Monday, September 8, 2008

Wildfire news, September 8

Thursday is seven years after 9/11

President Bush issues a proclamation each year designating 9/11 as Patriot Day. Seven years ago nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks, including 411 emergency responders. The New York City fire department lost 341 firefighters and 2 paramedics.

Some fire departments and other organizations will conduct commemorations of those losses Thursday at the exact time the Trade Center towers collapsed. The south tower fell at 9:58 a.m. ET and the north tower at 10:28 a.m. ET.

Idaho: South Barker fire

This Fire Use fire near Featherville, Idaho has been burning since August 7. If you were going to walk the perimeter, you would need to prepare for a 71-mile hike. The Idaho Statesman has a long article about the fire; here is a brief excerpt.
There is more than 34,000 acres of land inside the boundary of the fire. But wildlife biologist David Skinner estimates that only about half of that, possibly even less, has actually burned.

The fire is burning a "mosaic" pattern, he said - low-intensity fires often leave lots of land untouched, and the more fires are allowed to burn through forests, the
more likely the fires are to remain low-intensity.

A walk through the burned portion of the fire reveals blackened hillsides with healthy, green trees. In some places, burned land abuts lush drainages. This kind of fire doesn't often produce the heat necessary to kill large trees. Thick bark on Ponderosa pine trees makes them more resilient to fire.

In his meetings with area residents, Wehrli repeatedly assures people that the fire isn't turning their recreation areas into a "moonscape."

"Firefighting is changing and you're going to see a lot more of these kinds of fires, an
d less suppression," Norman said. "And that's not a bad thing."
"Fire is a reset button"

From the Calgary Herald:
The Alberta government is setting ablaze 12 times as much land in southern Alberta as it did just four years ago, in a bid to fight mountain pine beetles and eliminate the fuel for wildfires that threaten communities.

"Fire is a re-set button," said Rick Arthur, a government wildfire prevention officer. "If we don't do something, then we're putting the ecosystem at risk."

And speaking of pine beetles...

A saw mill in Colorado has converted to a pellet plant, now running 24/7 processing beetle-killed trees into fuel for heating homes and schools, according to cbs4denver.com:
KREMMLING, Colo. (CBS4) ― As many as a dozen semi-trucks loaded with logs roll into the Confluence Energy pellet plant in Kremmling on a daily basis. Piles of logs are stacked all around a white, metal building where the dead trees are processed.

About 30,000 tons are waiting to be turned into pellets; the plant puts out about 200 tons a day. The entire business is aimed at recycling Colorado's dying forests.

About 1.5 million acres of lodgepole pines in Colorado are dead or dying from pine beetles, which infect the trees with a fatal fungus after they burrow into to them to lay eggs.

"The reason it [the plant] started is there was no one really doing anything about it, there was a lot of happy talk talk that this needs to be done and that needs to be done but it didn't seem like anyone was jumping into the deep end of the pool," said business owner Mark Mathis. "We can offset a tremendous amount of natural gas and fossil fuel by utilizing wood pellets. Basically this plant alone can heat 40,000 homes."

Insurance companies sue USFS over Hayman fire

Five insurance companies have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service over the 2002 Hayman fire southwest of Denver. From the Rocky Mountain News:
Five insurance companies that paid claims stemming from the 2002 Hayman Fire
say the federal government should repay them because its crews - including the woman who started the blaze - didn't put out the fire quickly enough.

In a case scheduled to go to trial today in federal court in Denver, t
he companies will try to recoup the approximately $7 million paid to area property owners.

Terry Barton, file photo

Among the witnesses who could take the stand later this week is Terry Barton, the U.S. Forest Service employee convicted of sparking the 137,000-acre fire by burning a letter from her estranged husband.

Barton was released from federal prison in June after having served five years and two months of a six-year sentence.

State Farm Fire & Casualty, Hartford Underwriters Insurance, Property and Casualty Insurance Co. of Hartford, Hartford Fire Insurance Co. and Allstate Insurance filed suit in 2006.

They argue that the Forest Service was negligent because it allowed Barton to work alone the day she started the fire, didn't properly train her to contain the fire once it started and took too long to dispatch firefighters.

They also say Barton, while working in an official capacity, drove away from the fire before she was certain it had been extinguished. When she returned later, the fire had spread out of control.

Attorneys for the government say Barton wasn't acting within the scope of her employment when she started the fire, so under federal law the Forest Service is immune from a negligence claim.

"Burning the letter from her estranged husband was purely personal and was not done to further the Forest Service's interests," Assistant U.S. Attorney William Pharo wrote in a court filing.

Pharo also disputes the allegation that the fire response was inappropriate. He said there could be "enormous" consequences - such as no one volunteering to fight fires - in putting the burden of compensation on the responders.

"Public and social interests require that individuals will be willing to put their lives at risk to fight wildfires, and that they have the discretion to balance multiple factors in determining how best to fight the fires," he stated.

Barton was ordered to reimburse the Forest Service about $14.6 million. She also could be ordered to pay the state up to $27.5 million more, though prosecutors acknowledge she will likely be able to pay only a very small portion of her debt.
California: Private aerial fire patrols

It is news to us, but according to the Eureka Times-Standard certain owners of timber lands are required by the federal government to conduct regular fire patrols.

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