Fire expert blasts Lassen officials for letting blaze grow
Contributed post from Bob Zybach:
Here is an article that appeared in yesterday’s Redding Record Searchlight and that has already drawn 70 comments on their website:
A former Shasta-Trinity National Forest supervisor and fire expert blasted the National Park Service on Thursday for allowing the Reading Fire to smolder for more than a week, feeding on overgrowth, before it exploded into an inferno that so far has decimated 42.5 square miles.
He said it could take a century to repair the damage the fire has wrought.
“I can’t believe they went ahead with letting a fire burn for the ecosystem’s benefit in a season that, for the entire nation, is record dry,” said Steve Fitch, a retired Shasta-Trinity National Forest supervisor, fire behavior expert and national firefighting teacher. “That fire is creating its own weather. It’s extreme temperatures there. … They probably nuked 10 percent or 15 percent (of the land).”
Fitch retired from the Forest Service in 1995 to work as an adviser on natural resources to the state Assembly until 2003.
His comments came as the blaze raged across 27,163 acres and grew another 4 acres overnight. The fire remains only 28 percent contained and 1,068 firefighters in the park braced for a weekend that could bring strong winds and thunderstorms. . .
. . . However, a host of other issues made the bad decision even worse, he said. The Forest Service’s aerial tanker fleet was at one-quarter strength this year.
“Everybody in fire management knew that,” he said. “That country up there, there’s no way to get into it. You’re relying on aerial firefighting resources.”
Then, there’s the Chips Fire, which has scorched almost 43,000 acres last Thursday and has run up $17.5 million in suppression costs.
“The killer for me: the Chips Fire took off on (July) 20. That should have shut this prescribed natural fire down immediately … it went to several thousand acres in the first 24 hours,” Fitch said. “That was just south of them. That’s going to draw on them. If anything went wrong, they knew they were going to have very limited resources to do anything with it.”
The Reading Fire didn’t take off until August — and it could get worse, owing to the weather. . .
. . . Even beyond containment, Fitch said the fire will blacken the park and forest’s legacy for decades.
The soil will be caked and unable to absorb moisture, leading to soil erosion, and the high temperatures also sterilized the dirt, meaning seeds won’t germinate in the charred land for many years, Fitchsaid.
Mostly brush will replace the vast towering pines that blanketed the park, he added.
The fire has sparked harsh criticism of the National Park Service policy that allows for control burns even in hot, dry weather.
Old Station residents, business owners and north state politicians all have weighed in over the controversial law, with some crying for reform to avoid a similar incident.
The park’s superintendent, Darlene Koontz, was out of the office all day in the field, her secretary said, and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Commentary: Here is a good example of what we have been discussing in this blog — situations where wildfires are allowed to burn in Wilderness areas (and often doing significant damage to wildlife and wildlife habitat in the process) until they escape and cause major damage to adjacent lands and communities, too.
Fitch’s references to “prescribed natural fire” and letting a fire burn for “ecosystem benefits” are a little chilling, though. Apparently Darlene Koontz made a “local decision” to let a wildfire burn within her jurisdiction and is now unavailable for comment. Wow. If history is any indicator, she will keep her job, no questions asked, and perhaps even be due for a promotion or a paid leave of absence due to stress in the coming weeks and months.
These types of decisions are clearly not based on science or common sense, yet there seems to be few consequences, if any, for the people who make them. Isn’t it time that resource managers and policy makers were made responsible for their actions? Especially when human lives and billions of dollars are involved?