CALIFORNIA FIRES BURNING WHERE
PREVENTION FUNDING LAGGED
OCTOBER 31 -- LOS ANGELES, CA: Most of the wildfires in southern California are burning primarily in chaparral, the brushlands that don't get the attention -- of either the media or fire funding -- that the timbered forests of the West receive. But it's fire in California's brushy, volatile, commercially worthless, and ubiquitous chaparral that often exacts the most devastating toll.
Some of the fires have burned up into the forested high country of the San Bernardinos, but according to the L.A. Times much of what has burned is scrubland that eats up enormous sums of firefighting money but gets comparatively little prevention funding.
Cut the chaparral back, and it quickly regrows. Try prescribed fire, and homeowners and state air-quality officials resist. And even when things go well, the chaparral is still tough to burn.
"I've been in a lot of prescribed burns in southern California," said Robin Wills, a regional fire ecologist with the National Park Service. "Most of the time, we aren't successful. You cannot get the shrubs to burn, no matter what you do. They have adapted to burn only under the most extreme conditions. And we are generally uncomfortable with those conditions."
And then there's the funding problem.
"We see the vast majority of Forest Service resources in this state go to northern California forests, where trees exist," said Tim Allyn, associate regional representative for the Sierra Club. "Southern California forests get far fewer funds even though our forests receive far more visits."
Of the $53 million for hazardous fuel reduction distributed to California's national forests in 2003, less than $4 million went to the Cleveland, Angeles, San Bernardino, and Los Padres national forests. And it's not just federal fire agencies. CDF's goal is to clear brush and do prescribed burns on 150,000 acres annually statewide. But they actually do only 30,000 acres a year.
Fuels reduction funds are often diverted to firefighting. On the Los Padres, fire management officer Patrick Pontes said his staff can afford to do prescribed burns on only a third to a half of the acreage that they could do if they had more funding.
"We have only been able to treat 3,000 to 5,000 acres a year," Pontes said. "We feel we could easily burn up to 10,000 to 15,000 acres a year."
Mark Rey, the USDA undersecretary who oversees the Forest Service, says the President's Healthy Forests Initiative will accelerate fuels reduction projects. "Both the Senate compromise and the House bill will provide us tools that will be a help in chaparral as well as forest systems," said Rey. "Neither bill focuses to the exclusion of the other. When we do treatment in chaparral systems, we are often confronted by the same procedural impediments as elsewhere."
TWO FIRESTORMS ... 50 YEARS ... ENDURING LESSONS
OCTOBER 31 -- LOS ANGELES, CA: The loss of 15 firefighters on the fatal Rattlesnake Fire, on July 9, 1953, stands unmatched half a century later, at a time when the fires of southern California are setting their own mark. The two conflagrations, separated by 50 years, have several links, according to an op-ed piece by John Maclean in the Los Angeles Times. The Rattlesnake Fire sparked a nationwide program to deliberately burn fuels and reduce the risk of uncontrolled fire. The program was severely curtailed after a series of environmental challenges beginning in the 1970s. The Rattlesnake Fire also helped inspire rules for safety that remain in force today and have saved firefighters' lives.
"Sadly, it usually takes a catastrophe to teach enduring lessons," writes Maclean. "In southern California, the lessons will not emerge until the fires are out, but after that it is likely there will be increased efforts to make housing more resistant to fire and there will be calls for increased, deliberate burning to clear brush."
Maclean notes that after the Rattlesnake Fire, the Forest Service put together a task force to study firefighter fatalities and report on what could be done to prevent them. They produced, in 1957, the Fire Task Forece Report to the Chief, which was the origin of the Ten Standard Fire Orders. The number of multiple-fatality fires dropped dramatically after 1957. Only the 1966 Loop Fire on California's Angeles National Forest had double-digit losses until Colorado's 1994 South Canyon Fire, which killed 14 firefighters.
In the wake of the South Canyon Fire, safety became an obsession in the fire world," says Maclean. "Fire crews began refusing orders they considered too dangerous. But fire remains a brutal teacher. The loss of one firefighter and 19 civilians in southern California underscores the truth that fire ultimately eludes human control. The effects of fatal fires linger like heavy smoke for those who knew and loved those who fell. Hope lies in sifting the ashes to learn a lesson, no matter how imperfectly."
John Maclean is the author of FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire and FIRE AND ASHES: On the Front Lines of American Wildfire.
CALIFORNIA HOMEOWNERS WILL PAY FOR FIRE PROTECTION NEXT YEAR
OCTOBER 31 -- SACRAMENTO, CA: The California Department of Forestry, now battling a southern California firestorm, has mostly avoided funding cuts during the state's budget crisis, but next year nearly 2 million California property owners will pay a new fee to help pay for fire protection.
It will be the first time that CDF has added a charge for its firefighting services. The agency employs 2,700 full-time firefighters, and the Legislature cut $50 million from the department's $600 million budget this year. But they'll make up the cut, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, by sending a bill to 1.8 million residents who live in rural areas of California.
Residents will pay $70 along with their next property tax bills for each piece of property they own in "state responsibility areas;" the fee will be $35 per year after that.
"We haven't had serious, devastating budget cuts," said Karen Terrill with CDF. "But we've never had to implement a fee like this."
Each county in California would be required to increase the fee to cover their cost of the state-mandated fee collection process. Critics of the new fee say that all Californians benefit from CDF's fire protection services, not just property owners in the state responsibility areas, and the new law will assess the same fire-protection fee regardless of the size of the property. The text of the bill is online at wildfirenews.com/sb1049.
FOREST SERVICE RETIREES SLAM FSEEE
FOR FRIVOLOUS LAWSUIT
OCTOBER 30 -- ALEXANDRIA, VA: The national organization of U.S. Forest Service retirees says it's alarmed about the "total lack of responsibility" demonstrated by what it calls a frivolous lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed by the so-called "Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics" (FSEEE), wants the fire agency's use of retardant stopped until an Environmental Impact Statement has been completed. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula; it challenges the Forest Service's firefighting program, including the use of aerial retardant. The group also wants the Forest Service to consult with regulatory agencies on the Endangered Species Act about the effects of retardant on endangered species.
The National Association of Forest Service Retirees (NAFSR) points to the current firestorm in southern California and the retardant drops that they say are saving lives and millions of dollars of property loss.
"It is so outrageous, it boggles my mind," said Richard Pfilf, NAFSR executive director. "FSEEE mischievously contrived this lawsuit as a way to interfere with and subvert proven, effective methods of fighting forest fires."
"Retirees wonder how anyone can be so irresponsible as to demand stopping the use of retardant to prepare an EIS when Santa Ana winds are now pushing an inferno through southern California communities," says the group. "NAFSR believes the legal action by FSEEE to be morally repugnant, threatening lives and property by interfering with the operation of firefighting agencies across the country."
CALIFORNIA FIRES BOOST FEDERAL FIRE FUNDING
OCTOBER 30 -- WASHINGTON, DC: Congress yesterday approved record levels of federal spending for firefighting, and California's Governor Arnold was on Capitol Hill asking for help.
"The huge disastrous fires have changed my mission a little bit," said Schwarzenegger. "I'm now looking for federal money for the people, the victims of the fires."
The House was set to vote on an Interior Department spending bill that contains $2.9 billion for wildfire suppression, forest restoration, and fuels reduction. According to an AP story in the Coos Bay World, $400 million of that will repay the Forest Service and BLM for funds borrowed for fire suppression this summer. The money, part of a $20.2 billion spending bill, includes $800 million for wildfire suppression, up $289 million from the current budget year, and $937 million for wildfire preparedness, slightly above current levels.
Congress recently approved $300 million in emergency spending for this year, bringing total federal funds for firefighting to $3.2 billion.
With southern California fires currently burning across nearly 1,000 square miles, lawmakers said even more was needed. Rep. Jerry Lewis of California proposed adding $500 million to the $87 billion Iraq reconstruction bill -- to help FEMA deal with the fires in California.
FIRESTORMS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
OCTOBER 30 -- LAKE ARROWHEAD, CA: Firefighters are struggling to save emptied-out resort towns in the San Bernardino Mountains, with 200-foot walls of fire washing over stands of drought-ravaged bug-killed trees, stoked by Santa Ana winds from the desert to the east. Those winds eased some yesterday, but according to an AP report in the Register-Guard, they then gave way to stiff breezes off the ocean. Those winds drove the fires up canyon walls around evacuated mountain communities such as Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear -- a couple of southern California's most popular mountain resort areas.
Crews had planned to set backfires along a highway to protect the town of Running Springs, but couldn't do it. The fires swept over ridges and forced evacuations in parts of Hesperia.
"There's fire on so many fronts, it's not even manageable at this point," said Chris Cade, a Forest Service fire prevention technician.
The California fires have burned more than 660,000 acres and destroyed 2,600 homes. More than 12,000 firefighters are at work on what is probably the worst and costliest disaster California has ever faced.
Yesterday about two dozen engines and water tenders on their way to Julian were forced to turn back when flames swept over the highway. And as the winds picked up, floating embers ignited more spot fires, forcing crews to retreat. About 90 percent of the homes in Cuyamaca were destroyed. "Everything's kind of happening all at once," said Bill Bourbeau, safety officer on the Cleveland National Forest. "These fires are trying really hard to tie in with each other. It's tremendous."
A hotshot crew outside Julian was given an ominous warning from their supervisor: If they came across any human remains, they were to cordon off the area until a medical examiner could get in. "If we find somebody in the brush who took off running or whatever," said Capt. Fred Brewster. "Who knows what you're going to find up there? It's a giant mess."
Heavy winds kept aircraft grounded in the San Bernardino area, and winds gusting to 60 mph pushed flames up from the mountain slopes into the dense forest. "They turned around with the wind and the fuel and basically overran us," said San Bernardino County Fire Division Chief Mike Conrad.
Some 80,000 full-time residents of the San Bernardinos have cleared out since the weekend, thousands of them trapped in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a narrow highway.
Others defied the warnings of firefighters and decided to stay to protect their homes.
"I'm afraid, but I've got a lot of faith," said Chrisann Maurer as she watered down her yard and home. "I just think there is enough people praying that we might be safe."
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA'S WHITMORE FIRE NEARS CONTAINMENT
OCTOBER 30 -- REDDING, CA: The smoke trail that two days ago drifted across much of northern California has dispersed, but residents around Whitmore are keeping their cars packed just in case. The 1,004-acre fire is 80 percent contained.
"We feel real comfortable the fire is going to stay where it's at," CDF Operations Section Chief Dave Ault said.
A dozen bulldozers were redirected to southern California yesterday, according to the Redding Record-Searchlight, and suppression costs were limited to $2 million. More than 900 firefighters -- and calmer winds -- kept the fire from growing much yesterday.
Firefighters and county officials said clearing fuels in parts of the forest slowed the fire when it was at its worst. "This fire ran until it reached some good forest management practices," said Shasta County Supervisor Glenn Hawes.
Incident Commander Terry Stinson said gusty winds on Tuesday pushed a ground fire into the crowns. "That's when it went from good to not so good," Stinson said. "We knew that it was going to be difficult to contain."
OREGON FIREFIGHTERS SOUTHBOUND
OCTOBER 30 -- MEDFORD, OR: About 300 firefighters from Oregon were sent Tuesday to a staging area in Redding, and most of the 20-person contract crews expected to receive orders to head to southern California. Two units were assigned to a 1,500-acre fire on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and another two were dispatched to the Redwood National Park south of Crescent City.
COLORADO FIREFIGHTERS GET RAIN
OCTOBER 30 -- BOULDER, CO: A fire that took off early yesterday in the Colorado foothills near Jamestown forced evacuations of about 100 people northwest of Boulder. The 3,500-acre Overland Fire threatened several homes. According to an AP story in the Casper Star-Tribune the fire was pushed east by 50 mph winds; smoke was hanging over Longmont, miles away. The communities of Jamestown and Lefthand Canyon were evacuated.
Agencies in the area are low on resources because many have been sent to California to help firefighters there. "We're not dangerously low," said Bruce Mygatt, fire chief of the Boulder Rural Fire Protection District, "but we are low on personnel and smaller truck apparatus for these type of fires."
Evacuation orders were lifted after rain and sleet fell yesterday, according to a firehouse.com report. "We have a much better handle on the fire," said Andy Lyon, information officer on another fire south of Denver. "There's very little concern that it's going to spread."
The Cherokee Ranch Fire on the Pike and San Isabel National Forest was 5 percent contained last night at 300 acres. The fire's burning in wildland/urban interface, fueled by ponderosa pine, oak, and grass. Over 100 homes were evacuated.
Officials suspect that both fires were started by damaged power lines.
Boulder County Sgt. Dan Barber said this morning that flames were no longer visible. Temperatures had dropped 20 to 40 degrees overnight, and winds had calmed.
FEMA approved a request from Gov. Bill Owens for federal resources to fight the fires.
FIREFIGHTER KILLED ON CEDAR FIRE
OCTOBER 30 -- JULIAN, CA: A northern California firefighter from Novato was killed and three other firefighters were injured yesterday on the Cedar Fire in San Diego County.
Two more bodies were also discovered in Barona yesterday, bringing to 20 the number of people killed in California wildfires in the last week. The Cedar Fire, the most deadly, has claimed 16 lives.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Novato firefighter-paramedic Steve Rucker was killed near Julian when he, another firefighter, a fire captain, and an engine driver were overcome by flames. Rucker's captain, Doug MacDonald, also from Novato, was in critical condition at a burn center; the two other crewmembers are recovering from moderate burns. Fred Batchelor with CDF said the firefighters were overcome by flames while protecting a house; two sought shelter inside the house they were protecting, but MacDonald was seriously injured while attempting to find Rucker, whose body was later found on the porch of the house.
According to California Professional Firefighters, the firefighters were all members of a strike team called into action from Novato by the California Office of Emergency Services. Dan Northern, deputy fire chief of the Novato Fire Protection District, said the fire turned on them and outran the crew. Novato had sent two other crews to the fire, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, but all three were pulled back.
"One of your own dies in the line of duty, you can't give full attention to the job," Northern said. "He always had a positive attitude and a smile on his face -- he was happy to be at work. He was just wonderful guy."
ARSON SUSPECTED IN MOST CALIFORNIA FIRES
OCTOBER 29 -- RIVERSIDE, CA: Most of the 10 fires in California's latest wildfire disaster probably were caused by thrill-seeking arsonists, according to law enforcement officials.
"All these fires may be arsons," said Chip Patterson with the the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. "We know that arson has already killed four people in our county. I think it's a strong possibility that the others are arson as well."
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that witnesses in San Bernardino saw two men start the Old Fire on Saturday.
Eight of the other nine fires are assumed to be arson.
Andrea Tuttle, CDF director, said the agency had not ruled out arson in any of the fires.
Arson investigators are looking for footprints, fingerprints, evidence of flammable liquid -- anything to focus the case on arson.
The 206,000-acre Cedar Fire is the largest of the California fires; it was started by a 33-year-old hunter from Covina, who told investigators that he was lost and had tried to get the attention of rescue helicopters.
He was cited by the Forest Service for a misdemeanor charge of setting an unauthorized fire.
Authorities have established a hotline at (866)346-7632 for tips about any suspected arsonists.
San Bernardino County has authorized a $50,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for starting the Old Fire.
Los Angeles County is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for two fires in different parts of the county.
"We want to hear from the public," said Deputy Alba Yates of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
"If you saw something, if you know something, if you have any information about the cause of the fire, we really need your help."
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FIRES UPDATE
OCTOBER 28 -- RIVERSIDE, CA: Southern California fires, stoked by Santa Ana winds and record high temperatures, have killed 14 people, burned 1,518 homes, and blackened over a half million acres.
The L.A. Times reported that San Diego County has been hardest hit, with at least three fires under investigation as possible arson.
The county lost dozens more homes yesterday when flames jumped Interstate 8 and burned through the Crest and Alpine communities in the mountains east of San Diego. Crews fought desperately to keep the fire from merging with another and creating what one firefighter worried would be an "unstoppable hurricane of fire."
The 180,000-acre Cedar Fire on the Cleveland National Forest is burning in chaparral about 10 miles east of Ramona. Burned structures now total 400; more than 2,300 personnel are working on this fire. Fire behavior has been extreme, with flamelengths yesterday of over 200 feet. Long-range spotting has been a problem, residents have been evacuated, and structure protection is a priority. Interstate 8 is closed between Los Coches and Crestline, Highway 67 is closed, and Interstate 5 has been closed intermittently. Containment last night was at zero percent, with containment predicted for November 5. The signonsandiego.com website has a photo gallery of the San Diego area fires, and CDF has an update page online.
The Old Fire on the San Bernardino National Forest is being managed by Mortier's Type 1 team; it's burning in chaparral on the north side of San Bernardino and is 10 percent contained at 26,000 acres. Wind-driven fire yesterday caused rapid rates of spread and spotting. The rimoftheworld.net website has a photo gallery of the Old Fire online.
Gelobter's Type 1 team is managing the 8,000-acre Padua Fire on the Angeles National Forest; the fire's about 15 percent contained and is burning in chaparral about six miles north of Claremont. Extreme fire behavior has been a problem, with sustained runs and spotting in continuous fuels.
The Paradise Fire northeast of Escondido is being managed by Snell's CDF team; the fire's 15 percent contained at 30,000 acres and is burning in heavy chaparral. Santa Ana winds have caused extreme fire behavior.
The Grand Prix Fire west of Mira Loma has been divided into two management zones; Studebaker's Type 1 team is on the east portion of the fire, and Gelobter's team is assigned to the west portion of the fire. At 57,230 acres, the fire's 35 percent contained; full containment is predicted for Friday. About 2,300 people are working on the fire, including 44 crews. Burning in heavy chaparral, the fire has made sustained runs with heavy spotting in continuous fuels. Evacuation orders have been lifted for the southern perimeter, but remain in effect for both Lytle Creek and Mt. Baldy Village. The incidentcontrol.com website has a photo gallery of the Grand Prix Fire online.
Ventura County's Simi Fire is being managed by Haines' CDF team, along with Sanchez's Ventura County team. Burning in chaparral and grass five miles north of Simi Valley, the 92,000-acre fire has made rapid uphill runs and is about 5 percent contained. Structure protection is in place.
The Mountain Fire northeast of Temecula is being handled by Matis' CDF team; it's burning in heavy brush and hardwood slash and is 55 percent contained at 9,740 acres. Winds have resulted in aggressive fire behavior with rapid rates of spread and spotting.
On the Los Padres National Forest northwest of Santa Clarita, management of the 30,570-acre Piru Fire has been handed over from Dorn's Type 2 team to Kerrigan's CDF team. It was 17 percent contained this morning. The fire grew by more than 1,000 acres early this morning when it crossed over the Sespe River drainage near Fillmore. The fire is expected to move steadily westward toward the Santa Paula area; resources and access are not sufficient to attack the fire aggressively in the backcountry areas. Firefighters this morning are building line and protecting structures on the west edge of the fire. Evacuation plans for the Santa Paula area are being developed; wind and steep terrain will again affect the fire's spread, and it's likely that the fire will grow significantly again today. Structure protection is in place for 300 homes and two commercial properties.
In Los Angeles County, a Type 2 team headed up by Osby and Vendenbossche is managing the Verdale Fire. It's burning in chaparral and oak grass four miles west of Santa Clarita. At 8,650 acres, the fire was 95 percent contained last night and full containment is expected by Friday.
The Roblar 2 Fire at Camp Pendleton is burning in chaparral about six miles west of Fallbrook. Suppression efforts have been limited because of safety concerns on the base. The fire's 85 percent contained at 8,590 acres.
The Paradise 2 Fire on the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park is burning in mixed conifer and chaparral about seven miles northeast of Three Rivers. Spotting has been a problem. It's 98 percent contained at 1,300 acres but full containment is not expected till November 15.
Hill's CDF team is managing the 45,290-acre Otay Fire south of Dulzura; it's burning in chaparral with rapid rates of spread and is 90 percent contained. Full containment is expected by tonight.
The Cuesta Fire, in chaparral and oak woodland, is about five miles northeast of San Luis Obispo. Steep and difficult terrain, high temperatures, and low RH have challenged crews on the fire. It was 30 percent contained last night at 160 acres and should be fully contained by tonight.
GRAND PRIX FIRE TAKES OFF
OCTOBER 24 -- RANCHO CUCAMONGA, CA: Miles of flame, pushed by 40 mph winds, jumped ridges and roads near Rancho Cucamonga early this morning, with thousands of residents evacuated and two major freeways closed in the path of the fire. At about 3 a.m. the winds picked up and blew the fire back south and east of Hunter's Ridge; in just an hour the fire ran south 5 miles, nearly to the 210 freeway.
A helicopter was lost in the fire; it was parked in a staging area and the fire overran it before the crew could move it. The California Highway Patrol closed both Interstate 210 and Interstate 15, and the northeastern part of Rancho Cucamonga was evacuated. According to AP reports, about 2,000 people were ordered out of the Lytle Creek area. The 3,800-acre Grand Prix Fire is about 17 percent contained, with sustained winds at 25 mph and gusting to 40 mph or more. The hot Santa Ana winds are expected to pick up over the weekend, and the winds delayed deployment of aircraft this morning.
IT'S SANTA ANA SEASON
OCTOBER 23 -- RIVERSIDE, CA: Firefighters are expecting several southern California wildfires, including one at Camp Pendleton that threatened 300 homes, to grow rapidly because of seasonal strong winds. The Santa Ana winds may have doubled the size of an arson fire in San Bernardino County overnight, according to Tricia Abbas with the San Bernardino National Forest. She said the fire had burned 2,500 acres by late yesterday; it was at 3,500 acres early this morning.
The Grand Prix Fire is being managed by Dietrich's Type 2 team; it was 17 percent contained this morning with over 690 firefighters assigned.
The fire is burning in heavy chaparral, and crews yesterday reported extreme fire behavior with torching and spotting. By last evening it had burned to Nealey's Corner (Sierra and I-15) with some of the fire dropping over the ridge above Lytle Creek Road. Helicopters were filling buckets at a couple of areas southwest of the fire, away from numerous powerlines.
An AP report said that five southern California fires have burned more than 7,000 acres. Recent record temperatures over 100º are expected to cool slightly today.
The Pass Fire in Riverside County started Tuesday and had destroyed five homes in the Reche Canyon area by this morning. It was 80 percent contained at 2,387 acres; full containment is targeted for tomorrow.
Burning in chaparral and grass, the fire is three miles northwest of
Moreno Valley, spreading rapidly and making uphill runs. Residents in the Pigeon Pass area were evacuated. The fire damaged another three homes, burned 21 outbuildings, and burned several vehicles.
In De Luz Canyon east of Camp Pendleton, a 2,772-acre brushfire threatened about 300 homes; residents were asked to voluntarily evacuate. The Roblar 2 Fire started on a training range about noon Tuesday and may have been ignited by ammunition used in military exercises. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the fire started at noon Tuesday when Marines training with live ammo ignited grass and brush in the northeast area of the base. A combination of rugged terrain and unexploded shells on the base forced firefighters just west of De Luz to let the fire come to them. By the time it did, the fire was at about 2,100 acres and was getting dangerously close to homes.
The fire was nearly 30 percent contained this morning. Domanski's Type 2 team is on this fire; it's burning in 6-foot chaparral and fire behavior yesterday was extreme.
Earlier this week, Business Wire reported that more than half of California's 12.5 million homes face wildfire dangers that pose a financial loss potential well in excess of $106 billion, according to state fire statistics and insurance industry analysis. Research by the California Department of Forestry indicates that more than 7.2 million California homes are categorized in the three highest fire risk levels -- and more than 6 million are located in urban areas. These include Los Angeles County, with more than 734,000 homes at risk (22.5 percent), Alameda County, with more than 244,000 or 45.2 percent of homes at risk, and San Diego County, with more than 619,000, or 59.5 percent of homes at risk.
The estimated 585,000 homes categorized in the highest risk level statewide pose a potential financial loss of at least $106 billion, according to CDF projections.
"The clear and present threat of devastating wildfires should be a concern to all Californians," said Candysse Miller, executive director of the Insurance Information Network of California. "Few communities are immune from the deadly combination of fierce October winds and the effects of summer's traditional lack of rain."
WEEKEND RANGE FIRE IN MONTANA WENT 10,000 ACRES
OCTOBER 21 -- BROWNING, MT: A range fire on Sunday destroyed two homes and burned more than 10,000 acres after starting before dawn along railroad tracks west of Cut Bank. The fire, which never made the national sit report, was about 70 percent contained by Sunday evening.
Tyson Runningwolf, acting fire management officer for the Blackfeet Reservation, said several outbuildings were lost. The Billings Gazette reported that strong winds drove the fire across grass range, grain fields, and hay land. The Glacier County Sheriff's Office said about 20 homes were evacuated.
"It missed some homes just by feet," said Sgt. Jeff Fauque of the sheriff's office. "You could see the char marks going around the houses."
He said it was most intense wildfire he'd ever seen. Wind gusts were reported at 60 mph, but Fauque said they seemed stronger. Runningwolf said another fire on the southern edge of Browning burned 60 acres and two homes by the community's railroad depot. Causes of the fires are under investigation.
FIREFIGHTER WHO SET RODEO FIRE MAY GET TEN YEARS
OCTOBER 21 -- PHOENIX, AZ: An Indian firefighter from Cibecue could be sentenced to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty yesterday to setting last summer's Rodeo Fire, which burned together with the Chediski Fire to become -- at 470,000 acres -- the worst wildfire in Arizona history. It destroyed 467 homes.
Leonard Gregg, 31, admitted to two counts of arson during a hearing before U.S. District Judge James Teilborg. The Arizona Republic reported that Gregg, a contract firefighter with the White Mountain Apache Tribe, said he set fires so he could make money as a firefighter, and because he was upset about his parents' alcohol problems.
Gregg's lawyer said his mental and emotional disorders made him not responsible for his actions. But after spending months in a federal Bureau of Prisons hospital, Gregg was found fit to stand trial. Vincent Kirby, an assistant U.S. attorney, said Gregg is a functioning member of society who knew what he was doing. Gregg could be sentenced to five years in prison for each of two criminal counts, plus a $500,000 fine and an estimated $50 million in restitution. Sentencing is scheduled for January 12.
ITALY BUYING AIR-CRANES
OCTOBER 20 -- CENTRAL POINT, OR: The State Forestry Corps of Italy (Corpo Forestale Dello Stato) has contracted with Erickson Air-Crane of Central Point to purchase four S-64 Air-Crane helitankers for firefighting. The Italian CFS has had Air-Cranes on contract on the mainland and the islands of Sardegna and Sicily during fire season for five years now, and the purchase will include spare parts, support, training, and an option for the purchase of another two helitankers.
CFS Acting Director General Fausto Martinelli signed the agreement for four Air-Cranes, which will each be equipped with Erickson's 2,650-gallon tank system and foam cannon. Manufacturing is under way, and delivery of the first aircraft is scheduled for spring of 2004.
The CFS currently owns and operates a fleet of helicopters, from MD 500's to Bell 412's. The agency has established a series of helicopter bases for operations throughout Italy, with the principal base at Rome's Urbe Airport. Erickson first contracted an Air-Crane to Italy in 1999 on the island of Sardegna. Guido Bertolaso, Undersecretary of State and Director General for the Department of Civil Protection, referred to the Air-Crane as "the diamond head of our aerial firefighting fleet."
Protezione Civile in Italy has also used the Air-Crane for disaster relief and emergency response missions. Last year they airlifted a portable pumping station to drain a glacial lake that threatened to flood a mountain resort town, and during the recent eruption of Mount Etna, on the island of Sicily, two Air-Cranes were mobilized to support disaster relief operations. One dropped water on fires ignited by the lava flow; the other transported large cement blocks to divert lava from nearby villages and forestland.
Erickson Air-Crane owns, operates, and maintains a fleet of 18 S-64 Air-Cranes, and manufactures the S-64 as the Type Certificate holder. Erickson's pilots have racked up 70,000 flight hours in 12 countries in the last five years; the heavy-lift helicopters have put in more than 8,000 miles of electrical transmission towers across the U.S. and Canada.
ANOTHER HELICOPTER DOWN ON FIRE SURVEY
OCTOBER 17 -- KANAB, UTAH: No one was injured when a helicopter flying a survey of a wildfire crashed yesterday afternoon near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The five people on board -- including the pilot, three National Park Service employees, and a Forest Service fire officer -- were transported to the hospital in Kanab for evaluation. An AP report in the Tucson Citizen said the helicopter, under private contract, had completed its survey flight and was on final approach to a landing area when the pilot lost control. The helicopter rolled onto its side when it touched down and was severely damaged.
PRESCOTT NATIONAL FOREST WAGES WAR ON BEETLES
OCTOBER 16 -- PRESCOTT, AZ: Projects in the battle against bark beetles have already removed 8,150 bug-killed ponderosa pine trees, and another 35,000 are scheduled to come down on the Prescott National Forest. The beetle epidemic that hit the Southwest in 2002 has killed off well more than half the pines in some areas, and on Thumb Butte next to Prescott, mortality runs 60 to 70 percent.
The scale of logging on and around Thumb Butte will be something this region hasn't seen since the turn of the century, according to a report by the Camp Verde Bugle, when residents nearly clear-cut the Prescott Basin for buildings, mining, and fuel.
The Prescott National Forest includes about 145,000 acres of ponderosa pine -- with an average density of 300 trees per acre, according to forester Ian Fox. Across the forest, mortality from beetles averages 30 percent -- about 13 million dead trees. Fox says budgetary and other limitations may mean that the Forest Service can remove only 1 million of the dead trees.
Forest health officer Gary Wittman said spring rains and a decent monsoon season helped the remaining trees survive this year; the National Weather Service recorded 3.47 inches of precipitation in July at Prescott. The 105-year average for July is 2.91 inches. But the next two months were below average; by the end of September, Prescott had recorded 13.43 inches for the year, below the average of 15.14 inches.
The lack of market for the trees being removed has forced Forest Service officials to come up with some creative -- and expensive -- alternatives. In some cases the agency is paying contractors to cut the dead trees; the addition of a small mill in Humboldt operated by Dakota Logging and Timber has helped. In Crown King, 30 miles south of Prescott, it's been especially hard to attract loggers, but the contractor who was awarded the job there plans to erect two small sawmills to deal with the scheduled removal of nearly 5,000 trees.
FOREST SERVICE PROPOSES SALVAGE OF RODEO-CHEDISKI FIRE AREA
OCTOBER 15 -- SHOW LOW, AZ: More than 45,000 acres of trees damaged by Arizona's largest wildfire could be salvaged for timber sales under a proposal released by the Forest Service yesterday; USFS officials will begin taking public comments Friday on the plan and four alternatives detailed in a draft environmental impact statement.
A team of specialists in forestry, wildlife management, watershed protection, archaeology, and civil engineering examined various options with the goal of harvesting dead, standing trees to benefit the remaining forest, reduce future wildfire threats, and provide some economic benefit to local communities.
According to an AP report in the Arizona Republic, environmentalists who sued to stop the harvesting oppose the plan. They say removing trees would harm wildlife habitat and increase the short-term burn risk.
The Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002 burned about 178,000 acres; charred and rotting trees are scattered across the proposed salvage area between Show Low and Payson. Blue stain fungus has begun deteriorating the value of the trees, according to Bob Dyson on the Apache-Sitgreaves.
"Rehabilitation from the Rodeo-Chediski Fire is going to take years," he said. "This is just a start."
The harvest activities would include salvaging dead, standing trees with commercial value on approximately 37,000 acres that were moderately to severely burned. Logging with tractors would be used in areas with slopes under 40 percent, and helicopters would be used in areas with slopes greater than 40 percent. Harvest activities for firewood, specialty wood products, and other sawtimber sales would occur on another 8,000 acres in small sale areas; the proposal would provide approximately 105.6 mmbf (million board feet) of sawtimber and 9,900 cords of firewood and other products.
The Rodeo-Chediski Fire Salvage Team will accept comments on the plan until December 1.
ODF EMPLOYEE KILLED IN HELICOPTER CRASH
OCTOBER 15 -- SWISSHOME, OR: A privately owned helicopter crashed yesterday near Swisshome after clipping a powerline during an aerial survey of a fire site. The Bell 206 LongRanger, owned by Weyerhaeuser, went down in the Siuslaw River about 10 a.m. between Mapleton and Junction City, killing the pilot, Richard Black, 57, and his passenger, David Mackey, 53, an employee of the Oregon Department of Forestry. The Statesman-Journal reported that Black was an employee of Weyerhaeuser; the two were reportedly surveying for water sites in the area of a previous fire.
KATU-TV reported that a crew from Evergreen Aviation worked last night to recover the helicopter. Witnesses said it was foggy and that the helicopter was flying at a low altitude; investigators from the FAA and NTSB are en route. KVAL-TV reported that Black worked out of the aviation office at the Eugene airport and had been with Weyerhaeuser for 19 years. Mackey was an assistant supervisor for ODF and had worked there for 29 years.
WIND-DRIVEN FIRE CLOSES
INTERSTATE NEAR KENNEWICK
OCTOBER 14 -- TRI-CITIES, WA: Wind gusts up to 41 mph pushed a fast-moving wildfire across 2,000 acres early Sunday afternoon, prompting the evacuation of several Kennewick homes and closing parts of Interstate 82 for about two hours.
The fire was contained by Sunday evening, according to the Tri-City Herald, but clearly shows that fire season is not quite over -- even in the Northwest.
About 120 personnel worked on the fire, including firefighters from all six Benton County fire districts, Kennewick, Richland, and Hanford fire departments, and firefighters from Franklin County, Prosser, and Walla Walla.
An hour after the fire was reported in Coyote Canyon, it jumped the interstate.
"Once on top of the ridge the wind really pushed it," said Frank Powell, deputy chief with Benton County Fire. "Without the wind it was such that we would have handled it fairly easily. We don't normally expect it this time of year but it can happen."
KVEW-TV reported that investigators are questioning witnesses about the cause of the fire.
FOREST HEALTH LEGISLATION PROGRESSING
OCTOBER 14 -- SUNRIVER, OR: A Congressional forest health bill that would reduce project appeals and increase timber harvest on federal lands could become law within weeks. But the Healthy Forest Restoration Act needs to be reworked, according to Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, to eliminate provisions added by the Senate that would expand public participation in the appeals process.
The Bend Bulletin reported that the Senate provisions were added by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, and include measures to protect old growth. In Sunriver Monday for the annual Oregon Forest Industries Council meeting, Walden said there is too much ammunition under current federal forest rules for opponents to derail logging and thinning projects. He said the Senate provisions were added as part of a compromise package, and they could undermine key pieces of the legislation.
Walden, who took a tour of what's left of the B&B Complex, said the nation's forests have reached a critical point. He said the 2002 Biscuit Fire burned about 4 billion board feet of timber -- that's more wood than the total wood products output of all Oregon forests in the same year.
He said the appeals process has been hijacked by eco-terrorists whose only answers are "do nothing and stop everything."
Steve Mealey was a forest supervisor on the Boise and Shoshone national forests before taking a job as an ecologist with Boise Cascade. "The gridlock is very real," said Mealey. "The Forest Service tries to do the right thing in many cases. And they get sued for doing those things and then they get sued for doing nothing."
Also on Monday, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey attended a forum at the University of Washington, drawing a crowd of protesters. "Don't Bush whack our forests," said stickers worn by several protesters.
"They're taking the 'public' out of public lands," said Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.
During the forum, according to an AP report, Professor Jerry Franklin called for an administration pledge to put old-growth forests and roadless areas off limits to logging. He said that would remove 90 percent of the environmental opposition to federal forest practices.
Rey, though, said the issues aren't that simple. There are 160 definitions of "old growth," he said. Rey, Franklin, and several other UW forestry professors who spoke agreed that reducing fuels on federal forest lands is a top priority.
STAHL'S FSEEE GROUP SUES USFS OVER FIREFIGHTING
OCTOBER 13 -- EUGENE, OR: The Eugene-based group called Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) will file suit against the Forest Service tomorrow, demanding that the agency formally and publicly evaluate the environmental and social effects of wildland firefighting.
"Too many firefighters die each year in a fruitless and self-defeating war against fire," said Andy Stahl, executive director. The complaint, according to the Missoulian, will be filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula -- not because of previous enviro-friendly rulings by U.S. District Judge Don Molloy, but because, Stahl said, "Missoula is the nerve center of a huge fire industrial complex."
"The Forest Service has never, not once in its history, weighed the pros and cons of firefighting," said Marc Fink, the Western Environmental Law Center attorney representing FSEEE in the lawsuit. Stahl said FSEE's board of directors decided to expand its mission to include "ending the war on fire" about two years ago, after four firefighters were killed on the Thirtymile Fire.
"We can't think of a more appropriate organization to come to the defense of wildland firefighters or to hold our agency accountable for the unwarranted risk it places on its employees," Stahl said. "Who better to question this unjustified loss of life and squandering of almost a billion dollars a year?"
Firefighters will undoubtedly appreciate FSEEE's actions on their behalf. Despite its name, only a very small percentage of FSEEE's membership actually are or ever were Forest Service employees.
The lawsuit also challenges the use of retardant in aerial firefighting. It says the Forest Service has never prepared an environmental impact statement on its use, nor has it formally considered alternatives. "It is time to evaluate which fires should be fought and which should not be fought," said Stahl. "And we should simply stop fighting particular classes of fires -- for instance, those that burn in the early spring or late fall, when conditions are conducive to low-intensity fire."
TANKER PILOTS IDENTIFIED
OCTOBER 10 -- SAN BERNARDINO, CA:
Pilot Carl Dolbeare, 54, and his Co-Pilot John Attardo, 51, were killed Friday when the airtanker they were flying from Prescott, Arizona, to San Bernardino crashed on the San Bernardino National Forest just minutes shy of their destination. They departed Prescott just before 10 a.m. and went down north of the Seven Oaks Dam at 11:35 a.m.
Tanker 99, owned by Minden Air in Nevada, was on the Alamogordo/Missoula contract this year. It was in September assigned to San Bernardino. The crew returned to Arizona late in September to work a fire at the Grand Canyon, and last week were returning from Prescott to San Bernardino.
Carl Dolbeare, who lived in Arizona, was in the tanker business for over 25 years, and had been with Minden Air since 1999. He held type ratings in B-17, B-34, C-119, DC-4 and L-P2V aircraft. Attardo, originally from Boston, lived in Fort Collins, Colorado. He was airline transport pilot (ATP) rated.
The NTSB preliminary report indicates that visual instrument meteorological conditions prevailed on Friday at March Air Force Base, which was the nearest official reporting station. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the accident site, and a company visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan had been filed.
One of two observers at a forest lookout tower north of the accident site holds a
commercial pilot certificate with an instrument rating. They reported later that they saw a cloud layer as far to the south as they could see, and they estimated the cloud tops at around 5,000 feet. Visibility on the ground at San Bernardino shortly after the incident was 1-2 miles, but the marine layer through which the tanker was attempting to descend was reportedly more than 1,000 feet thick.
The lookouts said they watched T-99 flying from the south up a canyon near the edge of the clouds; they said the airtanker was at a lower altitude than the 7,900-foot elevation of the lookout. They said the airtanker made a steep 180-degree turn, leveled out, and then entered the cloud layer. A couple minutes later the top of the cloud layer bulged, and the lookouts called in to report a possible tanker crash.
Because Dolbeare and Attardo were overdue at San Bernardino and could not be reached by radio, a search team was sent out. They located the crash site, on a steep hillside at about 3,400 feet, at 1 p.m.
A memorial fund has been established, and condolences may be sent to Tina Attardo and Gwen Bean at Minden Air Corp., 2311 P-51 Court, Minden, Nevada 89423.
TANKER 99 DOWN
OCTOBER 03 -- SAN BERNARDINO, CA: Minden Air's Tanker 99 went down today on the San Bernardino National Forest, and according to news reports, both pilots were killed. The airtanker was on a ferry flight from Prescott to San Bernardino when it crashed near Lake Arrowhead.
NTSB investigators are en route. A so-far-unidentified news helicopter was seen over the crash area this afternoon before the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) was officially approved. News reports are online here:
Minden Air personnel are en route to southern California, and updates will be posted here as details are confirmed.
POST-MORTEM ALCOHOL RESULTS CAN BE MISLEADING
OCTOBER 03 -- ROSEBURG, OR: A number of news reports (and subsequent discussion on message boards) have been posted in the last couple days regarding the blood-alcohol results of toxicology reports following the fatal crash on Highway 20 in eastern Oregon that killed eight contract firefighters near Vale, Oregon.
Those reports, however, should not be considered "evidence" that the driver or passengers were drinking prior to the crash. A convenience store video does show crewmembers purchasing beer. And surviving crewmembers corroborate that, but they also say that the beer was in a cooler on top of the van racks.
This has been an issue over the last few years with the survivors of pilots killed in airtanker crashes, and the subject is on the agenda for this year's annual meeting of the Associated Airtanker Pilots.
It is not unusual for alcohol to be detected during toxicological testing of aviation accident victims. Post-mortem ethanol production, according to aircraft crash investigation reports by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, is the result of bacterial action after death. The presence of ethanol depends on various factors, such as the condition of the tested specimen, the environmental conditions to which the tissues were exposed, and the time duration before the specimen was recovered. To confirm the conditions for this phenomenon, testing was conducted on specimens from individuals who would not have been expected to have ingested alcohol because of age or cultural background. Of the six specimens tested, five tested positive for ethanol.
Microorganisms in decomposing bodies frequently produce alcohol in amounts equivalent to intoxication, according to Gary Kunsman, chief toxicologist with the Bexar County (Texas) medical examiner's office. Kunsman has been involved with cases where the post-mortem indication of a high blood-alcohol content was an issue.
"Post-mortem alcohol production is a very odd thing," said Kunsman. "It doesn't occur in all bodies, and it doesn't occur at the same rate in bodies, even under the same conditions."
Microorganisms in the body, including yeast, can produce alcohol in body tissues after death. Kunsman, who worked for the armed forces medical examiner in Washington, DC, said post-mortem alcohol levels were often seen in military pilots killed in aircraft crashes. "You know the pilot's not drinking," explained Kunsman. "He crashes, it takes a week or two to locate the body, get him back, autopsy him. And we would find alcohol levels of 0.2 or 0.3."
Bacteria in some areas of the body escape and can generate ethanol in the blood, brain, liver, and other tissues within a few hours of death. In his paper "Pitfalls in Forensic Toxicology," T. Richardson of the Toxicology Lab at England's Manchester Royal Infirmary said that concentrations can reach 1500 mg per liter within a few days, and physical disruption of the body can enhance post-mortem alcohol production. Post-mortem urine and vitreous fluid, however, are largely free of this effect.
Though the possession of alcohol in the van violated the agreement between the contract firefighters' employer and the Oregon Department of Forestry, the post-mortem indications of blood-alcohol don't yet indicate intoxication on the part of the driver or other firefighters.
FIREFIGHTERS HONORED AT NATIONAL CEREMONY
OCTOBER 03 -- EMMITSBURG, MD: Oregon firefighters who died in a van crash on their way to a Colorado fire last year will be among more than 100 honored Sunday at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service in Emmitsburg.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge will be the keynote speaker at the event, according to an AP story. Attendees will pay tribute to 99 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2002, plus six who died in previous years.
"When a firefighter loses his or her life in the line of duty, it is not only a loss for the family," said David Paulison with the U.S. Fire Administration, "but a loss for the community and the nation's family of firefighters."
The honor roll lists firefighters from 36 states.
A candlelight service will be held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on Saturday, and shuttle service is available for the Sunday tribute memorial, which begins at 10 a.m. at the national monument to all fallen firefighters.
The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation will broadcast the candlelight service and the memorial service live from the National Fire Academy campus. To view the services, contact your local cable provider and ask them to broadcast the events on one of the public access channels. The satellite coordinates for the broadcast are available online at http://22.214.171.124/Index1.asp?id=6646
The Foundation has committed to pay for the travel, lodging, and meals of the immediate next-of-kin of each 2002 fallen firefighter. You can make a tax-deductible donation online or send a check to by sending a check to the NFFF at P.O. Drawer 498 Emmitsburg Maryland 21727. For more information, email email@example.com
LIGHTNING KILLS UTAH MAN AND STARTS FIRE
OCTOBER 02 -- SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH: A lightning storm late yesterday killed a 64-year-old man in a boat on Strawberry Reservoir while he was trying to load the boat onto a trailer. He was pronounced dead at the scene; his name has not been released.
About an hour before that, lightning ignited a fire in the Israel Canyon area on the northeast side of Lake Mountain. About 75 acres were burned, according to Teresa Rigby with the BLM. She said 20 firefighters were pulled from the fire because of fierce winds. The fire is burning just north of where the Jacob Ranch Fire burned 120 acres in July.
MONTANA FIRE COSTS THIS YEAR
TWICE WHAT THEY WERE IN 2000
OCTOBER 02 -- HELENA, MT: The state of Montana is faced with a fire bill this year of $27 million, nearly twice the $15 million total of the devastating 2000 fire season. About 167,000 acres burned in 2000, compared with 200,000 this year.
State Forester Bob Harrington said this year's bill could run $30 million, according to a report by the Missoulian, and the state's Senate Minority Leader Jon Tester has asked for an audit of the season's costs.
Harrington said that FEMA has changed the way it helps states pay for wildfires. Three years ago, FEMA declared the entire state a disaster area early in the season. After that declaration, the federal government paid the entire cost for Montana wildfires. But he says statewide declarations are rare now. This year, FEMA never did declare the entire state a disaster; only individual fires were declared disaster areas. The agency was even reluctant to declare entire counties disasters, and would do so only if several FEMA-paid fires were burning in that county.
Even with that designation, FEMA pays only 75 percent of the firefighting costs, leaving the state to make up the rest.
"That's a big impact in out-of-pocket costs," Harrington said.
He said FEMA's help was still substantial -- without it, Montana would be facing a $63 million firefighting bill.
Tester said he wanted to know more about where the firefighting money went and why, adding that the reduction in federal help may change the way the state legislature budgets for fire. Senate President Bob Keenan agreed, saying the state needs to determine how FEMA will pay for fires in the future, and then the legislature could consider a contingency fund for firefighting.
FIRE NEAR CAJON PASS THREATENS RANCHES
OCTOBER 02 -- LOS ANGELES, CA: An 800-acre fire burning in chaparral in the San Gabriel Mountains south of the Cajon Pass was spreading rapidly yesterday. As fire units arrived, the fire made runs up the steep slopes. The steep and rugged terrain, along with with erratic winds and heavy smoke, were a challenge for crews.
NBC4-TV reported that the fire started yesterday afternoon in Lytle Creek Canyon and is about five miles southeast of Wrightwood.
The Lytle Fire was about 20 percent contained this morning, with ranches threatened and local road closures in effect. Domanski's Type 2 team is managing the fire.
One firefighter suffered a minor knee injury.
More than 680 firefighters are on the fire, along with helicopters, airtankers, and a "SuperScooper." This is not, however, one of L.A. County's Canadian CL-415 scoopers -- two of which arrived on Monday and were put into service yesterday, according to the L.A. County Fire Department.
"The fire was pretty calm overnight," said Robin Renteria with the San Bernardino National Forest. She said temperatures are forecast today in the high 80s with winds of 10 to 20 mph. The San Jose Mercury-News reported that five homes and five outbuildings were threatened by the fire, which is burning in 6-foot-high chaparral.
ROSEBURG FIREFIGHTERS WHO DIED IN CRASH
BOUGHT BEER IN VALE
OCTOBER 02 -- ROSEBURG, OR: The eight contract firefighters who died in a van crash on their way home from an Idaho fire had purchased alcohol prior to the crash, according to their boss Bob Krueger, president of First Strike Environmental. Malheur County authorities, according to an AP report, told Krueger that a videotape from a convenience store in Vale showed crewmembers purchasing beer.
Surviving crewmembers confirmed the purchase, but they said the beer was put in a cooler on a rack on top of the van. Toxicology reports on the driver and seven passengers have not been released, and law enforcement officers have not said whether any of the firefighters had alcohol in their systems. The eight firefighters were killed in August when the van they were driving collided with a truck on Highway 20 about 16 miles west of Vale.
The presence of alcohol with the crew violated the contract between First Strike and the Oregon Department of Forestry.
TEHAMA COUNTY OPPOSES RURAL FIRE TAX
OCTOBER 02 -- RED BLUFF, CA: The Tehama County Board of Supervisors is urging the governor to veto California's Senate Bill 1049, which would add an annual tax of $35 to rural property owners' tax bills to boost funding for fire protection.
"The Legislature is picking on a small group of people instead of doing what will benefit all the people," said Supervisor Charles Willard.
The Red Bluff Daily News reported that counties would be required to increase the fee to cover their cost of the state-mandated fee collection process.
The board said all Californians benefit from CDF's fire protection services, not just property owners in the state responsibility areas. Provisions in SB 1049 would assess the same fire-protection fee regardless of the size of the property. The text of the bill is online at wildfirenews.com/sb1049
CREWS MAKING PROGRESS ON SPANISH FIRE
OCTOBER 02 -- ALDER SPRINGS, CA: The 4,610-acre Spanish Fire west of Alder Springs is estimated at 45 percent containment this morning. The fire was active in a few areas yesterday, with some torching across the interior of the fire.
There are 43 engines and 45 crews assigned, with nine helicopters, nine dozers, and 23 water tenders. Walker's Type 2 team is on the fire, which was reported Sunday near Boardtree Campground on the Mendocino National Forest.
RURAL HOMEOWNERS IN CALIFORNIA MAY
BE TAXED FOR FIRE PROTECTION
OCTOBER 01 -- SACRAMENTO, CA: State legislators have quietly passed a $77 million bill that would charge thousands of rural property owners a first-ever state fee for fire protection.
The bill is expected to offset about $50 million in cuts absorbed this year by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. According to a report by the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, the bill would raise $52.5 million annually from a $35-per-parcel fee on 1.5 million properties statewide.
Karen Terrill with CDF said similar proposals in the past never made it out of the Legislature. "These are extraordinary times," she said. The fees would account for 12 percent of the CDF fire protection budget.
Supporters of the bill see it as a way to get residents in the wildland/urban interface to pay their fair share for fire protection. But opponents say that state law requires voter approval for new taxes.
Provisions in SB 1049 would assess the same fire-protection fee regardless of the size of the property. Some have suggested adjusting the fees next year to reflect parcel size. If approved, rural residents will see a $70 charge on next year's tax bill for this year's and next year's taxes. Subsequent bills would be $35 per year.
The text of the bill is online at wildfirenews.com/sb1049
10/14/2003 UPDATE: Outgoing guv Gray Davis signed this bill last weekend.
BREAKER BREAKS AND STARTS GRASSFIRE IN STILL-DRY COLORADO
SEPTEMBER 23 -- ASPEN, CO: A fire above Ruedi Reservoir on Sunday was ignited when a powerline tripped a breaker and part of the breaker fell into dry brush, according to Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson. The fire was reported about noon when someone came looking for a fire extinguisher to put the fire out.
The Aspen Times reported that about three dozen firefighters from three departments responded. The fire, on a hillside with a 30 percent slope, was contained by dusk, but federal fighters patrolled the area overnight. They returned on Monday to mop up hot spots.
Fire season's not quite over.
Increasing the fire danger across the state, a mountain pine beetle infestation killed more than 600,000 trees last year; spruce and Ips beetles inflicted similar damage, according to the Denver Post. State and federal officials believe the damage this year will be worse.
Dave Silvieus, a district ranger on the White River National Forest, said 2,000 to 3,000 acres of trees in the forest have been ravaged by the spruce beetle this summer.
"That might double next year," Silvieus said. "In four or five years, it could be 30,000 to 40,000 acres."
Mountain pine and spruce beetles began appearing in Colorado in large numbers around 1997, and have doubled their population nearly every year. Jim Thinnes, a U.S. Forest Service silviculturist, said the cycle for the spruce beetle usually lasts 10 to 15 years. With numbers of dead trees rising from the rapidly spreading spruce beetle infestation, the outbreak probably hasn't reached its peak.
FEDS APPROVE $30 MILLION FOR BARK BEETLE WORK
SEPTEMBER 23 -- SAN BERNARDINO, CA: An emergency allocation of $30 million to fight bark beetle infestations is good news in southern California, according to an AP report in the Sacramento Bee.
"This is very good news," said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, "especially for residents of San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego counties, where the bark beetle infestation is at its worst.
Years of drought and a severe infestation of beetles have killed nearly all the trees across much of the San Bernardino National Forest; 400,000 acres of forestland and about a million trees are affected in southern California. The Victorville Daily Press reported that the funding was sought by Feinstein and U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis. Of the total, $10 million is granted to the U.S. Forest Service; the remaining $20 million is distributed among state and private forestry agencies.
The funds were approved just as fire danger in southern California reaches its peak with the onset of fall Santa Ana winds.
"The situation in our southern California mountains is a disaster waiting to happen," said Lewis, "with the worst fire danger in the nation surrounding 60,000 residents."