Planning Pays Big Dividends: 4 Successes from the 2017 Wildfire Season
Authors: Allison Jolley
Need some inspiration? Here are four examples of how planning ahead, whether that involved fuels treatment, team building or outreach, generated success during the 2017 wildfire season.
Collaborative Restoration Works, but Integrating Communities Is Essential
By Eytan Krasilovsky, Forest Stewards Guild
Carson National Forest’s restoration treatments began in earnest in 2005, with a New Mexico Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (CFRP) grant. The grant funded the treatment of several hundred acres and provided free and low-cost fuelwood to the traditional communities surrounding the landscape (including Cañon Plaza, Vallecitos, Petaca, El Rito, Ojo Caliente and Abiquiu). A series of CFRP projects continued in this area, which were then amplified by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.
The Forest Stewards Guild was the multiparty monitoring lead on a team of approximately ten collaborators for this grant. As part of an educational effort with local schools and the Forest Stewards Youth Corps, the Guild’s monitoring data revealed that mechanical treatments reduced stand densities by 30–50 percent and reduced canopy cover by roughly 40 percent. The Carson National Forest followed these mechanical treatments with prescribed fire. The local communities greatly supported this work due to the increased availability of fuelwood, which is critical for heating and cooking to many of these communities.
When lightning struck the area on June 3 of this year, these forest conditions, along with the weather, allowed fire managers to manage the flames for resource benefit. Until the 16th, the patches of severe burning were relatively small and caused little mortality.
As the fire headed south toward Cañon Plaza, there were no longer treatments in place. On June 16, the Bonita Wildfire began to burn at high severity within approximately two miles of homes in Cañon Plaza. This, along with the weather conditions and a transition to steep terrain, led to a suppression strategy.
The Bonita Fire’s early behavior reinforced the positive roles that collaboration, monitoring and wood utilization play in preparing landscapes for the eventual return of fire. Its later behavior highlighted the need for restoration projects to be integrated with fire adapted community efforts. In the future, as projects are designed and implemented, fire adapted community practitioners and land managers should align their objectives at the planning stage. I expect that this alignment will lead to a safer wildfire response, safer communities and improved ecological outcomes.
Southwest City Fire Departments Form an Interstate Fire Crew
By Paul Summerfelt, Flagstaff Fire Department
Last year, relationships formed via FAC Net generated a new idea: combining the Flagstaff and Santa Fe Fire Departments’ hand crews to form a 20-person, Type II Initial Attack Crew to aid in national fire response. The concept required coordinated planning efforts among each fire department, the Arizona and New Mexico State Foresters, and the Santa Fe Dispatch Center, but we pulled it off and successfully worked on five wildfires, one in California, one in Montana and three in Colorado. On each incident, fire managers gave our team positive feedback, and vocalization their great appreciation for this joint-operation model. We look forward to working together again during the next wildfire season, as well as during forest thinning and prescribed fire operations throughout the year.
Santa Fe Fire Department’s Joshua Chavarria had this to say about the experience:
Creating a crew from two fire departments proved to be beneficial to both the communities we helped protect and to us as crew members. We were successful due to strong core leadership, everyone’s willingness to come together as a single crew, and all of the training opportunities the experience provided, from orienting first-year firefighters to getting crew bosses qualified. It was remarkable to be a part of a crew comprised of two different fire departments, from two different states no less, and it worked so naturally. It was an honor and joy to work with Flagstaff Fire Department, and I look forward to working with them again.
Prescribed Burn Protects Oregon Community
By Alison Green, Project Wildfire
The Milli Fire was one of Deschutes County’s many wildfires this year; it occurred near Sisters, Oregon, threatening homes on the western side of that community. Thanks to years of planning and implementing forest restoration activities, firefighters were able to contain the fire before it reached any structures. Specifically, the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project performed a prescribed fire in that area earlier this year, which is at least partially why the Milli Fire ran a desirable, non-threatening course. The video below explains how our efforts paid off. You might be interested to know that the landowner in the video initially opposed the controlled burn, but after this experience, she appreciates the purpose behind it. The shift in her attitude is representative of a change we are beginning to see more and more of in central Oregon.
This Is Not a Drill
By Alison Green, Project Wildfire
You may recall my recent post on Project Wildfire’s evacuation video series. These videos were initially designed for general preparedness announcements. However, this summer’s wildfires prompted the evacuation of approximately 600 homes in our area, and without these videos in place, our ability to quickly disseminate evacuation information would have been limited. Instead, with each evacuation, we were able to quick push key messages from the videos on local radio stations and share the videos on Project Wildfire’s and the Deschutes County Sheriff’s social media channels.
Good Morning folks. With all our local fire activity and evacuation notices, let's take a look back at our spring evacuation series. Let's start with Evacuation basics. Check back here for more videos later in the day. Deschutes County Deschutes County Sheriff's Office Oregon Central Oregon Emergency Information Network
Posted by Project Wildfire on Friday, August 18, 2017
In addition, we anticipated August’s solar eclipse as being a high-risk time in terms of wildfire. So, we coordinated with our partners to organize a Multi-Agency Coordination Center (MACC), which had representatives from federal, state and local agencies. One arm of a MACC is a Joint Information Center (JIC), which is designed to gather information from MACC’s participants and generate a collaborative and coordinated message for the public. Through the formation of MACC and JIC, we were able to deliver clear and consistent information to the public during the wildfire season. Our videos’ messages were incorporated into a blog post, social media posts and press release reaching over 100,000 people through the JIC’s media channels.
Did your past work generate a 2017 wildfire success? Tell us about using the comment field below.