Inciweb Wildfire History Lost?

I’ve studied and written about US wildfires for many years. InciWeb, the US government wildfire information system, is a great resource for current fires, but not past fires. Until a few years ago, information about fires over the years was available by searching the site — very helpful for researching past fires. That archive is no longer available, at least not via InciWeb — oly current or very recent fires are listed. I’ve been looking into the 2020 Riverside Fires in Oregon, specifically trying to find out if the cause was determined to be arcing or downed power lines. Can’t seem to find that information anywhere. Only speculation.

Anyone know if that InciWeb archive, or something like it, is available online?

And does anyone know about the Riverside fire? Google tells me that the fire was deemed caused by human activity, but whether or not it was down power lines is unclear. Odd. I’d expect that this information would be easily available.

12 thoughts on “Inciweb Wildfire History Lost?”

  1. As far as I know, the Riverside Fire was started by a campfire. I don’t recall seeing anything about powerlines related to that fire. The Archie Creek Fire, Holiday Farm Fire and Beachie Creek Fire all were powerline related. I am pretty sure I read that information about how the Riverside Fire started on Inciweb.

    When I Googled the 2020 Riverside Fire, this StoryMap from the Mt. Hood NF was listed:
    It states that the fire was first reported near the Riverside Campground. I don’t know if there are powerlines near that Campground or not.

    • I read that about the campfire. But I think I also read that it had been put out. Odd that there’s no definitive cause ID’d, that I can find.

      • I think human-caused ignitions were the catalyst for all of the western Oregon Labor Day Fires, including arson on the Almeda Drive Fire, campfires, and electrical shorts. The actual “cause,” though, is the massive fuel build-ups on federal forestlands, as clearly predicted for more than 30 years.

        The frequency, severity, and extent of these events could be largely mitigated by a return to active management and field-based research, as readily demonstrated by past generations.

  2. Hi Steve: I’ve been absent here for quite a while again while focused in different directions, but I’m glad this particular post gained my attention.

    I had the exact same problem with InciWeb — abrupt change in content and no accessible archive. I had done a significant amount of research on northern California and western Oregon forest fires, since 2014 and including the Labor Day Fires, and had depended on my links to InciWeb maps and content — but nope. And no explanations or reasonable substitutions or even logical conclusions, and especially regarding the principal funding source(s).

    Here’s what I wrote about, and mapped, regarding the Riverside and other Labor Day Fires in western Oregon:

    So far as the Riverside Fire, I tried to videotape its aftermath but was denied access to roads by the USFS for more than a year, and had the same result with Oregon Department of Forestry and access to the fire on their burned Santiam Lands. Otherwise, I was able to document the aftermath of the other eight fires as roads first opened, and have been able to Index four of them and upload them to YouTube:

    With any luck, it will be good to Index and post the other videos as well. Same with being able to constructively consider wildfire mitigation strategies regarding reforestation plans! Definitely not holding breath at this juncture. Other thoughts?

  3. Steve & others – This site is not the best ; but it works fairly well unless you try to download too many fires or the fire is huge (like 2011 Arizona Willow fire). It has good history from 1980s up to a year or two from present; also the developers are responsive to questions. Search is a little annoying (by county or watershed) since they neglected to put either counties or watersheds on their base map. Anyway, all the NIFC data is on this site.

  4. The wildland firefighter channel on YouTube known as “The Lookout” has amazing maps of wildfire history, predominantly in California. Zeke has probably spent 10K hours doing this map work over the course of his consulting career. Some of his maps on his videos show vast areas that have experienced fire in the past few decades, some multiple times since record keeping began. So when it comes to the main run of some California wildfires these days, we now have enough historic data to help us realize that some wildfires are far from wild but predictable in many areas and we know how it’s going to move through, which means we can better prepare ourselves with better land use planning. . .

    Go watch some of his mapping efforts and you’ll clearly see how fire suppression is becoming way less of a problem than it’s been in the past, yet we never seem to look at vegetation management in a comprehensive way because everyone has limited amounts of property ownership and politics and propaganda tends to overide the data as so many competing interests tend to make fighting over property rights more important than sensible land use planning.

    It’s also why us enviros end up with live old growth patches eventually lost to wildfire because the original loggers past those areas up because they were slightly younger stands, often because these were areas that had greater exposure to high intensity wildfire in the past.

    But good luck using science and logic to redefine who owns which property and what the best use for that property is. For example long term protection for forests is best in the lowlands where natural disturbance is less frequent and high wind speeds in the dry season are negligible. But that’s usually private rather than public land so the high priority land that future generations will most benefit from protecting doesn’t ever get protected.

    Likewise, back in the early 90’s I could go into CalFire’s timber planning office and pull out maps that had the outline of all the approved timber harvest plans going back to the 1950’s. But all this data put into one place not only takes a lot of time to document, but it’s too powerful politically and loggers have to ensure long-term cumulative impacts are vague and not clearly defined on areas that they’re proposing to log again.

    When it comes to flooding and public planning however, there’s lots of map work that leads to federal funds to buy out landowners who are living in the most flood prone area, which in the long run is often much cheaper than flood control constructions… Same with mapping out areas that wildland fires burn in most often and buying out those landowners so we don’t have to spend so much money protecting houses in places they should of never been built, but we don’t do that for forestland in the same way we do that for the regularly flooded lowlands.

    And mapping out forest landscapes that burn too often, or have chronic regeneration failure as a means to buyout those landowners is so off the table that data is hard to access and so balkanized that we can barely view it.

    And without expensive ARC GIS software for regular folks who can’t afford it, as well as 10K hours of labor like in Zeke’s maps and CalFire’s old harvest maps we’ll always have our hands tied when it comes to using land use history to define who gets to own what and what kind of land use is allowed.

    Remember when Clinton tried to get congress to fund a National Biodiversity Database and it was killed by republicans thought it would give us environmentalists too much power? We have so much information out there that we can’t put together and use responsibly because of land ownership battles and also politics that leaves any concern for long term biodiversity planning an irrelevant afterthought.

  5. Thanks for all this, Bob — lots to read. I’m looking into the Riverside Fire as a scenario we’ll see again — in my neighborhood — so I want to learn more about it.

    • The map tools are excellent resources. At the moment I’m most interested in the comprehensive info that InciWeb used to provide for past fires. Incident updates, strategies and tactics by the shift or day, fire progression maps, public announcements, and so on.

      • These were wonderful records, and for the reasons you give. I have no idea why they have not been archived and made available to the general public, and particularly those who might be using them for research. This is really bad management of digital records — which are cheap and easy to store — and I am wondering why this simple and logical step wasn’t taken. Gross incompetence? Politics at some level?

        The removal of these records, generated at taxpayer expense, doesn’t make sense. Not sure who is responsible, and have no clues as to “why?”


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