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Gil
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PostMon Aug 30, 2021 8:04 am 
A friend wrote this for the Montana Standard, about the tension between private landowners and federal agencies over wildfire suppression and resources. I talked about the story with another friend, a former Forest Service backcountry ranger who now is retired in Whitefish, and he said the lack of resources for the FS is chronic, and fire season is always a huge shell game.

https://mtstandard.com/news/state-and-regional/lightning-wildfire-and-bureaucracy-the-woods-creek-story/article_c83d7b96-b744-581b-b7e8-a1673acd6522.html

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treeswarper
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PostWed Sep 01, 2021 8:22 am 
That's a good example of a problem that is popping up.  Local folks want something done, and who can blame them.  This is hardly the first fire that has started in an area where it was not considered a priority, and then blows up to burn off of federal land and on into private lands.

The Bundy movement at the Malheur wildlife area was started by the prosecution of two ranchers who did the same thing, but I don't think anyone was notified, and rumor was that they almost burned up a crew.  The same thing happened on the Carlton Complex but charges were dropped against the private landowner.

That's the danger.  Starting a fire to burn out vegetation ahead of the big fire, without communications, can burn up firefighters who are caught in the middle.

But, it is frustrating to be a neighbor to federal lands.  Real estate agents try to make it look like a perk, but in reality your land is more likely to impacted by fire because federal land is not well taken care of.

Perhaps monitoring fires, very closely with a crew on the ground would be better, but then the realities of funding extra bodies kick in.

One rancher in the Palisades area has purchased an engine and worked with agencies to get fire qualified.  That may be one way to go about it.

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PostWed Sep 01, 2021 8:49 am 
Gil wrote:
"...lack of resources for the FS is chronic..."

.... and has been for decades.

How do you solve that when you have half the population demanding that they pay no taxes, and an intractable Congress and Senate that refuse to provide adequate funding appropriations?

When everything is charred black and the last tree goes up in flames, perhaps then our "managers" will conjure up some solution.

In the meantime, sit back and watch it all burn.

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Likes2Hike
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PostWed Sep 01, 2021 11:44 am 
Thank you so much for posting the article from the Montana Standard. It expands a conundrum and raises awareness for how private firefighting efforts on rural landscapes are often quite different than the developing stereotype from how Californians have attempted to do similar things on expansive privately owned estates or on corporate owned wineries.

It seems it is no longer about having money to be able to pay for personnel and equipment, but rather how to reduce financial liability as a way to punish any humanly caused events. And yet, it seems government is beginning (or continuing) to treat public lands as if they are privately held. And so the article points out the double standard "you pay, but we don't" for fires that could have been better controlled or prevented from starting or spreading in the first place.

I don't want to really stir the pot on this forum, as I come to it to read about trip reports or learn how our trails are maintained when I cannot get outside to hike, but I do think it is absurd and difficult to comprehend how private citizens are expected to just stand back and let things burn until some government personnel have been called in to put out a fire. Especially when there are willing and able private resources and equipment at hand.

What little I've learned over the years, is often times firefighters don't even know the landscapes they are trying to save.  Maybe the bureaucracy is getting in the way of common sense? Naive perspective, perhaps.

If you are willing and able to fight a fire, regardless of being formally educated with fire management skills or not, you should be able to do so.  And yes, being able to establish and retain open communications with those who attempt to manage fires is super desirable.

I'm guess I'm getting tired from hearing about fires that have been discovered and hearing/reading the boilerplate news story saying they have to let things burn because they're in difficult and steep terrain, or must be avoided due to inclement weather conditions.  When, I ask, are wildfires ever discovered in easy-to-reach and level terrain and occurring on a bluebird cool and calm day?

I know we don't want human lives lost to the agony of being burned to death... and we don't want to lose structures, or other beloved material things, but geez, isn't there value in attempting to defend something you love, whether privately or publicly owned?

Cheers to continuing to read trip reports and trail talk...

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treeswarper
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PostWed Sep 01, 2021 12:51 pm 
Likes to Hike:  Things changed big time after the 30 mile deaths.  The father of one of the dead crewmembers went to work and sued individuals who were in charge.  The Forest Service did not come to their defense.  This caused fire people to refuse assignments, or else have to buy liability insurance.  There have been more deaths since and I've noticed that areas where we dummies of 30 years ago would go blindly forth on and try to control fires, or even those units that we burned slash, planted, and did other work on, are now considered too steep.  Smokejumpers walked off of one of the areas that we had burned years ago.  It had a wildfire in it and they considered it to be too steep and dangerous to work on.  Kind of stokes one's ego to think that they did normal, forestry work on a slope that is now steep and dangerous.  It is an individual call, and it doesn't bother that they walked away.  One has to be comfortable to work in those areas and if you aren't, walk away.

Anyway, since 30 mile, firefighting agencies have become more safety conscious, and that's a good thing.  We should have refused to work at night in a stand of burned lodgepole.  We'd hear the trees start to fall, but had no idea where it was coming from.  It was definitely unsafe and we were stupid to work in those conditions.

I guess we like to work with people we know and trust.  That's hard to do if you don't know what their training has been, or their physical limitations, or mental state.  And having to worry about somebody lighting a "backfire" anywhere without communicating that is just not acceptable.

I'm thinking that most deaths on fires are not from burning up.  Those are the ones that you hear about.  Instead it is equipment accidents, falling trees and limbs, getting clobbered by rocks and stuff,  bees, etc.  The falling trees have taken quite a few folks out.  For every death there is an investigation and maybe action to be taken.  Because trees were killing "fallers" back in the day, there is now a falling certification program for that.  No more  guys buying a saw and going to a fire as a sawyer, and then being escorted back home, if he survives because he's never run a saw before. (heard stories of that happening).  There is a physical test to avoid heart attacks and collapses, and driving tests.  There is mandatory training--fire school and a fire shelter hopping in test, etc. etc.  All of this is there because somebody was hurt or killed.  Then, in the end you hope they make the right decision on whether to work on that steep hill or not.

Liability is the big word.  There are still cases where community folks have come together to fight the fire and saved houses.  One was in Oregon a year ago but the folks had experienced equipment operators and people who were used to working in the woods.  In the Randle area, local folks would beat the fire crews to the local fires and keep them from taking off but those folks owned equipment and, again, were used to working in the woods.

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Likes2Hike
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PostWed Sep 01, 2021 1:55 pm 
Treeswarper, thank you for sharing  up.gif

Things definitely change after bad experiences happen, and what matters is there be purposeful intention to make things better going forward, by taking effort to learn from the past in hopes of not repeating and preventing future bad experiences.

Communication is definitely key to ensuring people continue to work together with one another. It definitely can be difficult to find that balance to timely be able to hear, know and trust strangers, especially while fighting wildfires. Fear of loss can, at times, result in doing something to benefit one's self when it may not ultimately be for the greater good of the majority of others.

There's mad respect for everyone who does the work required to maintain trails, to fight wildfires, and do what is needed to encourage forest regrowth and preserve what takes lifetimes to recreate.

I find great joy reading posts on this forum, even when they drifted beyond sharing of the joys from hiking/climbing experiences, because I learn something each time I read someone's post.  smile.gif

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jinx'sboy
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PostWed Sep 01, 2021 7:07 pm 
TW is mostly correct above.

Liability - whether on a personal or agency level - has become a driving force.  And the emphasis on Safety trumps everything else.  In the ‘bad ol’ days’ we all did things that would easily get someone fired today.  I look back at some of the ugly places I put myself, and especially others, on fires - and I now shudder.  It is the old fire saying …’were ya good, or were ya lucky?’  I was very lucky.

It’s not just a case that a slope - where we might have worked in the past - might be too steep today for even smokejumpers.  It is a case of a steep slope AND a much worse vegetation and fuels condition AND much worse fire weather conditions.

One correction.  I dont recall that any threatened or possible legal cases ended up in court as a result of the 30 mile fire.  I know, for instance, that some of the District and Forest level Line Officers and Staff did breathe a sigh of relief when the statute of limitations on civil suits passed. (On the other hand a couple lower level fire staff people did get forced to retire early under threat of being fired.)

One unfortunate - IMO - effect of the 30 mile fire was that Senator Cantwell (I believe in her first term?) championed a Bill that increased personal liability for fire managers.  This was done largely at the urging of families of the fallen firefighters.  THAT is the system we operate under today and it has had some unintended consequences.

It is also correct that most serious injuries and deaths on fires are NOT burn-related.  Falling tress - and then I’d bet driving - are probably the 2 biggest causes.

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Pyrites
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PostWed Sep 01, 2021 8:13 pm 
There was talk of criminal charges against a couple of supervisors at the 30 Mile Fire. It sent shocks all around the fire community in the West. In the end there was a plea bargain with I think $500 fines.

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jinx'sboy
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PostWed Sep 01, 2021 8:40 pm 
Pyrites wrote:
There was talk of criminal charges against a couple of supervisors at the 30 Mile Fire. It sent shocks all around the fire community in the West. In the end there was a plea bargain with I think $500 fines.

I mis-spoke earlier.  I had forgotten that the Crew boss was charged with several felonies, but those were all dropped, and he pled guilty to 2 charges of making false statements.  He received a short period of work release and probation.  And kept his job.

As I said, the ‘shock wave’ of liability continues to this day.

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treeswarper
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PostThu Sep 02, 2021 7:43 am 
The rumor mill also had it that one high level employee could not retire because he'd be subject to a lawsuit.  Kinda made me wonder, what with statutes of limitation, but I'm not a lawyer.

That was a rumor, not fact.

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