Rural System's

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 arsonists. 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. Firefighting costs are skyrocketing as more people build in the wildland-urban interface. Between 1980 and 1999, about 8.4 million new homes were built in that zone and building continues. 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

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- 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 un-met problems of "seasonal work" for superior fire fighters. Within Rural System 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 Fire fighting 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(a pdf file). 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.

See Fire Plan for the vacation home and rural home owner.

See Fire Ecology (Virginia)

See BlueSky software for smoke patterns likely from major fires available from the Pacific Northwest Research Station (US Forest Service Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory)

See the Encyclopedia of Southern (Forest) Fire Science

See National Fire Plan

10:00 PM PST on Saturday, March 13, 2010 By BEN GOAD and DUG BEGLEY

The Press-Enterprise Better pay and benefits and increased legal protection for the nation's federal firefighters are needed to help reign in the increasing costs of battling wildfires across the country, say proponents of a bill making its way through Congress.

Compensating firefighters for all the time they spend at fire scenes and extending year-round health benefits to part-timers would help curb defections from the agency, they say. By strengthening its own ranks, the bill's supporters say, the Forest Servicewould have to rely less on costly assistance from local and state fire departments.

Additionally, the legislation seeks to recognize the dangerous nature of firefighters' work by changing their titles from "forestry technician" or "range technician" to "wildland firefighter." It also would raise the mandatory retirement age from 57 to 65 in an effort to keep more veterans within the agency.

"If we can retain some of the younger folks that have been hopping ship, and we can keep some of that brain trust around for a few more years, we have a better opportunity to fill in the missing gaps of those federal resources," said Casey Judd, business manager for the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association, which represents federal firefighters nationwide. In 2008, there were more then 2,000 federal firefighters in Southern California, according to a U.S. Forest Service report. Local residents said a strong fire protection system is critical, and that includes having veteran firefighters ready to battle blazes on the vast swaths of federal land in the Inland area.

The pay changes would begin in a trial program expected to cost about $25 million over three years. Based on the trial, officials would assess whether it saves money; the hope is that the extra pay and benefit costs would be more than offset by savings related to the reduced dependence on other fire agencies, supporters said. Outside agencies have negotiated lucrative contracts to assist the Forest Service firefighters on federal land, Judd said. The contracts often include administrative fees and the cost of housing contract firefighters in hotels, while Forest Service crews sleep in tents in makeshift fire camps, he said.

Federal firefighting costs have risen steadily in recent years, now totaling about $1.5 billion annually. In 2008, the government had to transfer $260 million from other accounts to cover firefighting. Officials expect firefighting to consumer more than half of the Forest Service's discretionary budget by fiscal year 2011-12. Introduced in January, the pay and benefits bill now sits before several House subcommittees, and it remains unclear how soon it might move forward. Judd spent much of the past week in Washington to drum up support and identify senators willing to take up the cause. Forest Service spokesman Joe Walshsaid officials in Washington are assessing the legislation and have yet to take a position.

reversing the trend

The Forest Service's difficulties keeping firefighters have been well documented in federal reports and congressional hearings in recent years. In 2007, for example, nearly half of the agency's first-year firefighters in Southern California, 46.6 percent, resigned at the end of the year, according to a 2008 Forest Service report. The San Bernardino National Forest was among those hardest hit. "We hired a lot of Forest Service guys because we had better benefits," said Gerry Newcombe, a former San Bernardino City Fire Department chief.

Lawmakers and Forest Service officials have tried to slow the exodus. For example, federal firefighters in California receive a 10 percent annual pay bonus, Judd said. The bonuses, along with a slowdown in CalFire hiring, have helped stem the losses. But funding for the bonuses, secured in a federal spending bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is not permanent, Judd noted. And CalFire eventually will revive its hiring, he said.

"The underlying reasons for people to leave haven't changed," Judd said.

Competition for firefighters isn't the only problem. The Forest Service ranked 206 of 216 federal agencies in a report titled Best Places to Work in the Federal Government, released last year by the Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation. The agencies in the study were graded on more than a dozen criteria, including pay, benefits and department leadership. To reverse the trend, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Bob Filner, D- San Diego, proposed changes in how federal firefighters accrue benefits and a pilot program to test how extra pay will affect retention.

Federal firefighters would be paid from the time they leave their station until they are excused from the fire. Federal firefighters currently must stay in the fire camps set up near the fire line, even though they are not paid when they are resting. CalFire and other agencies are paid for all their hours at the fire scene, working or not.The bill also would add benefits for seasonal firefighters -- those hired during peak fire danger, usually June to late November -- who often lose seniority and benefits when they are not working. Notably, the bill would give the seasonal firefighters the same health benefits year-round, provided there is an intention to return for the following fire season.

legal clarity, recognition

The legislation also seeks to clarify the limits of investigations launched in the aftermath of deadly burnovers, like the one that killed five Forest Service firefighters in Riverside County during the 2006 Esperanza Fire.

Proposed language in the bill would create new deadlines for investigating fatalities and requirements to report changes based on the findings to improve firefighter safety.

The bill also would make clear that the intent of the investigation is not to "find fault or place blame" for the death, but to reduce firefighter deaths. Following the Esperanza Fire, federal investigators took three years to complete their probe of the burnover, leaving family members of the fallen men frustrated and the men's colleagues anxious about possible criminal ramifications for fire personnel. The change in firefighter titles would cost virtually nothing to implement but would help improve morale among Forest Service crews, Judd said. Maintaining a seasoned force of federal firefighters is critical to rural communities in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, residents and local fire safety officials said.

Newcombe, the former San Bernardino chief, is now president of the Arrowhead Communities Fire Safety Council, made up of residents who discuss fire issues with local, state and federal officials. "If we have trained guys that we can rely on, that makes it much better," he said.

Reach Dug Begley at 951-368-9475 or
Reach Ben Goad at 202-661-8422 or

Perhaps you will share ideas with me about some of the topic(s) above.

Rural System
Robert H. Giles, Jr.
July 2, 2005