Sustained forests; sustained profits

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Forest fires are commonplace and widespread. Many are started by lightning but others are started by people accidentally and by arson. The fires can be viewed as threats to life, health, and welfare. Other views are available such as those about ecosystem functions, monetary loss, and community collapse. Fire control is essential. Fire prevention is needed, but little is done. Recently-gained knowledge about wildland fire acknowledges fire is natural and needed for certain types of plant and animal communities to survive. Plant species extinction is certain unless there is fire (see The Plant People). Fuel build-up resulting from fire prevention has resulted in changed conditions and hotter, more destructive fires than ever occurred in nature. There has been recognized that in well-analyzed areas, fires of particular types need to be prescribed. Fire can be a powerful tool, in fact the only tool available to meet certain wildland needs. It may be the only force in nature that meets certain natural system requirements (those systems having evolved with fire). In other cases, it is the only one that can be used cost effectively to achieve the changes needed over broad areas (Fischer 1984). Each fire, no matter how it starts, needs to be assessed in terms of land conditions, management objectives, treatment potentials, resource values, costs, and potential damage.
This awesome picture was taken in Bitteroot National Forest in Montana on August 6, 2000. The photographer, John McColgan, is a fire behavior analyst from Fairbanks, Alaska. He took the picture with a digital camera. Because he was working at the time he took the picture, he cannot profit from it. My thanks to him for sharing it.

Fire is difficult to discuss, for it seems to be a natural human enemy and destructive. It may be a powerful human tool and, used properly, the only way to achieve creatively desired future wildland conditions.

To control its destructive forces, effective fire fighting is needed. To prevent and suppress human-caused fires, effective behavioral change is needed. To use fire, knowledgeable experts need to prescribe it accurately in time and space. All of this needs to be done cost-effectively and skillfully within the changing laws and mores of this society.

It cannot be done by a single unstable agency or by inexperienced people or without a growing knowledge base. Knowledge will not grow at the rates needed from classical scientific studies, but by new efforts at creating expert systems and by developing a select, well-trained team of specialists with modern tools and technology and integrating the knowledge of wildland fires so hard-won by past researchers and fire-fighters. The new wildlands, often intermixed with human settlement, create complex problems that require computer-supported decision making.

To achieve some of the above concepts, to meet some of the needs, and to expand to address problems and needs not yet clearly seen, the Fire Force needs to be created.

Fires occur naturally and people have brought fire under control for useful purposes. When fires occur that are not under control, they are called wildfires and, in addition to being harmful, such fires "touch off a basic frustration with nature." People generally believe that they have taken possession of fire and therefore control it, but then a wildfire that lasts for months snatches that authority away. The Fire Force is an expression of how wildfire will be prevented or controlled for maximum long-term benefits to people. It reduce the deaths, property damage, fire fighting costs, and frustrations that occur when people lose control.

This paper outlines the general objectives and constraints of operating a total fire management system. The inputs and processes are treated briefly and are described in other documents. How to address future needs, not a projections of the needs themselves, is a part of this developing concept. Adaptive mechanisms are proposed for keeping the Fire Force vital and responsive to changing conditions and knowledge about fire and its role in achieving the objectives of the Lasting Forests.

The Fire Force is a diverse fire prevention, control, management, and use group for the Forests, other ownerships, and throughout the region. Its objectives are:

  1. To reduce to a standard estimated financial loss (current rates; 50-year horizon) from fires of all types
  2. To reduce to zero annual personal injuries and loss of life from fires
  3. To reduce costs of prevention and suppression of fires
  4. To reduce to a minimum-standard the number of reported fires requiring official suppression response
  5. To develop an ecosystem response simulation model and fire behavior prediction model for the region.
  6. To develop skillful prescriptive fire applications

Intensive use of GIS and GPS will enhance our new work and provide an opportunity for world-class demonstrations of practical GIS use.

Many Army Rangers and Navy Seals can be recruited for this work and a select team with the attitudes and experience of these forces will allow a fire-fighting force with daily education ("learning the plays"), team building, and a high calling to be successful where others have failed.

Prescribed fire is an essential part of the future of the Lasting Forests. Lightning fires are a given factor, a natural part of the Forests' history. The Fire Force will not only provide a sophisticated fire fighting drew for the land, but will create a fire system, one that (1) uses fire creatively, (2) prevents fires, (3) serves other landowners for a fee, (4) serves other resource areas presently owned, and (5) conducts education and demonstrations for visitors to the Forests.

Planning elements include:

  1. Using fire as a management tool.
  2. Making decisions about each fire, natural or prescribed; treat each as a unique entity. Forests are not classified as natural, wild, controlled, or prescribed. Each is unique.
  3. Using fires to achieve objectives of the area.
  4. Suppressing fires that result in new losses in R value.
  5. Allowing fires to burn if they increase R value.
  6. Suppressing fires that threaten life, cultural resources, physical facilities, success in endangered species management or are likely to incur high future suppression costs.
  7. Suppressing lightning-caused or "natural fires" in wilderness or natural areas when soil moisture and conditions will not develop the high-intensity fires needed to cause stand replacement or the low-intensity fires capable of removing fuel loads.
  8. Developing grazed firebreaks where possible.
  9. Integrating existing software.
  10. Developing computer aids for the field force.
  11. Working with insurance agencies to improve corporate profits and improve citizen rates. This includes fire prevention, building codes, inspections, education and incentives and other strategies.
  12. Demonstrating at local shows and events, attacks fires. The crew trains regularly, works on trails, and engages in physical-conditioning sports that promote the region, Novosports, and the Security and Safety Force.
  13. Using a vast literature on fires and fire fighting developed by the U.S. forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. A planned series of consultations with recently retired members of the BLM and U.S. Forest Service will capture some of the knowledge of that depressed group of people.
  14. Responding to agency reductions in force (RIF's) that have produced a need for experienced staff.
  15. Improving building materials, grounds maintenance, paint, structure shape and surfaces, all tested and developed to affect fire occurrence, magnitude and losses.
  16. Designing and maintaining structures to reduce fire hazards and fire spread (Moore 1981). residents escaping urban America have fueled one of the nation's highest growth rates--and posed a dilemma for firefighters faced with protecting them from the inevitability of wildland fires.

    The result, fire officials said, is that firefighters facing furious wildfires in 13 states have had to deploy resources around the increasing number of rural residential developments and leave most of the wildland fires not threatening homes to burn--perhaps for months.

    "It's very simple. We do not have sufficient resources to protect structures and take containment action on the fires," Steve Frye, incident commander for the massive complex of fires burning south of Darby, Mont., said over the weekend.(August,2000) "One of the take-home messages is that development in the urban-wildland interface has complicated significantly the job of fighting large wildland fires."

  17. Mapping past fires.
  18. Creating predictive models of fire spread.
  19. Experimenting with fire-lines (e.g., use of blowers) and superior equipment systems developed.
  20. Emphasizing prescribed burns. These burns will be well planned, legal, and will be done on contract but also with education and demonstration. These can be exciting memorable events and key moments of learning. They can be tied to succession, wildlife relations, and watershed management.
  21. Working with arsonists, giving attention to work forces and unemployment and strategies used to intercept or prevent such action. Threats, displays of force, and drama involving what happens to arsonists may be considered. Period (annual) displays of equipment and action-packed work will be made at schools and county meetings.
  22. Emphasizing air quality (all aspects), especially smoke management in prescribed burning. Wildfire "let burn" strategies relative to costs and consequences will be studied and tested for application.
  23. Developing models (with GIS base). Comprehensive ecosystem response to fire over time will be part of the studies. We seek knowledge of fire so it can be used with surgical precision to achieve computer-aided decided conditions over time (50 years). All are related needs in other units, e.g., wildlife, forestry, watersheds, and recreation.
  24. Working with the courts to develop a "community service" function. Working with convicted people in meaningful activities may provide new experiences and positive effects for them.
  25. Making ecotourism displays or events for their potential (education, attraction, trail work, fire breaks, the "experience factor", etc.).
This Fire Force is a U.S. Army Ranger-U.S. Navy Seal-"Mission Impossible" type group. Personnel and leaders are a "hot shot" fire fighting group (already known) but much more. They train daily, not only physically but also in all of the realms of fire - prevention, control, prescriptions, effects analyses, ecology, modeling, behavioral change, arson, air pollution, smoke control, and climatic relations.

The group meets the profound requirements of the Lasting Forests- to understand its past and to re-shape it for meeting the future needs. It may soon provide fire-fighting service, flying anywhere within a region to meet needs for large or critical fires.

They provide an educational and demonstration crew for people who come to learn the Lasting Forests total fire system, the Fire Force, and to gain continuing involvement and membership (education, service, staff training, demonstrations, research findings, computer software, arson work, sources and select equipment supply, consultation, internet service, and others). The educational and service functions fill the previously unmet problems of "seasonal work" for superior fire-fighters. Within Lasting Forests there are unlimited needs for meaningful physical work of some of the staff (e.g., trail building and maintenance, patrols, surveys and inventories, equipment development, experimental burns, etc.).

Fire Breaks

There is always the danger of fire in the forest. Fire prevention efforts have been notably successful but there is still the threat of vandals, arsonists, and, as always, lighting-caused fired.

Fire breaks are a trivial aspect of a complex fire system, but here notes are presented to suggest a level of detail in planning, policy, educational materials, and programs needed for many, many components of the Fire Force. FIRE04, mentioned in this section, is an example of a DOS program already available for estimating potential firebreak lengths in select, high-hazard areas. There are many programs in the public domain that we shall plan to acquire, modify, and integrate to make them useful in the field.

Fires can be used successfully to control understory vegetation, prepare a seedbed, selectively remove species, and develop wildlife forage.

To help control unwanted fires and to position and control desired fires, it is useful to have created a system of fire breaks.

Forest roads or trails can serve as fire breaks and they need to be included in the area plan. They need to be on the contour to reduce chances for erosion as well as to stop fires as they tend to move uphill with upward moving ground winds.

The fire break can be a "brush hog" - mowed strip or a grazed/mowed grass strip. Trails may serve as fire breaks and be no more than a disk-width wide.

They should be prepared in winter or early spring as time permits. Roadside clearing or brush-hogging a swath through a recently cut area or fallow field is all that is needed. Existing fire breaks can be cleaned of tall vegetation by using a disk. Crossing fallen trees can be removed to prevent fire jumping the lane.

These lanes need to be put in a mowing-disking rotation of about 3 years. Vary the grass-clover seeding mix in shaded and exposed areas. These fire breaks are not lost from production, but are the backbone of foraging and nesting for game and songbirds included in the profit-producing potentials of most lands. These fire breaks are, in proper perspective and intensively managed, are faunal lanes that also serve as fire breaks.

In some areas (steep, high fuel load, areas with past fire experience, those with high risks), it make sense to create a wide lane. This can be readily done (with extra wildlife advantage) to put in parallel fire breaks about 10 feet apart. On a low-fire danger day, late in winter when the soil is moist, the middle area can be burned out. This gives a wide, fuel-less area.

1967 Forest Fire from Havens WMA tower by G. SmythA hexagonal (bee-hive) pattern of fire breaks or faunal lanes will enclose the most area for the least costs. A perfect pattern will not be possible or desirable, but a close fit will achieve the desired objectives at least cost. Our tentative recommendation is to attempt to enclose 2-5 acre tracts in primate areas. The approximate length of fire breaks needed can be computed on FIRE04.

Fire Force profits and its continuance are found in:

Egging et al. (1980) said that fire is a factor often overlooked in planning for managing wildland resources. "It can be either devastating to or supportive of a planned management strategy." They claimed that fire considerations should be woven throughout the entire wildland system, including how they may influence the future system. The Fire Force is proposed as an effective means to assist in shaping that future and being creatively responsible to the future system.

The Fire Force, to our knowledge, does not exist. Based on our experience in the military, in fire fighting, in land management, in ecological research, and in computer applications, it is needed and it can be created. It can "harvest" the investments of equipment developers, programmers, and scientists over the past 75 years. Over an area the expected size of the Lasting Forests, prescribed fire is needed to shape the area and achieve certain objectives consistently for 200 years. Also, effective fire control is needed, maintaining a superior, elite "waiting crew" is expensive and difficult. In the system proposed, the crew is learning, training, staying physically "ready", assisting in other Forest operations, and educating groups - all at "break-even" or (we believe within 5 years) at a profit.

Development costs.......$200,000

Expected 5-year profits....$200,000

(Insurance and protection values are incalculable.)

A copied article from the Federal Diary, August 11, 2000, suggesting the relevance of the above proposed group:

Events Overtake Efforts to Bolster Wilderness Firefighting Forces

by Stephen Barr

Page B02

Five years ago, after a tough season of wildfires, U.S. Forest Service planners looked for ways to improve and expand the agency's firefighting ability. As one of their more ambitious goals, the planners called for 75 percent of the agency's work force to be trained and available to help out during fire emergencies by 2000.

It turned out to be an unrealistic goal.

There are no easy explanations for why the Forest Service missed its goal, which was set well before agency planners found themselves confronting this year's blazes--in the worst wildfire season in 50 years. (Halfway through the fire season, more than 4 million acres have burned at a cost of $325 million.)

But a few factors suggest why the Forest Service, as well as other agencies responsible for wilderness firefighting, are short of experienced hands.

The Forest Service work force dropped by 21 percent from 1991 to 1998. It was one of numerous federal agencies caught up in budget cuts and downsizing. That meant fewer employees in timber programs, which historically supplied trained volunteers for firefighting duties.

Over time, the Forest Service work force has started to gray. By last year, 57 percent of employees were 45 or older. That has put a large number of employees within range of retirement, particularly those eligible for a firefighter retirement at age 50.

Some Forest Service officials also think the "culture" of the agency has changed. Fewer employees want to work on the fire line, sleep in the dirt and breathe smoke day after day. Some are single parents, who must care for their children, and others prefer to keep their weekends free for recreation and family.

In addition to a smaller and older work force, the Forest Service, a part of the Agriculture Department, faced problems common to the public lands management agencies in the Interior Department.

Al Hyde, a Brookings Institution scholar who has studied federal firefighting agencies, said a large percentage of new hires have been 35 or older, which means they cannot be placed in fire teams and trained to lead "initial attack" crews.

The firefighting agencies also have been hampered by lengthy training cycles, Hyde said. Training for senior fire management positions, particularly commanders, can take 12 to 17 years. That makes it exceedingly difficult for even dedicated employees to move up the career ladder.

Harry Croft, deputy director for fire and aviation management at the Forest Service, said the agency hopes to hire 500 "new fire peoplequot; annually for three consecutive years, starting in 2002, to improve staffing and offset anticipated retirements.

Croft, Hyde and others plan to issue a report in October outlining long-term solutions that firefighting agencies can pursue to solve staffing problems.

For the short term, the Forest Service and Interior Department are working up a proposal for President Clinton, who requested recommendations by Sept. 6 on how to reduce fire threats.

The coming reports probably will underscore the evolving demands on firefighters. More and more Americans live near fire zones, and the fire season keeps getting longer. Federal firefighters respond to blazes in February and March in Florida, then move on to Texas and the Southwest in early spring. After the summer fires in the Mountain States, the crews gear up for California blazes, which pop up from August through October.

In some cases, managers are reluctant to give up their fire crews for long periods to help fight blazes in other states, because they do not want to be short-handed if a fire breaks out in their immediate area.

"There are a lot more priorities and a lot less bench strength to do this than in the past," Hyde said.

Another news article August, 2000 suggests the staffing problem:

Retirees To Help Fight West's Blazes

.c The Associated Press


MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, Colo. (AP) - Leaving behind their golf clubs and fishing gear, hundreds of former rangers and foresters are coming out of retirement this summer to battle the blazes raging across the West in the worst wildfire season in 50 years.

"It's either this or canning peaches at home," said 53-year-old Joe Colwell, a retired ranger from Hotchkiss, Colo., who returned to duty when a fire broke out at Mesa Verde National Park, America's largest archaeological preserve. "I hate sitting around when there is a lot of action."

The retirees are joining hundreds of Army soldiers called in to help at a time when the firefighting ranks are stretched thin across the West. "We have significant holes to fill," said Mike Lohrey, incident commander at the Mesa Verde fire.

As of Monday, 82 blazes were burning in 13 states and 25,000 firefighters were on the job, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. At least 4.3 million acres have burned across the West since the spring.

Records aren't kept on how many retirees return to duty. Some retirees come back every year. But the number has increased this year because of the severity of the blazes. At least a dozen retirees were helping at each of 79 fires Monday, according to the fire center.

Most of the retirees on duty are in their 50s - generally, the minimum retirement age for government foresters is 55 - and most work in support roles, transporting supplies, running base camps and ferrying firefighters to and from the front lines.

Colwell, for example, helped answer questions from the media. Retired forester Bob Elliott, 56, of Bend Ore., is a logistics chief who orders supplies for fire crews, such as food, poles, picks and fire-retardant shirts. At Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, where fires have scorched more than 200,000 acres, a retiree is assigned to help project which direction the flames may travel and at what intensity.

To return, the retirees must prove their endurance by passing a physical test less strenuous than the one young firefighters must take. A few retirees can work on the fire lines if they pass the more rigorous test, which includes carrying a 45-pound pack for three miles in 45 minutes.

Government cutbacks in recent years have made experienced wildfire managers a rare commodity.

"We usually think, "Gosh, who used to do that?"" said Rick Oberheu of the Montrose Interagency Fire Management Office in Colorado. "When we have a need, we think of who used to do those things and then we call him."

Oberheu said that his usual list of two retirees willing to come back has grown to five in the past two weeks.

Elliott nearly left his daughter's wedding to help battle the Los Alamos, N.M., wildfire that destroyed more than 200 homes in May. But he said his family would have been so mad, "I might as well have just stayed down there."

In June, however, he signed up for a Type 1 crew - one of 16 crews across the country that mobilize at a moment's notice to fight fires anywhere in the nation - and was sent to Mesa Verde earlier this month.

At Bitterroot, forest supervisor Rod Richardson has asked the local retiree association for a list of those willing to help.

"Most folks have anywhere from 15 to 30 years of fire experience," Richardson said. "There is a really well-experienced resource out there."

James Freeman, 73, president of the Northern Rocky Mountain Retiree Association, said he is having trouble finding people among his group's 300 members because those able to help are already working fires.

The retirees "know everything it takes to run a fire, and when the smoke slags through the valley, the old fire horse has to respond," he said.

Many of those who volunteer do so out of a sense of duty after spending most of their lives protecting the forests, retirees said. "It's just like baseball and apple pie," Elliott said.

On the Net: National Interagency Fire Center: Forest Service: AP-NY-08-14-00 1421EDT Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.

Literature Cited

Andrews, P.L. 1991. Use of the Rothermel Fire Spread Model for fire danger rating and fire behaviour prediction in the United States. In: Cheney, N.P.; Gill, A.M., eds. Conference on bushfire modelling and fire danger rating systems: Proceedings; 1988 July 110-12; Canberra, Australia. Yarralumla, Australia: CSIRO Division of Forestry: 1-8.

Daubenmire, R. 1968. Ecology of fire in grasslands p. 209-266, in J.B. Cragg (ed.) Advances in ecological research, Academic Press, London.

Egging, L.T., R.J. Barney, and R.P. Thompson. 1980. A conceptual framework for integrating fire considerations in wildland planning. U.S.D.A. For. Serv. Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Research Note INT-278, Ogden, UT; 11pp.

Fischer, W.C. 1984. Wilderness fire management planning guide. U.S.D.A. Forest service, Gen. Tech Report INT-171, Intermountain Forest and Range Exp. Station, Ogden, UT; 56pp.

Flatman, G.T. and T.G. Storey. 1979. Decision techniques for evaluating fire plans using FOCUS simulation. U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Res. Paper PSW-338, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Exp. Station, Berkeley, CA; 6pp.

Kozlowski, T.T. and C.E. Ahlgren. 1974. Fire and ecosystem. Academic Press, New York.

Moore, H.E. 1981. Protecting residences from wildfires: a guide for homeowners, lawmakers, and planners. U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Exp. Station, Gen. Tech. Report, PSW-50, Berkeley, CA 44pp.

Wright, H.A. and A.W. Bailey. 1982. Fire ecology: United States and Southern Canada. John Wiley and Sons, N.Y.; 501 pp.

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Last revision May 26, 2001.