Report: Prior fuel treatments ineffective at moderating Fourmile Canyon Fire

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station has just released an August 2012 study titled, “Fourmile Canyon Fire Findings.”   We’ve discussed the 2010 Fourmile Canyon wildfire outside of Boulder, CO a few times before on this blog, including this post from Andy Stahl titled, “Fourmile Canyon Fire Report Confirms Firewise.”

Here’s an excerpt from the Rocky Mountain Research Station’s abstract to their new study:

“Fuel treatments had previously been applied to several areas within the fire perimeter to modify fire behavior and/or burn severity if a wildfire was to occur. However, the fuel treatments had minimal impact in affecting how the fire burned or the damage it caused….This report summarizes how the fire burned, the damage it caused, and offers insights to help the residents and fire responders prepare for the next wildfire that will burn on the Colorado Front Range.

On Tuesday, Bob Berwyn wrote this article for the Summit County Citizens Voice titled, “Report: Wildfire mitigation work largely ineffective in moderating Fourmile Canyon Fire.” Below are some excerpts from Mr. Berwyn’s article:

A report on the 2011 Fourmile Canyon Fire will probably raise more questions than it answers for firefighters and land managers, concluding that, in some cases, the ferocious fire near Boulder may have burned more intensely in treated areas than in adjacent untreated stands.

That may have been due to the relatively high concentration of surface fuels remaining after treatments, as well as the higher wind speeds that can occur in open forests compared to those with denser canopies, Forest Service researchers concluded in the report published last month….

The report also concluded that beetle-killed trees had “little to no effect on the fuels within the area burned by the Fourmile Canyon Fire, the fire’s  behavior, or the final fire size,” explaining that crown fires are “driven by abundant and continuous surface fuels rather than beetle-killed trees.”….

In the end, the report found no evidence that fuel treatments changed the progression of the Fourmile Canyon Fire, and that the treated areas were “probably of limited value to suppression efforts on September  6.” Large quantities of surface fuels in the treatment area also rendered them ineffective in changing fire behavior.

Satellite photos taken after the fire clearly showed that the fire burned just as intensely inside treatment areas as it did in adjacent untreated stands. In some cased, the fire appears to burned more intensely in treated areas, the investigators said, explaining that additional surface fuels, as well as higher wind speeds, may have been factors….

[T]he report once again calls for a change of approach — instead of increasing expensive fire protection capabilities that have proven to strategically fail during extreme wildfire burning conditions, efforts should be focused on reducing home ignition potential within the immediate vicinity of homes, the investigators concluded.

Certainly one new study about one wildfire isn’t the be-all, end-all. However, how does the new research and scientific findings coming from a comprehensive look at the Fourmile Canyon Fire mesh with the constant drum-beat supporting logging for “fuel reduction” and “thinning” we see coming from some quarters at this very blog?