stop the spread of the fire, but almost all of them were breached by flying embers that lofted over the gaps in hot, dry, fast-moving winds. During particularly windy days, fires can spot more than a mile ahead of the fire. Large fires have been known to jump wide barriers including large rivers and wide freeways. In these situations, dozer lines provide little defense. It would be one thing if this technique was used solely to protect people’s homes, but firefighters often bulldoze these lines deep into the hearts of our forests and wilderness areas. This google earth image (see original web article) shows the roughly 700 miles of dozer lines that were constructed while battling the 2020 August Complex.

    Air suppression tactics are another costly fire fighting measure. CAL FIRE and the Forest Service spend millions of dollars fighting fires from the air. In 2020, the federal government and state agencies dropped over 56 million gallons of retardant, which costs on average $3.10 per gallon. Phoschek, the chemical compound most commonly used in fire fighting retardant, is known to be harmful to aquatic life including chinook salmon.

    The final part of the problem is that we’ve continued to expand building homes in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). The Wildland Urban Interface is the area where people’s homes begin to encroach into formerly unoccupied areas. Since 1990, we’ve built a large percentage of all new homes in the WUI. As more and more people live deeper and deeper in undeveloped areas, firefighters are faced with more structures and lives to protect. And protecting those structures and lives gets more difficult. For example, folks who live on narrow, one way roads are incredibly difficult to evacuate during emergencies. Despite knowing that development in the WUI makes fires more damaging to people’s lives and property, the Board of Forestry recently decided to permit even more development in the WUI.

    The fact is that we need to learn to live with fire and that means doing three main things. First, we must let the wildfire cycle return to a more natural state. By letting wildfires burn when they don’t threaten people’s lives and property, and by increasing the frequency of prescribed fires, we can help return the land to a natural cycle of wildfire.”

    • How much of our current forests, including the remaining old growth, are you willing to lose to fire to reach some kind “natural state wildfire cycle”? I assume you realize there are repercussion to most all forest fires. The most obvious being dead trees, lost of forest habitat and a much hotter and drier environment.

      • I think everyone who has been around our forests for any length of time can certify that there is no such thing as a “natural state wildfire cycle.” That is just BS made up by government apologists to cover for their mass failures at managing our forests and related wildfires. Even assuming that such a thing as a “natural state wildfire cycle” actually exists, why should this be promoted as some kind of ideal? People have populated the forests of North America for thousands of years, gathering firewood and setting fires every day. How does that jibe with the “natural fire cycle” story? Of course it doesn’t. It is long past time to move on from this costly and destructive nonsense, in my opinion.

      • Tell the people of Greenville and Taylorsville, California they should learn to live with fire . How about the residents in the Eldorado National Forest including the Tahoe Basin? I believe in prescribed fire if used wisely. I have seen beneficial results. I think that “let it burn policies” are folly–even in the National Parks during this age of Climate Change or whatever term one might use.

        During our current times of drought, one spark in dry, overstocked stands with heavy fuel loads can result in cataclysmic wildfire that destroys watersheds, peoples lively hoods, animal populations, scenic, and recreational resources. The times have changed. There must be long term solutions, but there also must be short term remedies or the Camp, Dixie, Caldor, North Complex, Creek, and other mega fires will continue to be common- place.

    • So who will explain to the folks whose houses are in the path of an approaching fire that a dozer line, which might or might not help, won’t be used because it isn’t environmentally friendly?

      • Steve, as the article reports, when spotting occurs up to a 1/2-mile from the fire and they cross six-lane highways and even large rivers, it’s apparent that dozer lines are not sufficient in many instances and they can be more destructive than helpful; even firefighters themselves are alerting us to this issue.

        • Generally, it’s not a good idea to be installing dozer lines directly when the wind is blowing that hard. Wait until the winds die down and then resume using dozers. Also, it’s not like the dozer is building a mid-slope road. Dozer lines on normal and logical topographic features like ridges, don’t do much damage. A dozer line is usually used to flank a fire, and not to stop the head of a running fire in its tracks.

        • I get it, Michael. I was once a wildland firefighter and I’ve taught wildland fire supression/fire ecology classes for years. In some cases, no suppression tactics will work, in others they will. Depends on the fire, fuels, weather, etc. Sometimes dozer lines are very effective, though they do leave a scar. I wouldn’t advocate a blanket prohibition of using dozers.

    • When a single fire burns 900,000 acres, obviously, more homes and human infrastructure is at risk to almost ALL ignitions. No matter what, uncontrolled fires will dominate the Sierra Nevada for the next 20 years. We can try to mitigate them, or we can accept “Whatever Happens”, including increased human-caused wildfires. With over 85% of wildfires being human-caused, how can we possibly have a “natural cycle of wildfire”?

    • You are painting only a portion of the issue, relying on information not really relevant to firefighting principles….

      Dozer lines work way more often than not. Do they work all the time (using your six lane highway example)? No, in those situations, stand modifications, up to three miles into the general forest area, followed by dozer lines do work, and would have worked.

      Same for retardant; your examples are cherry picked and NOT what most firefighters experience. Do they do damage? Depends on who you ask; a homeowner that has just had their home saved – probably won’t think so. Most dozer lines cannot even be recognized after BAER treatments.

      It is not one single answer, and certainly not a simple answer, but a combination of methods (including heavy, and I mean heavy) biomass removal through commercial timber sales and activity fuels cleanup.

      The defensive strategies by those who advocate for more “natural fire”, whatever that means, and “hands off” commercial timber activities are now being spotlighted as one of the major causes for these tragedies…..

      • I agree with much of what you say. We have a complexity of issues from stand treatment, area treatment, watershed management, environmental and economic issues, along with how we fight fires, and public input. We no longer have a lumber industry infrastructure currently capable of handling large amounts of biomass. There are fewer mills than we had thirty or forty years ago. Logging has been a bad term in the eyes of some. Thinning isn’t much better in the eyes of some groups, yet logging and thinning are necessary tools that must be used to reduce the impact of wildfire, and to promote healthier forests on our public lands. There isn’t one grand solution. I also think it might be time to revisit the mission statements of the USFS, National Park Service and our State Parks, in light of the conditions in country and the Western United States in particular.

  12. Are the cures more harmful than the disease (fire)? Here’s one example from Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, & Ecology (FUSEE) on the destructive and ineffectual use of bulldozers to fight large, wind-driven fires using the Carr Fire as an example:


    Catlines displace soils and destabilize slopes, denude native vegetation and help spread flammable invasive weeds, degrade water quality and closed canopy forest habitat, destroy Native American artifacts and heritage sites, and despoil the scenery of fire-affected wildlands. Using “big iron” bulldozers can cut a lot of firelines quickly and brutally, and in the right places and conditions these catlines can stop wildfire spread. But during extreme conditions that drive large wildfires like the Carr Fire–conditions that are becoming more frequent due to climate change–catlines are becoming increasingly ineffective in stopping wildfire spread.

    [T]he scars of catlines, running atop ridgelines and ringing clearcuts, will remain on the landscape for a long, long time — reminding people of the heroic, but futile, efforts to stop the fire from spreading into town.

    Given the increased frequency of large-scale wildfires and the apparent ineffectiveness of conventional fire suppression methods such as catlines to stop these fires from spreading into communities, it is time to reassess society’s relationship with wildland fire. In particular, bulldozer operators are being asked more often to assume greater risk that hand crews, alone, cannot surmount. At the same time, ecosystems and species that are adapted to wildland fire are facing rapid decline. We must shift the paradigm to ecological fire management with greater ecological fire use.

    Carr Fire CATlines: The Environmental Impacts of Bulldozers in Wildfire Suppression (report)


    • I am sorry but you are cherry picking information to come up with conclusions that are just wrong. A dozer line in generally (one pass), 10’ wide. A shovel and Pulaski hand line is maybe two feet – and that is with lots of time to prep, most of the time they are less than a foot.

      Archeology issues? All feds have archaeologist that walk the proposed cat lines – hopefully before construction, but certainly after. I have never seen much damage to archeological resources die to dozers. Fires are indiscriminate on historical structures; man upon many are destroyed.

      Fisheries folks participate in aerial mapping for retardant exclusion zones, and monitor actual drop locations, biologists already know where T and E species exist.
      75% of the Mexican Spotted Owl population in the southwest has been elongated due to wildfire! We couldn’t log some areas due to PAC’s, but once again, fire took care of that issue!

      On the flame length chart, dozers can work twice the intensity of a hand crew, do ten times (at least) more work in a given production shift. We’ve used dozers in Wilderness; a Regional Foresters call but we did usually have that utility.

      Dozers are here to stay!

    • Well, in the case of South Lake Tahoe, Reuters reports that….

      South Lake Tahoe, the biggest town along the rim of North America’s largest alpine lake in a region renowned as an outdoor recreational hub and world-class ski area, had appeared to be in grave danger 24 hours earlier.

      Its 22,000 residents were ordered to evacuate on Monday – fleeing in a major traffic jam – after flames unexpectedly crested a ridgeline and swept downs toward communities in the lake’s basin.

      Over the next two days, firefighters waged an all-out battle to save South Lake Tahoe and nearby communities, including the smaller, unincorporated village of Meyers, a former trading post and Pony Express station.

      By Wednesday morning, they had “steered the fire away,” Jason Hunter, a spokesman for the Caldor incident command, told Reuters by telephone.

      Hunter said the wind’s direction late on Tuesday through Wednesday morning had helped push flames to the northeast rather than straight north toward Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California-Nevada border.

      “There was a massive amount of heavy-equipment work and structure-protection work along those neighborhoods,” he said.

      • So what should we conclude from the last two paragraphs? I think we got lucky – a different wind direction and the “all out battle” would have been lost. We should be learning that we can only make a difference at the margins (literally). We are in triage mode, where the resources we have need to be targeted at the places we can most likely save (which should be the WUI areas where there is also cooperation on private lands).

        As for the rest of the national forest lands, the overall goal is sustainable ecosystems. Someone needs to decide what that is (during forest planning of course), and then decide whether logging is necessary to get there.

      • There is a 9600 foot minor peak that seems to be pulling the head of the fire into less fuels. It has to cross another canyon before it ascends into the Heavenly Ski Area. The higher peaks reach almost 11,000 feet.

        That Tahoe Valley area has significant lodgepole thickets… ‘naturally’. There are some buffer zones, but we’ll see if those areas will expand after the community makes it through this. It might make sense to try and ‘create’ old growth jeffrey pine forests where those lodgepole stands currently exist (despite the expected ecological trajectory?)

        It might also be a good idea to officially plan for the next 50-year drought event, forest-wise.

    • I remember talking with Hoopa tribal forester once after a fire had threaten their lands. It seemed that a dozer line was a good idea but the Forest Service fire manager was hesitant because it was up against the wilderness. The Hoopa tribal foresters comment was, “you made it wilderness, to the tribe it is all the same.”

    • The Freds and Wrights Fires didn’t slow down the current fire at all. Of course, that’s more about terrain and aspect than fuels. I’ve been all over the Ranger District in my 6 years working there. The north-facing slopes fueled the fire with thickets of white fir and beds of sticks as kindling. The canyons also affected fire behavior, for sure.

      There will be plenty of examples of what worked, and what didn’t. There are no clearcuts beyond Strawberry, but there are some large unmanaged stands that the fire blasted right through. There is also some very thick brush above 4000 feet.

    • Thanks for the 2019 Caples Fire FBAT document link, Roy; the need for in-depth post-fire analyses are more critical than ever these days.

  13. This National Geographic article, “Wildfires in the West are inevitable, but this strategy can help control them: Overgrown forests and climate change are making record-breaking wildfires commonplace, but land managers can “treat” forests to change their behavior during burns” mentions the Caples Rx fire and discusses Southern California Edison’s management of its 20K acres that were burned in the 2020 Creek Fire. Excerpt:

    The power company had a thorough plan to treat most of its key areas by 2022. But in 2020, when they were only about halfway done, the Creek Fire appeared. Even so, when the flames hit those treated areas, “it really helped stop the fire and helped those firefighters keep it at bay,” says Stewart. The fire didn’t stop entirely. But its intensity dropped so much that it could be directed—and with enough time to buy CALFIRE about 24 hours to get in position in the safely cleared areas—to keep the fire from consuming the whole community of Shaver Lake.

    Even “just a little bit of treatment went a long way,” says Stewart.


Leave a Comment

Discover more from The Smokey Wire : National Forest News and Views

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading