I thought that this would be of special interest to TSW readers from SW Oregon. Now everyone might not agree with this approach, but it seems to me that George has some powerful arguments. Also, we can’t forget that keeping large acreages of trees from burning up is good for carbon. It’s a story about a forest which has been successful at keeping wildfires from burning up large areas using an approach that beefs up initial attack. It comes from Wildfire Today in a post by Murry Taylor. Well worth reading, and here’s an excerpt:
During the meeting Merv made it clear that the Regional Forester in Portland was aware and supported this strong IA approach. Dan wanted Chuck and I to also understand that he had had Merv’s full backing as well. And that he had told his crews that he would back them all the way. So, there you have it, the line authority of Supervisor, FMO, and crew leaders backing each other in the decisions they need to make when working fire.
The RRSNF approach: They didn’t depend solely on agency resources but went proactive with contract crews and engines during times of critical fire danger. They prepositioned smokejumpers from both Redmond and the BLM. They had a 20-person rappel crew and one hotshot crew—the Rogue River Shots. Rappel crews from other forests were called in as needed. This was all part of a preparedness Phase One and Phase Two program created and initiated on their own forest that went beyond the regular (Regional and National) preparedness level programs. It involved prepositioning a Type 1 helicopter, a Type 3 helicopter w/module, rappel crews, smokejumpers, engines, water tenders, etc.
As far as those critics who questioned how much money this cost, Merv George Jr. told us: I’ve spent millions on this forest fighting large fires since I got here. So, I’m not averse to spending money up front. One example is when a contract engine responded to and stopped a half-acre fire near Agness that had the potential to go big. If that fire had gone big, those savings alone could have made it all worth it.
As Merv made clear, we all know that fire needs to be returned to the forest landscape. The Rogue River-Siskiyou N.F. is on pace to have a record year with prescribed fire. But fire does NOT need to be there in summers of record low fuel moistures and record high fire danger, or in the hottest times of the year. These fires must be put out early and fast. If they’re not, then you end up facing August with exhausted crews scattered all over the West, people from other areas and maybe even agencies working fire on your turf, and skies filled with smoke so that air resources cannot be used effectively.
When it comes to safety, this is something Merv George Jr. thinks about a lot. It’s a calculated risk to encourage vigorous IA, since it can mean extra exposure early in most fire suppression efforts. Such actions can put people in harms way. But, to hold back and risk a fire growing large where it can really do a lot of damage for a long duration, is not—in Merv’s opinion—the most responsible choice.