Rural System
 Sustained rural lands; sustained profits

Forest fires are commonplace and widespread. Record setting fires have occurred in 2002 and expert fire fighters and fire management planning are needed. Lightning starts many fires, but people start others accidentally and some 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. Use of managed fire is appropriate only under very special conditions. 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. 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.

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. Coordinating local federal, county, city, and state activities, using research results, and controlling costs is badly needed.

To control its destructive forces, effective fire fighting is needed. To prevent and suppress human-caused fires, effective behavioral change is needed. Effective partnerships are needed, and information, tools, and processes need to be adequately and consistently funded. 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 unstable agencies 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. 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. 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 Rural System, Inc.

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.

The Fire Force is a group for diverse fire prevention, control, and management 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. The Fire Force will not only provide a sophisticated fire fighting crew 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.

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 the total system score.
5. Allowing fires to burn if they increase the system score.
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.
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.
11. Demonstrating at local shows and events the attacks of simulated wild 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.
12. 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.
13. Responding to agency reductions in force that have produced a need for experienced staff.
14. Improving building materials, grounds maintenance, paint, structure shape and surfaces, all tested and developed to affect fire occurrence, magnitude and losses. They employ a specialized system of firebreaks.
15. 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."

16. Mapping past fires.
17. Creating predictive models of fire spread.
18. Experimenting with fire-lines (e.g., use of leaf blowers) and superior equipment systems developed.
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. Emphasizing air quality (all aspects) especially smoke management in prescribed burning. 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.
22. 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.) 23. Making ecotourism displays or events for their potential (education, attraction, trail work, fire breaks, the "experience factor," etc.).

This Fire Force includes a "hot shot" fire-fighting group (similar to ones already existing in the West) 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 Rural System, Inc. - 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 of a total fire system 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 Rural System, Inc. 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 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 staff 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 region, 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 at profit. (Insurance and protection values seem incalculable.)

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

Events Overtake Efforts to Bolster Wilderness Firefighting Forces
by Stephen Barr

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.

See: Native Forest Network for Primer to Help Homeowners and Communities Protect Themselves from Wildfire. The Primer presents proven methods based on Forest Service research.

See National Historic Lookout Register and Forest Fire Lookout Association. Consider tourism, GPSence , and viewscape connections. Keith Argo (formerly of Tech faculty, founded the registry in 1990.

Development costs for equipment and staff, high, are well-distributed by staff and training activities throughout Pivotal-Rig, Inc. groups. They are estimated at $250,000.


Hotshots always alert in their line of duty

Fighting firefighers: Serves nation in natural disasters; makes forests healthier


When the Midewin Hotshots are called from one end of the country to the other to put out a forest fire, they're well-prepared.

"This group of highly-trained firefighters has to be in excellent physical condition to put in the 16 hours a day they may spend on the job", said Squad Boss James R. Sullivan.

"We do a lot of running on rugged terrain. That's why physical training is very important," said Sullivan, who is in charge of the group's physical training.

"What motivates me is the ability to work outdoors, all over the country," Sullivan said. "I, along with the others, also enjoy helping out society when there is a need, whether it is a wildfire, fuels reduction project, national disaster relief or just by restoring the (local) Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie to its original vegetative type and ecosystem.

"I lucked into becoming a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, but once I started, I knew it was the job for me," Sullivan added.

His enthusiasm for his work is shared by the others in the Hotshots, several of whom spoke about their work to the St. Rose Council of Catholic Women in Wilmington recently. Jerry Hoffman is assistant superintendent of the Hotshots, Vance Hazelton is saw boss, and Tom McLeod is senior firefighter and supply officer.

Their superintendent is Lito Contreras, who is retiring in February. Two seasonal medical personnel are paramedic Jared Bruske and emergency medical technician Dan Ross.

There are two mods, with nine firefighters per mod. Sullivan's crew is in A Mod. Brad Hall, senior for B Mod, is in charge of vehicles. Another Hotshot, Mike Finch, is lead chain saw.

Safety is paramount in the minds of this dedicated group, who work for the United States Forest Service. They spend two weeks of critical training, with two hours of physical training a day.

"Besides serving the nation in natural disasters, the Hotshots also make forests healthier with prescribed fires," said Hoffman.

"It's the wave of the future," he said.

"We cut down trees, to make it safe for people, keeping the trees off the roads," pointed out McLeod.

"Plants love fire," Hoffman added.

They use ATVs to patrol the line of fire and leaf blowers to construct that line.

Eight-thousand acres were on fire in the Apalachicola National Forest at Tallahassee, Fla., when the Hotshots got there.

"By the time we left, 23,000 acres burned out," said Hazelton. "It did part of the burning they were going to anyway."

They went to the Superior National Forest during June to secure the area, Hazelton said. McLeod, who also is the camerman for the Hotshots, said they had to take canoes for portage to get around in Minnesota's lakes.

During their midsummer break they worked at Midewin for prairie restoration, brush cutting, constructing signs. They spent a little free time in Chicago to take a break from stress.

Then they were off near the end of July to the Pot Peak fire at Chelan, Wash., Wenatchee National Forest to do a large burnout.

"We drive our trucks to the fire, whether it is in Florida or Indiana," Sullivan said. "However, once we drive to fires out West, we tend to fly commercial to and from our vehicles due to time constraints."

Hoffman said they normally set up fire camp in schools, turning it into a mini city.

"Communications are non-stop," Sullivan said.

The Pot Peak fire capped at 30,000 feet.

"When the fire starts out like that, we let it go. The wind was 40 mph. Not one tree is worth our losing our lives," he said.

At Sisi Ridge in Glacier National Park in Washington, the fire came out of nowhere.

"We took a two-hour boat ride, 20-minute helicopter ride. Sisi is extremely steep and deep," Sullivan said.

"When we flew in, there was snow everywhere, glaciers," said Hoffman. "Trees around here are dwarfs compared to those. We completely eliminated the brush."

They worked 16 hours a day for 14 days straight on the Fischer fire Aug. 10-24 in Leavenworth, Wash. The plume dominated the fire. It was predicted the fire would be over in five days. Actually, they spent the first five days running to safety zones. They tried to burn out the fire. Then the next five days, they backed off a couple of miles trying to get ahead of the fire. The ember imploded a half-mile away.

McLeod said this was the first year for them to wear fire-resistant pants, which won't stop the heat, but they won't burn. The Hotshots carry two gallons of water with them and wear white hard hats.

During their stay Aug. 29-Sept. 7 at Willamette National Forest, McKenzie Bridge, Ore., they stacked sticks and make Smokey fire-prevention signs.

From Sept. 14 to 28 at Superior National Forest, they prepared for future burnouts and put in sprinkler systems.

Hoffman said they also clean up the forest floor. Trees that are already there become stronger for available timber.

All of the Hotshot firefighters are staying in the immediate area Wilmington, Coal City, Diamond and Plainfield campgrounds.

At Midewin they have a separate building to store fire engines and gear. Hoffman said they work with local fire departments to assist in fighting wildfires in the area.

The Hotshots are always alert to the dangers in their job. In April, Allen Toepke was involved in an accident in which he was lost.

Anyone can contribute to the Wildland Firefighter Union 42 Club, which helps families of fallen firefighters. The computer address for the non-profit organization is


See National Fire Plan ____

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