FOREST THINNING BILL GOES NOWHERE
SEPTEMBER 21 -- WASHINGTON, DC: Hopes for a compromise plan to streamline fuels reduction in national forests to reduce wildfire risk collapsed Thursday as the Senate reached a partisan deadlock, according to a report in the Boulder Daily Camera. Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Dianne Feinstein of California, who with Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho had been trying to put together a compromise, said they were withdrawing their plan after failing to get the support they needed. Lawmakers could not resolve partisan disputes over the size and location of areas to be thinned, or the limits on judicial review of projects opposed by environmentalists.
Wyden blamed senators of both parties for failing to support the compromise plan, which had the support of the Bush administration. "If members want to get something done, they are going to have to take some political risk," Wyden said. "Unless there is some willingness ... to find common ground, we will see these devastating, unnatural fires summer after summer after summer." A longtime friend of the environmental movement, Wyden has been under attack from conservationists for pushing the compromise plan. Protests at his Oregon office have become a near-daily occurrence.
But as columnist Larry Swisher pointed out in the Eugene Register-Guard, it's two months before an election in a drought year with almost 7 million acres burned and more than $1 billion spent on fire this year. "No one is able to stand the heat of a bad fire season," said Swisher, "or to resist taking political advantage of it, as the case may be." Swisher said everyone is pointing fingers and demanding instant action, even though earlier this year the president proposed cutting next year's budget for firefighting and forest thinning and only recently reversed his opposition to adding $825 million in emergency firefighting funds this year.
"Even at a below-average cost of $1,000 per acre for thinning and brush removal, we're talking real money," said Swisher. If you do the math, you come up with $10 billion. "But the Forest Service will be lucky if its budget doubles next year to $1 billion," he said. "Without a bigger government investment, that means giving logging companies valuable but fire resistant old-growth and other large diameter trees in return for removing overgrown brush and small trees."
BOULDER BUDGET CUTS THREATEN FIRE PROTECTION
SEPTEMBER 20 -- BOULDER, CO: Boulder fire officials are warning there could be cutbacks in a wildland fire prevention program; Justin Dombrowski, fire management officer for the Boulder Fire Department, said a negative vote on an upcoming referendum could reduce firefighting capabilities.
"It's been a long fire season and it's probably going to continue for another couple of months," he said. The Colorado Daily reported that sales-tax revenues have helped fund the city of Boulder's wildland fire crew, which fights wildfires and handles prescribed burns and water-conservation efforts in the rural fire district west of the city. But declining sales-tax revenues have created a budget crunch that may result in funding cutbacks if voters don't approve the tax measure's renewal.
"Having this crew available enables the city fire crews to concentrate on other emergencies that happen on a daily basis," Dombrowski said. "We take about 8,000 calls per year – that takes a lot of runs. Fighting a wildfire can take many hours, if not days, to completely extinguish." The Boulder crew also assists homeowners in subdivisions with wildfire prevention measures, including creating defensible space around homes. Voters passed the public safety tax in 1997 to fund the rural program; the tax, which is 15 cents on the dollar, accounts for 20 percent of Boulder's police and fire budget. It will expire in 2004 unless voters approve the measure on November 5.
Some homeowners opt to cut overgrowth on their properties themselves and leave the wood for the crew to cut into firewood or wood chippings. "A lot of tree services say they'll do the mitigation work, but these guys are firefighters and they know what they're doing," said Rocky Thompson, who lives in Four Mile Canyon. "I've watched them work on my neighborhood. They work quickly and efficiently and leave the area clean. Everyone I've talked to has been happy with the service."
The Boulder Rural Fire Protection District has worked on areas around 40 of 120 homes in the valley this year. It costs about $700 a day to pay for the crew and equipment, including trucks, chainsaws, and operating supplies.
MT. SHASTA FIRE-SAFE COUNCIL SAYS IT'S WHEN, NOT IF
SEPTEMBER 19 -- MT. SHASTA, CA: The newly organized Fire Safe Council for the City of Mount Shasta brings a collection of fire professionals and local politicians and community members together in a united front advocating prevention and fire safety in the face of wildfire risk. Maps of the area show Mt. Shasta surrounded by eight high-risk fire zones, and Dale Nova, the organizer of the council, says it's not a matter of if local residents will have a serious wildfire, but when.
The City of Mt. Shasta Mayor Marge Apperson, along with local fire chiefs and representatives from CDF and the Forest Service all agree that the area is at high risk of a catastrophic wildfire, according to a report by the Mt. Shasta News. The Fire Safe Council is seeking members to promote fire safety throughout the community. For more information, call Dale Nova at (530)926-2089. FireSafe California is online at www.firesafe.com/california.html and more information on wildfire prevention is available online from firewise.org
600-ACRE ROCKLIN-AREA FIRE THREATENS 100 HOMES
SEPTEMBER 19 -- ROCKLIN, CA: More than 100 homes and two schools were evacuated yesterday as a wind-driven grassfire burned through Loomis toward Granite Bay.
The Sierra Fire, estimated last night at 600 acres, is on the Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit of the California Department of Forestry near Rocklin. The fire's burning in brush and oak woodland, and road closures and mandatory evacuations are in effect for subdivisions in the Rocklin and Loomis areas. The Sacramento Bee reported that the fire forced the evacuation of 100 residences and pulled in firefighters from Lake Tahoe to Yolo County.
The fire was 25 percent contained last night.
The Auburn Journal reported that an aggressive attack by firefighters stopped the blaze at Cavitt Stallman Road. Anita Yoder, public information officer for Placer County, said Placer County Headstart and Franklin School were evacuated, as were residents in the areas of Wells Road, Cavitt Stallman Road and Indian Springs.
More than 65 engines responded to assist the Rocklin Fire Department, including crews from Higgins, Penryn, Penn Valley, Sacramento Metro, Roseville, South Placer, Grass Valley, Auburn, Newcastle, and Nevada County fire departments. Four airtankers, two helicopters, and six crews also were on the fire. Crews from CDF and the Forest Service responded, along with officers from Rocklin Police Department and the California Highway Patrol. The Sierra Fire was one of many across the region yesterday; more than 50 fires burned throughout Yolo County, ranging from small roadside fires to 30-acre blazes. The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings for the southern Sacramento Valley and the Delta, as well as the Lake Tahoe basin, the Eldorado National Forest, and portions of the Bay Area. Fire weather information is available online from the interagency Fire Forecast & Warning Unit at Redding.
SMOKEY'S WATCHING YOU!
SEPTEMBER 18 -- SPRINGFIELD, OR: The last thing Oregon Department of Forestry arson investigators expected when they set up a surveillance operation along the McKenzie River was for an arsonist to light a fire practically at their feet. But the Eugene Register-Guard reported today that Oregon State Police have cited and released a local resident, Timothy Nicholas Terry, 44, on three counts of arson for fires he allegedly set in the Eugene-Springfield area. Terry admitted having set several fires along Deerhorn Road south of the McKenzie River, said Pete Norkeveck, chief arson investigator for the forestry department.
"It's just short of a fantasy that you would catch a major perpetrator in the act," Norkeveck said yesterday. But the arrest wasn't luck – it was the result of an intensive investigation by a task force of state and federal specialists and some helpful tips from the public.
Just after noon Friday, Norkeveck and two other investigators drove along Deerhorn Road to an area where they planned to watch for suspicious activity. They noticed a parked minivan similar to one reported near the scene of other recent suspected arsons in the area. Norkeveck walked down a trail toward the river and encountered Terry walking away from the river. Posing as a fisherman, Norkeveck engaged Terry in conversation.
"As we talked, I noticed smoke rising a few feet down the trail where the subject had just been," Norkeveck said. "He was carrying material in his hand similar to what we had recovered from previous fire scenes." Investigators called state police and worked to control the fire, while Norkeveck drove behind Terry's minivan down the highway. Terry eventually pulled over to confront Norkeveck, who identified himself and then held Terry until police arrived. Terry allowed police to search his van, which yielded evidence linked to items found at the fire scene.
"He was actually brought back to the scene. He basically admitted what he was doing," Norkeveck said.
The McKenzie River corridor has been plagued by a number of suspected arson fires that could have been disastrous had they not been contained quickly by firefighters from the Eastern Lane District of ODF and local volunteer departments. District Forester Paul Bell said, though, that Terry "had a very specific way of doing things" that does not match some of the other suspected arson sites.
If you suspect wildland fire arson in Oregon, call the toll-free tip line at (877) 888-7343. Callers can provide information anonymously, and names are kept confidential.
KITZHABER DOESN'T LIKE BUSH PLAN
SEPTEMBER 18 -- SALEM, OR: Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber says Bush's proposal to sidestep environmental laws to speed up thinning in national forests violates the spirit of a bipartisan plan put together by Western governors.
"The 10-year plan makes it clear that the forest health treatments are to be done in a way that meets federal environmental laws," said Kitzhaber. He noted that while the Bush administration has "put tremendous energy" into finding ways to shortcut environmental protections, it has consistently cut funding for National Fire Plan projects, according to a story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
"The administration cut funds for local community assistance this last year, reduced funding levels in the Fire Plan accounts, and reluctantly released emergency funds only after significant political pressure," Kitzhaber said.
Kitzhaber urged members of Oregon's congressional delegation that any legislation they consider must be consistent with the comprehensive fire plan developed by the Western Governors Association. The agreement was signed by Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman on behalf of the Bush administration four months ago. Kitzhaber noted that the Bush proposal would allow the secretaries to ignore the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act in the name of speeding up projects, and prevent the public from seeking administrative appeals or court orders stopping logging. "This course of action puts at risk the delicate consensus for action that we have so painstakingly achieved, and threatens once again to polarize the debate over timber policy in the West," the governor said.
FEINSTEIN TRIES TO CUT A DEAL FOR THE MIDDLE GROUND
SEPTEMBER 18 -- WASHINGTON, DC: While many Democrats were blasting Bush's plan to log forests to prevent wildfires, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California spent last week trying to cut a deal with the Sierra Club's arch-enemy in the Senate. Feinstein said the president's plan goes too far, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and she was still lobbying Idaho Republican Larry Craig as late as Friday to back a compromise.
"I think there is middle ground. I think it can be found," Feinstein said. "There are well-defined interests, there's no question about it. But I think everybody on both sides recognizes that we have a problem and recognizes that there have to be controls on thinning."
But some environmentalists are questioning whether she is a reliable ally. "I think Sen. Feinstein is setting us up for a big fall," said Brian Vincent, California organizer for the American Lands Alliance.
The administration proposes to suspend standard environmental review reports, eliminate the Forest Service appeals process and bar federal judges from issuing temporary injunctions to stop the forest thinning projects. Some forest activists say Feinstein has compromised too much by accepting the provision of the "Healthy Forests Initiative" that would prevent appeals on thinning projects.
"In the end, she is closing the door to public participation," Vincent said. "They may not be suspending environmental laws and they may allow us to go to court eventually, but she is undermining democracy by taking away our ability to participate in management decisions for our public forests." Other environmental activists say Feinstein has used her seat at the negotiating table to battle against Republican proposals they oppose, such as logging in roadless areas and eliminating court challenges to thinning projects.
"She has played a critical role in trying to craft something that addressed fuels reduction and yet tried not to wipe out the ability to challenge projects that were bad," said Craig Thomas, director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign.
WILDFIRE PLANS DEADLOCKED BY CONGRESS
SEPTEMBER 18 -- WASHINGTON, DC: Opposing Republican and Democratic plans in the Senate to reduce the threat of wildfires in national forests reached a standoff yesterday; a report in the Arizona Republic said neither strategy has enough votes to overcome procedural delays from the opposition. The Senate last night refused to limit debate on wildfire-related amendments to a $19.3 billion Department of Interior spending bill. Because neither plan has the necessary 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, neither likely will become part of the spending bill.
Unless a compromise is worked out within the next few days, the Senate faces the prospect of no action this year to change management of national forests.
"We still think there's an opportunity to come back to the negotiating table," said Will Hart, a spokesman for Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho. Craig and Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico sponsored the Republican plan; Hart said Craig's bill will not get enough votes to be added as an amendment to the Interior funding measure.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico have offered an alternative proposal that would ease some logging restrictions on 2.5 million acres and prohibit lawsuits related to activities within a half-mile "of any community structure." Republicans are angry at the stalemate and say Democrats are just trying to block any plan that would make it easier for timber companies to log on national forests.
"I just ask my colleagues, 'When are we going to say we are no longer going to be jerked around by radical environmentalists whose agenda is to destroy the commercial timber industry so that they never have to worry about any big trees being cut?' " said Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona.
FIREFIGHTERS RALLY FOR BUSH PLAN
SEPTEMBER 17 -- PORTLAND, OR: Fresh off the firelines, about 40 firefighters held a rally outside U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s office yesterday in support of President Bush’s forest-thinning plan. The firefighters say Bush’s plan is necessary to avoid future fire seasons such as the one this summer.
"We put our lives on the line every day fighting wildfires," said Shelby Plagman, a 22-year-old firefighter from Philomath. "The least Senator Wyden could do is put his signature on the line."
Bush announced the Healthy Forests Initiative last month during a visit to Oregon at the site of one of the state’s worst wildfires. The plan would accelerate thinning on 10 million acres of federal forests during the next 10 years, in part by limiting environmental studies and eliminating appeals of some logging projects. But the Statesman-Journal reported that environmentalists say the proposal would reward the timber industry by allowing private companies to harvest commercially valuable timber in return for clearing smaller trees.
Wyden, a Democrat who chairs a Senate subcommittee on national forests, has come under attack from environmentalists for supporting the proposal. But he also has repeatedly said he won’t support changes to the appeals process.
Activists held a counter-rally Monday and voiced concerns about Bush’s proposal. "Any of these laws will give (timber companies) an open door to areas with big trees," said Jill Howdyshell of the Cascadia Forest Alliance in Portland. "Without the right to appeal, there will be no safeguards that loggers will do what they say they are doing."
ENVIRONMENTALISTS RALLY AGAINST BUSH PLAN
SEPTEMBER 17 -- MISSOULA, MT: Admitting that they have an image problem, environmentalists gathered outside the Missoula office of Sen. Max Baucus of Montana yesterday to lobby for thinning of fire-prone forests in the interface.
"We've got a pretty positive opportunity right now," said Tom Platt, director of the Ecology Center. "We're interested in developing a dialogue with the timber industry. There's more of an overlap between our agendas than there has been for quite some time." But as the Missoulian reported, environmental groups do not support thinning in old-growth timber or roadless areas; they strongly oppose legislation that would suspend environmental reviews of timber sales proposed in fire-prone forests.
Politicians have blamed environmentalists' lawsuits and appeals for the growing wildfire danger in national forests. The only way to fix the forests, those politicians believe, is to make some fuel-reduction work off-limits to appeals, lengthy environmental reviews, or legal injunctions. Baucus has introduced a measure that he believes is a compromise; it allows the suspension of environmental reviews and public participation, but only for fuel-reduction work near communities or in municipal watersheds – and only on 3.75 million acres of national forest land.
"We focus our appeals on protecting roadless lands and old-growth forests, and on protecting sensitive species habitat," said Platt. The controversy over how best to protect the public from wildfires has hurt the image of environmentalists, he said. "It does hurt us, and it hurts the public at large. It makes people suspicious of public participation. So we are interested in defining what we are doing and where we are trying to do it."
According to Jake Kreilick of the National Forest Protection Alliance, the solution includes forest thinning. But environmentalists say the Bush administration will use wildfire danger to justify backcountry and old-growth logging. Kreilick said they want 90 percent of any fuels-reduction funding to pay for forest thinning in "community protection zones" immediately adjacent to homes. They want Congress to fully fund the projects rather than paying for fuels reduction by selling marketable timber.
71-YEAR-OLD SOUTH DAKOTA RANCHER CHARGED WITH MURDER IN FATAL FIRE
SEPTEMBER 17 -- STURGIS, SD: A rancher from Meade County was charged yesterday with murder in the death of a 48-year-old firefighter. Ray Wicks was charged in 4th Circuit Court with first-degree murder and third-degree arson in the death of firefighter David Martin of Opal, who was injured in August on the Horse Looking Fire northwest of St. Francis.
Wicks, of Red Owl, faces life in prison if he is convicted on the murder charge.
Martin died August 6 at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. He had been burned over 80 percent of his body August 1 while fighting the fire, according to the Rapid City Journal. Martin, a member of the Opal Volunteer Fire Department, fell off a small fire truck directly into the oncoming fire; winds of up to 35 mph pushed the fire over him. He was helicoptered to Rapid City Regional Hospital and later transferred to the St. Paul burn center.
The Horse Looking Fire started on July 29 and was about 50 percent contained on August 1 at 2,400 acres. It was contained several days later at 2,800 acres, according to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture. The arson charge stems from the fatal fire. Wicks initially was charged with aggravated assault, but the charge was upgraded after Martin died. Wicks is free on bond; his next court date is October 28 in front of Judge Jerome Eckrich.
ANOTHER L.A.-AREA FIRE CONTAINED
SEPTEMBER 14 -- AGUA DULCE, CA: A fire that briefly threatened dozens of homes and powerlines over the weekend has been contained, according to a report by the San Diego Union-Tribune. The Oasis Inc Fire was 90 percent contained by Sunday morning, said Dan Opbroek with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and was contained by mid-day at 1,305 acres.
"Everything is getting back to normal in that area," Opbroek said. More than 300 firefighters, supported by airtankers, worked on the fire. CNN reported that protecting homes was difficult because houses and ranches were scattered across the dry, brush-filled canyons and ridges 40 miles north of Los Angeles. Triple-digit temperatures were recorded in southern California; Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley reported a high of 104 degrees, breaking the record of 103 set in 1979.
PROGRESS ON FOREST COMPROMISE
SEPTEMBER 13 -- WASHINGTON, DC: Western senators agreed this week on the outline of a forest-health program that they say would balance the need to thin fire-prone areas with protection of citizens' rights under environmental laws. But a report by the Oregonian said the senators, including Ron Wyden of Oregon and Larry Craig of Idaho, indicated their staffs still have to work out details in legislative language.
"Our staffs are going to work through the night in an effort to see if we cannot resolve some issues of difference," said Craig. The push for a compromise is in response to one of the worst wildfire seasons on record and pressure from the administration for more active management of federal timberlands. Wyden and Craig have led the effort in the Senate, trying to bridge differences between environmental advocates and the timber industry.
"I've said and feel strongly that people have a constitutional right to come to the court to debate forestry issues," said Wyden. "They don't have a constitutional right to a five-year delay."
A key point in the debate is whether to limit appeals of federal decisions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Industry representatives, administration officials, and forest managers say that environmental groups' appeals under the law have delayed thinning projects and other fuels reduction efforts.
"What we want to guard against is this kind of catastrophic fire in overly dense forests," Interior Secretary Gale Norton said last week at a hearing as she introduced an administration plan to limit NEPA appeals. Administration officials also have made an example of an amendment offered in June by Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota; his amendment would block appeals of a thinning program on the Black Hills National Forest. The amendment opened the door to requests for similar exemptions throughout the West.
AUTUM RxFIRE BEGINS ON THE BITTERROOT
SEPTEMBER 14 -- HAMILTON, MT: If the weather conditions are just right this weekend, Bitterroot National Forest crews will light the fall’s first prescribed fire, a planned 50-acre burn in the mountains west of Victor. The focus is primarily on boundary areas, according to a report by the Ravalli Republic, including areas where national forest and private lands meet, said Jack Kirkendall, the Bitterroot’s fire management officer.
"We have about 5,000 acres under approved plans," he said. "We obviously won’t be able to get to all that this year. I think everyone would be pleased if we could get upwards of 1,000 of those acres accomplished this fall."
Prescribed fires are intended to meet a variety of management objectives by mimicking natural blazes, including cleaning the forest of dead and downed woody debris that could fuel an intense wildfire. The prescribed burns also improve wildlife forage and forest stand conditions by removing younger age-class trees. Unlike recent years, the forest is wetter heading into fall because of summer rains, meaning more soil moisture and more deciduous vegetation growth.
"What it may end up doing is allowing us to go some places where we haven’t been able to go in the last couple of years," said Kirkendall, "due to the fact that we have basically kinder and gentler conditions to deal with out there. Any time we can deal with a less-severe general condition, in terms of fuels and moisture content, the better off we are." The season starts typically in September and lasts until Nov. 30, when the regulated air-quality season ends. It’s a short window of opportunity, Kirkendall said, so fire managers have to act when conditions are right.
For more information on prescribed burning and wildlife habitat improvement, check out the Ladron Peak prescribed burn, a joint project between New Mexico BLM and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The Bitterroot National Forest's fire program is also online.
FOREST SERVICE CHIEF SAYS START THINNING AROUND COMMUNITIES
SEPTEMBER 13 -- GRANTS PASS, OR: The chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Dale Bosworth, said Wednesday he hopes to find common ground with environmentalists opposing President Bush's forest thinning proposal by focusing work close to communities at risk from wildfire.
But environmental laws still need to be changed to speed up the work and to do it as economically as possible, according to an AP story in the Red Bluff Daily News. ''There is a lot of fear that this is about logging and about taking big trees,'' Bosworth said. ''If we can get the focus on what we leave on the land, leaving the biggest healthiest trees, getting conditions on the land where fire can play its natural role, there is common ground."
Bosworth said he believes thinning should start around wildland/urban interface communities, but added that there is more fuels reduction work needed than there is budgeted funding to pay for it.
Bosworth's comments came a week after the Bush administration presented its Healthy Forest Initiative to Congress. The package of bills would scale back environmental studies and eliminate appeals of logging projects that are intended to reduce the risk of wildfires on 10 million acres of federal forests over the next 10 years.
SEPTEMBER 10 -- GLIDE, OR: Nine days after it started, the Office Bridge Fire east of Eugene was officially declared contained at 6 p.m. yesterday. Only a few smoky spots greeted firefighters yesterday, with more expected today as temperatures increase and humidity drops, according to the Register-Guard. Crews today will mop up hot spots and address erosion concerns in burned areas; about 75 firefighters, four engines, a helicopter, and a water tender will remain on the fire.
The 160-acre fire, only 60 percent contained on Friday, burned to within a half-mile of Westfir, prompting officials to issue a three-hour evacuation notice for residents of Hemlock and Westfir. The cause of the fire, which has cost an estimated $2 million to contain, remains under investigation.
Farther south on the Umpqua National Forest, the 17,600-acre Apple Fire was contained on September 8. Tours of the incident command post and base camp were held for area school groups over the last few days; students from Canyonville Primary School and Glide Elementary School saw demonstrations of firefighting gear and equipment -- and were treated to up-close-and-personal tours of the helibase.
About 600 firefighters were still working on the fire this morning, and infrared mapping indicates that standards for mop-up have been met. Continued light burning of interior fuels, however, is occurring, and an increase in fire activity is expected due to higher temperatures and lower RH today. All divisions are in various stages of mop-up and rehab.
The fire, which started August 16, has cost $17,746,000 to contain; fire officials say the fire was human-caused but still remains under investigation.
Mike Lohrey's Pacific Northwest National Team 2 will be transitioning with the ORCA Type 2 team today and will hand over the fire tomorrow. Resources remaining on the Apple Fire will be moved tomorrow to the Tiller fire camp, and both fires will be managed from there.
The Tiller Complex was contained on September 4 at 68,862 acres; 794 personnel remained on the fire this morning. The Tiller Complex fires have cost $48,698,000 to date.
Firefighters continued yesterday with patrol and mop-up and are rehabilitating some fireline. Crews initial attacked two holdover lightning-caused fire starts yesterday.
This will be the last day for the firefighters from Australia and New Zealand who have been working on the Apple Fire and Tiller Complex; they will begin their trip home tomorrow.
The Biscuit Fire remains at 499,965 acres, and the suppression cost to date is $141,170,266. The fire, which started July 13, was contained September 5.
Post-fire rehabilitation projects and the methodical extinguishing of remaining hot spots on the Biscuit Fire proceeded smoothly yesterday. Today, despite drier weather, good progress is expected to continue. Approximately 58 miles of fireline rehab is complete on the east and northwest flanks of the fire. A total of 1,644 firefighters and support personnel are on the fire today; other resources include 10 helicopters, 41 engines, 79 dozers, and 41 water tenders.
MOUNTAIN FIRE NEAR GLENDALE AT 1,100 ACRES
SEPTEMBER 10 -- GLENDALE, CA: A wildfire burning in the hills above Glendale has grown to 1,100 acres and is only 20 percent contained this morning. According to NBC4.TV reports, the fire was estimated at 30 percent containment last night, but it grew overnight as firefighters dug lines and burned out from the perimeter. About 600 firefighters are on the fire, along with 7 helicopters, 37 engines, and a dozer.
There were two minor injuries overnight. A firefighter suffered heat exhaustion and was transported to Glendale Adventist Hospital; also, a police officer directing traffic in a barricaded area was struck by a driver. Both were treated and released.
The fire, 10 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, put up a huge column of smoke that rose straight up, then bulged into a mushroom shape and drifted south over the metropolitan area. USAToday reported that Glendale, population 200,000, is bisected by the Verdugos, a brush-covered range surrounded by portions of Burbank, Los Angeles, and a number of smaller communities.
Don Biggs' Type 2 team is managing the fire; containment is predicted for tonight. About 200 homes and and a radio tower are threatened. Challenges yesterday included rapid rates of spread, low fuel moisture, and intense fire behavior. Containment efforts were hindered by steep terrain, and firefighters are relying on air support for fire control. Temperatures in the 90s and winds up to 15 mph are forecasted for today. Goals today include using aircraft to control the line and tying in the open lines with dozers and hand crews.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. The Glendale Fire Department says the fire has been determined to be of suspicious origin; Captain Tom Marchand says the entire area is being treated as a crime scene.
ARIZONA FIRE PROBLEM HELPS NAVAJOS RETURN TO THEIR ROOTS
SEPTEMBER 10 -- CAMERON, AZ: In an old shed on Navajo Nation lands, 60 miles north of Flagstaff, two Navajo men pull ponderosa pine logs out of a truck and load them onto a conveyor belt. The conveyor moves the logs into a peeling machine and pops them out as sleek logs destined for use in traditional Navajo houses, or hogans. This prototype plant is a first step toward solving a massive problem on the nearby Coconino National Forest: fire-prone, overgrown stands of ponderosa. At least 250,000 of the Coconino's 1.8 million acres are in need of thinning and restoration.
One of the biggest challenges in forest restoration, according to a report in the High Country News, is to find a way to turn the thinned small-diameter trees into marketable wood products, rather than simply cutting and burning them.
"Burning the wood, rather than sending it down the road to make new products, is a type of insanity," says Coconino National Forest Superintendent Jim Golden.
The hogan project may also create living-wage jobs and new housing for the Navajos; unemployment rates are near 50 percent and housing conditions are poor. Most hogans on the 17-million-acre reservation have been put together with whatever materials could be salvaged. The Cameron mill is the brainchild of a nonprofit organization called Indigenous Community Enterprises (ICE), sponsored by the Northern Arizona University School of Forestry. Funding has come from the Forest Service, regional nonprofits, and a number of foundations such as the Arizona Community Foundation.
FIRE-SETTER WANTS OUT OF HALFWAY HOUSE
SEPTEMBER 10 -- DENVER, CO: The former U.S. Forest Service employee accused of starting the largest wildfire in Colorado history wants the court to drop the requirement that she stay in a halfway house until her trial.
The Denver Post reported that lawyers for Terry Barton filed a motion yesterday in U.S. District Court asking that terms of her release on $600,000 bond be modified to allow her to leave a Denver-area halfway house. A federal attorney said they were reviewing the motion and would file a response today.
Federal public defenders said Barton is a longtime Colorado resident with a stable work history, no criminal record, a teenage daughter at home, and strong ties to the community of Florissant, where she lives.
NEW FIRE NEAR LOS ANGELES EVACUATES 30+ HOMES
SEPTEMBER 09 -- GLENDALE, CA: A brushfire that started today in a wilderness park surrounded by suburbs sent a plume of smoke over the Los Angeles area and forced the evacuation of more than 30 homes.
According to Associated Press reports this evening, the fire is just north of downtown Los Angeles in Brand Park. It spread quickly to 810 acres in the Verdugo Mountains, and 33 homes were evacuated along Glendale's border with Burbank.
"What's running this fire is the terrain -- very steep, very heavy fuel," said Glendale Fire Department Capt. Thomas Marchant. "That's what the firefighters are working against."
A report by NBC4-TV said the fire took off shortly before noon on the south face of the Verdugo Mountains, quickly climbed to the crest of the range, and burned down the north face toward neighborhoods below.
About 25 miles east in the San Gabriel Mountains, the 19,375-acre Curve Fire on the Angeles National Forest is at 80 percent containment.
10 MILLION ACRES AT STAKE IN BUSH FOREST PLAN
SEPTEMBER 09 -- WASHINGTON, DC: The Bush administration's plan to protect forests from wildfire would suspend decades-old public-review procedures and some environmental appeals on 10 million acres and curtail the ability of judges to halt controversial logging projects. A report by the Seattle Times said the proposal seeks to reduce thick underbrush and dense stands of trees in fire-prone forests, but it also would overhaul many of the nation's forest-management practices and limit the ability of environmental groups to raise challenges.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman delivered legislation to Congress that offers the first detailed look at the "Healthy Forests" proposal Bush outlined last month.
"Our nation cannot afford to continue on a course that will result in more severe fire seasons like the one we are having this year," said Veneman. But the proposal marks such a stark departure from the way federal land managers work now that critics were left breathless by its sweep.
"It's outrageous — far worse than we expected," said Mike Anderson with The Wilderness Society in Seattle. He and others said the proposal reaches even further than the controversial 1995 Salvage Rider, a temporary lifting of logging restrictions environmentalists dubbed "logging without laws." That led to protests in the woods, roadblocks, and sit-ins in congressional offices.
But Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who helped draft the proposal, said the problem of fire — which has ravaged more than 6.3 million acres of public and private lands this year and forced thousands to evacuate their homes — is so out of hand, it's time for new thinking.
"We've got 190 million acres of land that's at risk to catastrophic fires," he said. "If this idea is so horrible to even contemplate, then either people don't believe it's a serious problem, or the level of distrust is so great we're not willing to suspend our disbelief to see if we can bite off 5 percent of the problem."
FIREFIGHTERS SAY OLD CLEARCUT SPELLED END OF SHEEP CREEK FIRE
SEPTEMBER 09 -- WISDOM, MT: When the Sheep Creek Fire blew through a stand of old growth, firefighters scrambled to get out of the way. The fire crowned and created 150-foot flames that shot embers a half-mile ahead of the fire. All that stood between the fire and thousands of acres of forest heavily laden with fuel, according to the Montana Standard, was a 40-year-old timber harvest unit.
As the firefighters watched, the fire ran up against the old clearcut and dropped to the ground.
"It was a total crown consumption fire when it hit the edge of the harvest unit," said Jim Brown, a fire behavior analyst, "and then it dropped to the ground. It was a done deal from there on."
The fire's behavior didn't surprise the firefighting team. It was something they’d seen time after time on fires across the West. "Anyone in this business has seen that happen before," said Stan Benes, the Sheep Creek Fire’s incident commander. "It’s just plain old common sense."
The Sheep Creek Fire began as a lightning strike. It smoldered for several days in the heavy downfall left over from a 1929 bug epidemic that killed a huge swath of trees. In some places there’s as much as 20 tons per acre of dry fuel. By the time a local Forest Service crew discovered the fire creeping around in the heavy fuels of a creek bottom, they’d already lost the opportunity for a quick strike.
"There was no nearby safety zone," said District Ranger Dennis Havig. "There were no escape routes. When the initial attack force sized up the fire, all indications pointed to the fact it was going to get really active."
"We knew we couldn’t safely put people in there," he added.
The fire grew to several hundred acres in a matter of hours. Firefighters built a line between old timber sale units to eventually control the blaze. "It was like connecting the dots," said Benes. "We knew where it bumped into those units, we had a good chance to catch it."
WILDFIRES: A POLICY SHOWDOWN
SEPTEMBER 09 -- WASHINGTON, DC: The Bush administration is pressing for changes that would speed up thinning in national forests to prevent catastrophic fires, despite Democrats' warnings that the changes would undermine environmental protections and provide a windfall to the logging industry.
The proposal, which would reduce legal barriers to fuels reduction, was delivered to Congress on Thursday by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
"This legislative proposal would give us management tools we desperately need to help get our forests and communities out of the crisis they are in," Veneman told the House Resources Committee. "It recognizes that time is not on our side" and that forest managers "must be empowered to act quickly and effectively." The debate promises to be another bruising battle, according to the Washington Post, over environmental principles between a Republican administration bent on easing government restrictions on industry, and Democrats and moderate Republicans closely allied with environmentalists who worry about wholesale logging on federal lands.
The administration's Healthy Forests Initiative would restructure the rules that govern appeals on logging in fire-prone areas -- particularly making "less cumbersome" the 30-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The measure would waive NEPA regulations for any forest-thinning project consistent with a comprehensive strategy adopted in May by administration officials, 17 governors, local and tribal leaders, and environmentalists for managing 10 million acres of fire-prone federal forests.
Bush's plan essentially would prevent environmental groups or individuals from going to court to temporarily block timber sales and forest-thinning projects
FIREFIGHTERS EXPECT TO CONTAIN APPLE FIRE TODAY
SEPTEMBER 08 -- GLIDE, OR: The 17,600-acre Apple Fire should be contained by this evening, according to Mike Lohrey's Pacific Northwest Team.
The fire, which started on August 16, has been burning in steep, rugged terrain and heavy timber east of Glide on the Umpqua National Forest.
"We feel confident that the 36-mile containment line established by firefighters will continue to hold," said Lohrey. "There has been a lot of hard work done by firefighters who have come from all over the United States, Canada, and Australia. Their efforts over the past 23 days have resulted in stopping this fire from further growth and spread."
Crews will continue to mop up and patrol the fire area over the next couple weeks. Firefighters will also continue rehab efforts, restoring hand and dozer lines, repairing damage to roads and trails, and removing all debris within the fire area.
More than 1,635 personnel are still working on the Apple and Tiller fires. Surplus crews and resources are being demobilized. A Type 2 incident management team from Oregon and northern California will begin transitioning with the Pacific Northwest Team tomorrow, and will manage the two fires. They will close the Apple fire camp on Thursday, August 12, and relocate remaining resources to the Tiller base camp.
Forest closures will remain in effect until weather conditions change. Weather forecasts predict continuing dry and warm conditions over the next couple weeks, and fire danger remains high.