Category Archives: Safety

In the news: Snowshoe with a Ranger at Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie

Shot of a group of snowshoes on feet, gathered in a circle.

Exploring the outdoors is a passion for Rhonda Miller and Mackenzie Williams, and they’re equally passionate about sharing it with others – which is why they lead the “Shoeshoe with a Ranger” program at Stevens Pass on the Mt. Baker-Snoquamie National Forest.

On weekends through March 31, USDA Forest Service wilderness rangers lead visitors on guided, interpretive hikes, using snowshoes donated by outdoor equipment partner REI. The goal is to introduce new visitors to the forest, and the sport – especially those who may not have the experience, equipment, or confidence to head out into the woods on their own.


“There’s all this public land and we want people to benefit from it,” Williams said. “And we want people to enjoy their forest in a way that’s sustainable and allows them to continue enjoying it for a long time.”

Full story, via the Everett Herald:

“Snowshoe with a Ranger” at Stevens Pass is offered Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. through March 31. For locations and links to online registration info, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mbs/news-events/?cid=FSEPRD609539.

Mad River Trail gets BAER repairs; scheduled to re-open Spring 2019

Comparison - burned out and repaired sections of wooden retaining wall along the Mad River Trail

Until July 28, wooden walls provided a barrier to keep the neighboring hillside from eroding onto the the Mad River Trail.

But those walls burned, like so much else, when the Cougar Creek Fire burned through the area this summer.

Iron supports are all that remains of a wooden retaining wall on the Mad River Trail following the Cougar Creek fire.

Iron supports are all that remains of a wooden retaining wall on the Mad River Trail, and rocks and dirt had already begun to fall onto the trail before work performed to restore the wall in October, 2018. The work was part of the BAER, or Burned Area Emergency Response, work performed following the Cougar Creek fire, which started on July 28, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Sam Zook.

 

On a cloudy, slightly drizzly, day in late October, Forest Service trail and fire crews came together to rebuild 80 feet of soil retention walls on the Mad River Trail system.

“We knew from past experience the potential for a lot of erosion damage to occur to the trail in the areas where the walls had been,” Jon Meir, a recreation natural resources specialist for the Entiat Ranger District, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, said. “Luckily, through funding and crews made available by BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response), we were able to quickly replace burned segments of the erosion protection walls.”

The BAER, or Burned Area Emergency Response program, provides funds and resources to perform emergency stabilization work after a serious fire. The work starts even before the fire is out, and may continue for up to a year after a large wildfire occurs.

The goal of BAER efforts is to prevent further damage to life, property or natural resources on national forest system lands.

Iron supports and a few boards are all that remains of a wooden retaining wall on the Mad River Trail following the Cougar Creek fire.

Iron supports and a few boards are all that remain of a wooden retaining wall on the Mad River Trail, and rocks and dirt had already begun to fall onto the trail before work performed to restore the wall in October, 2018. The work was part of the BAER, or Burned Area Emergency Response, work performed following the Cougar Creek fire, which started on July 28, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Sam Zook.

“We needed to get this work done prior to autumn rains, winter blizzards, and spring downpours which would likely have caused erosion and significant trail damage. This would have led to additional work to repair the trail, additional cost, and longer repair time next summer,” Meier said. “Effects were decreased because we were able to accomplish this work immediately after the fire.”

Replacement of soil retention walls is just one part of the repair work needed on the Mad River Trail, which remains closed until more repairs are completed, which is scheduled to happen in the spring, 2019.

A repaired wooden retaining wall along the Mad River Trail

A repaired wooden retaining wall along the Mad River Trail on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in October, 2018. The repair work was part of BAER, or Burned Area Emergency Response, efforts performed following the Cougar Creek fire, which started on July 28, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Sam Zook.

“We recognize this is a very popular trail system, and trail repairs will be made as soon as possible in spring 2019, in April if the weather allows. Other infrastructure repair work, such as bridge repairs, won’t occur until additional funding is available,” Meier said.

But the work done in October will ensure the public is able to use the trail sooner than if erosion had been allowed to continue damaging the trail throughout the winter months.

Meier he will welcome help from anyone who wants to donate time to helping get the trail re-opened as soon as possible in the spring.

“Our trail crew will be starting repairs this spring, and volunteers are always welcome to participate. Just give me a call if you are interested in helping out,” Meier said.


Source information: Robin DeMario is a public affairs specialist for Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

A walk on the wild side: Exploring the forest with your dog

A German Shepard poses against the view after a hike to a mountain ridge.

It’s a bright cool morning when a hiker arrives at the trailhead with great anticipation. The trail ahead is lined with huge trees towering over the cerulean sky. The only thing that could possibly make the experience better, for many recreation users, is to have their canine best friend along for the adventure.

Dogs are welcome in most areas throughout our National Forests, but there are some simple guidelines we ask dog owners to follow to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all who use these great public resources, including their furry friends.

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The underlying rule for people bringing their dogs into “developed recreation” sites — that means areas designated as trail heads, campgrounds, parking lots, interpretive trails, visitor centers, and so on — is that dogs need to be a leash six feet in length or shorter, or restrained in some other way, such as a crate or carrying case.

In most other forest areas— including areas of trails beyond the trailhead or outside a developed recreation area — there are typically no leash requirements.

That doesn’t mean owners are relieved of responsibility for their animal, or that an off-leash walk is recommended, or even safe for your dog.

“Know your dog, but also recognize that the changed environment can impact your dog in different ways. You can’t control the environment or the possible sensory stimulation your dog may experience on the trail,” Tanya Roberts, Manager of Training and Behavior at Oregon Humane Society, said. “It’s always best to keep your dog on a leash when you’re on an unfamiliar trail.”

Some campers aren’t dog lovers; they may have phobias or allergies that prevent them from being happy to meet an unrestrained pet.

“Learn as much about trails and campgrounds as you can before you bring your dog. Steep terrain, narrow trails, steel mesh bridges, and log climbs can make the hike very difficult for your dog,” Roberts said.

When hiking, uncontrolled dogs may wander off a path and encounter wildlife, with disastrous results for the animal or themselves.

Some dogs have little fear of heights; in areas with cliffs, gulches, canyons, caves, or big rocks, they may slip under railings or over a steep drop and get hurt — or worse.

Another way to protect your pet: Before heading outdoors, ensure all vaccinations are up-to-date and make sure you’re using flea and tick control. Make sure dogs are both wearing identification tags on their collar and are microchipped, in case they get lost. Bringing a recent photo is also good idea, so you can show it to others campers or a rangers if your dog does go missing.

In some forests, you may encounter areas that restrict access to domesticated animals outside of developed recreation sites. These restrictions may be in place to protect watershed health, municipal water systems, sensitive plant species, or other natural resources that could be damaged. For example, restrictions are in place on some parts of the Deschutes National Forest to protect the City of Bend’s municipal water supply.

“Bottom line, it comes down to being respectful to others, wildlife, and keeping your dog safe,” Logan Free, the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s developed recreation program manager, said.

Free is an avid hiker and dog owner, and enjoys helping others enjoy the outdoors successfully with their dogs.

Yielding on trails is a common friction point among recreation users, he said.

“A basic etiquette rule I’ve heard is ‘Wheels yield to heels,’ where bikers and OHVers yield to all other users, while hikers yield to horseback riders,” Free said. “Restrain your dog when others try passing and yield to others, as you don’t know if other hikers would enjoy Fluffy jumping up to greet them.”

Keeping your leashed on trails is recommended, even if it’s not required, Roberts said.

Maintaining a safe distance between your dog and other trail users, including those on bikes or horseback, protects not only other users but also your pet.

“It’s just not worth the risk of having your dog off leash. It could become a life or death situation if your dog runs around a corner on a trail and startles a horse. This can be very dangerous both for your dog and for the horseback rider,” she said.

While some dog owners are confident allowing their dog to roam off-leash because their pet is trained to follow voice commands, even well-trained dogs can behave unpredictably — especially in an unfamiliar area, Roberts said.

“Some people are concerned that their dogs won’t get as much exercise if they stay on a leash, but usually with all the new sensory input, dogs will come home very tired anyway,” she said.

Another source of human-dog conflicts are areas around developed recreation sites. Even leashed, a dog’s presence can interfere with activities like bird watching. Barking is also a common source of friction between dog owners and other visitors.

“The National Forests are for everyone to enjoy. If people encounter dogs that are interfering with their ability to enjoy public lands, a polite conversation with the dog owner is a good first step, if the issue isn’t serious or threatening; followed by a call to your local ranger district office if the problems persist, and a call to law enforcement if the dog is aggressive,” Free said.

If you encounter other dog owners, remember that they also may prefer your dog be leashed around their pet, Roberts said.

“There may be lots of possible reasons. Maybe a dog is recovering from surgery, and having other dogs jump on them could do real damage,” Roberts said.

And sometimes, the best way to ensure your dog enjoys your time outdoors is to leave them at home.

Before taking your dog on a hike, take the weather, and the distance and terrain into account, Roberts said.

“Watch out for heat,” she said. “Put your hand down on the terrain: if it’s uncomfortable for you to put down pressure on the ground because of heat or sharp terrain, it will probably also be for your dog.”

If your dog is younger, older, or hasn’t hiked before, start with shorter hikes so dogs can get familiar with the environment, strengthen supporting muscles, and toughen up the pads on their feet.

“Get your dogs’ heart checked by a veterinarian before attempting any hiking. Carry a first aid kit, especially if you have a big dog who you won’t be able to carry back to your car. With elderly dogs, it’s especially important that you know what the dog will encounter along the trail and how difficult it will be,” Roberts said.

For pet safety tips, first-aid, and more information about responsible recreation with dogs on National Forests, check out the FAQ at https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5351574.pdf.

Before your visit, contact the local Ranger district office for specific local considerations or recommendations.

And don’t forget to scoop your dog’s poop! “Leave no trace” should be your goal for pets (and people, too). Dog feces can take months to decompose, and may carry diseases and parasites that are dangerous to wildlife and contaminate water that humans rely on, as well.

“It’s lovely to see people being respectful and being aware of how their dogs may be impacting others around them,” Roberts said. “We need to encourage people to do things right.”


Source Information: Chris Bentley is the Website and Social Media Manager for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement. He doesn’t have a dog… yet.

Fighting fires with fire: Prescribed fires restore healthy balance in forests

A firefighter with a radio monitors walks through brush in an area being treated by prescribed fire

As another hot, dry summer of fighting wildland fires winds down, National Forests and other Pacific Northwest land managers have begun to turn their attention to prescribed fires, or fires intentionally set to perform ecological work on the landscape.

Fire is an essential, natural process, having shaped the landscape for thousands of years, releasing, and recycling nutrients from vegetation, duff, and soil layers, improving the overall health of plants and animals.

In the Pacific Northwest, forests evolved to experience periodic fires that can thin overgrowth on the forest floor and make space for larger, healthier trees. On forests and grasslands, some invasive species may prove vulnerable to fires, while some native species actually require fire to release or germinate seeds.

“Prescribed fire is the right fire, in the right place, for the right reasons,” Rob Allen, fire staff officer for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest said. “It’s a proactive step- a choice to put fire to work for our communities and forests rather than just fight against it year after year.”

A stand of trees previously treated with prescribed fire.

After a prescribed fire on the Ochoco National Forest, Oregon, mature trees enjoy healthier spacing, while charred wood from dead trees provides wildlife habitat and fast-growing grasses and low-growing vegetation removed by quickly return to the area. USDA Forest Service photo.

Land managers have increasingly embraced prescribed fire as a management tool in recent years, as research began to point to an increasing number of larger, hotter “mega-fires” in the region that are believed to be fueled, in part, by a century of fire management decisions encouraging suppression of all fires — including the smaller, lower intensity fires, such as those set naturally by lightning during the cooler, wetter months.

Paul Hessburg, a scientist for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station estimates prescribed fires (and management of suitable natural fires) need to occur at six times recent rates to restore the “historical fire regime” to forests in Washington and Oregon.

In Central Washington, firefighters from seven agencies across the state will manage prescribed fires across central Washington, including the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, as part of a formal training exchange (TREX). Sponsored by the Fire Learning Network, TREX provides a unique opportunity for fire personnel from across the region to learn about prescribed fire and forest health across agency boundaries. Land managers from multiple agencies plan to burn up to 950 acres during the two-week TREX, and up to 5300 acres across the eastern Cascades this summer.

A low-intensity prescribed fire burns grass and brush while leaving larger trees intact.

A prescribed fire burns “low and slow” across an area on the Colville National Forest, Washington. Large, healthy trees with thicker bark may lose lower branches, but typically survive low-intensity fire, while smaller trees, brush, and diseased trees are typically burned away. Some native Pacific Northwest tress, grasses and wildflowers trees depend on fire to propagate, or have fire-resistant seeds that thrive in spaces where fires have cleared competing non-native species and seeds. USDA Forest Service photo.

On the Malheur National Forest in northeast Oregon, land managers have announced plans to burn parcels ranging from 150 to 4,000 acres, as weather permits, this fall.

On the Siuslaw National Forest, located on the central Oregon Coast, firefighters will burn “slash,” piles of debris and limbs that have accumulated throughout the year from timber sales and large scale restoration projects, to reduce the risk of these debris becoming fuel for wildland fires. All burning will be administered and overseen by trained firefighting personnel.

“This is the ideal time,” Dan Eddy, Siuslaw National Forest deputy fire staff officer, said. “The ground is damp from recent rains making it an effective way to remove non-merchantable wood debris before it can become a hazardous fuel in the dry summer months.”

Firefighters will also conduct prescribed burns in the Drift Creek area, (6 miles east of Waldport), and off Forest Service Road 52 in the Tidewater area (12 miles east of Waldport), on the Siuslaw National Forest.

Safety and smoke are the two concerns most people raise when they hear about plans for prescribed fires in their community.

That’s understandable, Allen said. “Clean air matters to all of us.”

A firefighter uses a drip torch to set fire to brush

A firefighter uses a drip torch to set fire to brush during a prescribed burn on the Klamath Ranger District on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, Oregon April 26, 2013. USDA Forest Service photo

Each prescribed fire represents many weeks of planning and preparation. Prescribed fires are managed using techniques that reduce fire intensity and smoke, such as careful site selection and attention to air and ground moisture,  atmospheric pressure, and wind.

Because firefighters choose the place, time, and conditions under which prescribed fires occur, they typically have much less impact on the surrounding community than wildland fires that aren’t planned.

Over time, land managers believe having more prescribed fires will reduce the amount of smoke experienced by communities, by preventing or limiting the size and intensity of wildland fires that occur on previously burned acreage.

More information:

Learn more about why fire on is needed on Pacific Northwest landscapes – and how prescribed fires can help in –  at https://www.north40productions.com/eom-home/.

Preparedness, helicopter crew rescue family from wildland fire

A Forest Service helitack crew prepares to evacuate a family trapped by the Crescent Mountain fire at Louis Lake on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Wash., Aug. 1, 2018. Courtesy photo by Justin Gerard.

Disaster can strike out of the blue in the backcountry. And when it does, preparation can make the difference between life or death.

Justin Gerard experienced that first hand during the Crescent Mountain fire on the Okanagon-Wenatchee National Forest last month.

Gerard said he and his family they won’t soon forget the experience – or their dramatic rescue by a Forest Service helitack (helicopter, fire attack) team.

The Crescent Mountain fire was one of several fires set by a lightning storm on July 29, 2018. The fire was small – less than 10 acres – when the Gerard family set out for Louis Lake on July 31st.

But overnight, conditions changed, producing extreme fire behavior; the fires grew 18 times their size in less than 24 hours.

On Aug. 1, the Gerards were hiking back from their overnight trip to the lake when they realized a smoke column that had been visible over the distant hills was suddenly much closer, and blocking the trail ahead. The family found themselves five miles from safety, surrounded by steep terrain, and with no easy path to escape.

After the fire, the fire’s Incident Command team determined the fire had moved down the mountain and across the trail they were hiking on in less than 40 minutes; too fast for anyone to outrun, especially a family with children and pets. In the days following their rescue, the fire continued to expand, sometimes by more than 4000 acres per day.

Fortunately, the Gerards were well-prepared for a trip to the backcountry. That advance preparation helped the family of six – and their three dogs – escape, without injuries.

But Gerard said he also has some “lessons learned” from the experience that will better prepare him for the possibility of wildland fires and other emergencies during his next wilderness trip.

Question: When you planned your trip, were you aware that there was fire activity in the area?

Answer: “I wasn’t aware in the beginning. Typically we don’t hike in August because of the fires, but we had been trying to hike to Louis Lake for a while. I called the Ranger District before leaving. They informed me about fire activity in the area, but there were no closures for the Lake Louise trail. At that time I think the fires were about 10 acres and had firefighters on them. When we arrived to start our trip there was no smoke that would indicate a fire was close by.”

Q: How do you prepare for outdoor trips?  When did you start using a satellite messenger device and do you utilize it regularly?

A: “I have four kids, ranging from age 8 to 18. We decided about three years ago to purchase the device. We thought it was a good thing to have in case of emergencies when out in the woods. Typically, I tell my parents where we are going, what our timelines are, and where we plan to camp. We give an “OK” signal when we start and send out an “OK” when we stop for the night. Sometimes I’ll use the tracking feature. My family and friends can go on the share page and track our movement. I have it programmed to send an alert signal if we haven’t moved in over four hours.”

“Hiking gear can be expensive. When you look at the cost involved of having an emergency beacon, it is relatively inexpensive compared to the peace of mind it brings and safety it provides for your family. It is a good thing to have especially if you are out by yourself.”

“All the kids know how to operate the device, and we always keep it in the same location on my pack. We talk about emergency scenarios with our family so everyone knows their role in case something goes wrong. The more you can prepare yourself for situations in the backcountry, the better you will be. In this case, I learned it is good to have a signal mirror.”  

Q: Tell me about what was going through your mind when you realized you and your family were in a dangerous situation?

“We had a great day at the lake fishing and swimming. We got up the next day and had breakfast. I spent the morning tapping up my children’s feet because they were breaking in new boots. We were planning to head out that day. Once we were heading down the trail I looked up and spotted the smoke column. I couldn’t tell how far away the fire was, but knew the wind was blowing in our direction. At that point we decided to turn around. I tried to keep everyone calm. We came up with a plan to return to the scree field.”

“Because we had moved locations and were unsure if the SOS signal was sending our new location, we decided to hit the button again — not realizing that our current location was already being sent. Hitting the button a second time canceled our emergency alert. Fortunately, my emergency contact went to the incident and alerted Forest Service officials that something was wrong.”

“I’ve spoken to numerous people that have SPOT devices (a brand name of emergency locator and messaging devices) and not many of them knew if you press the SOS a second time it cancels your emergency alert. This is very important to know.”

Q: What was it like to interact with firefighters from the helitack crew?

“They were wonderful. Top-notch professionals. They were calm and communicated very clearly with a great attitude. They did their job very well. They offered us food and water. They kept the kids calm while providing good instructions on what we needed to do.”

“There were some conversations about if we would be able to bring the dogs on the helicopter. The crew went above and beyond to allow us to bring our dogs. We were very grateful and appreciative that they trusted us enough to control the dogs on the flight. I would have understood if we had to leave the dogs. We left it up to them to decide. They did a great job being straight-forward during this difficult time.” 

Q: What is your advice to others that plan to recreate in remote locations?

“Even if you have a SPOT device, if there is any way to leave additional information for your emergency contacts it will help you out. Leave specific information about your party, medical information, where you are going, and when you will be out. This will help search and rescue find you faster. Just because you hit the SOS button doesn’t mean a helicopter rescue will come right away. You still need to be prepared mentally and have contingency plans to keep yourself safe.”

“Make sure you know where you are going. Call ahead to the Ranger District. Understand if you hike in dry months you need to have situational awareness. There can be lightning storms that quickly ignite fires. Hike at another time when fire danger is lower. We broke our rule of not hiking in August and we got caught.”

While Type 3 firefighting helicopters and crew aren’t normally utilized for rescue operations on incidents, federal employees have flexibility to deviate from SOPs when human lives are at stake.

 “We’re grateful that the decision was made to utilize the helicopter to get us out,” Gerard said. “People that have the ability to think on their feet and the experience to make sound decisions were vital to helping us. They took a risk for us and we think they should be recognized for their efforts.”

What went right?

  • The Gerards were aware that it is fire season. They checked fire weather and with a Ranger station, to help them make a decision about whether it was OK to hike. They knew the area and were able to quickly make a new plan and escape to safer terrain.
  • The 10 essentials. The family was well prepared for a backcountry trip, including warm, dry clothing, food, and camping gear, in case they’d had to shelter in place overnight. They also carried an emergency locator, which all family members were trained to operate.
  • The family had trip plan and a designated emergency contact who followed their progress, and was prepared to seek help.

What went wrong?

  • Conditions can change quickly – in this case, overnight. While you can’t plan for everything, consider the worst-case scenario before deciding how much risk you are prepared to tolerate.

Lessons learned?

  • Know your gear. Although the Gerards were careful to ensure all family members were trained to send a distress signal using their emergency beacon, they inadvertently cancelled their first distress call when they tried to send a second request after changing their location. Justin Gerard said he is reaching out to friends who rely on similar devices to share his lessons learned in case they ever find themselves in a similar situation.


Source information: Evan Burks, White Mountain National Forest (on fire assignment in support of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region Fire & Aviation office). Photos provided by Justin Gerard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the News: Enchantments under seige – will popularity save or destroy them?

A craggy, snow-capped rock cliff reflected in an alpine lake

Reporter Ted Alvarez scored his second invite to hike and camp out overnight at The Enchantments, a series of alpine lakes and glacially-formed rock formations high in the Cascades on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

In an article for Crosscut, Alvarez writes about how the area’s spectacular (and photographic) beauty is increasingly driving visitors to seek out the area – with or without one of it’s limited overnight permits, and how land managers struggle to balance access and protection of this uniquely beautiful, but ecologically fragile, area.

“Managing access to marquee wild places is a thorny issue with no real clear answers,” he writes. “Keeping out newcomers and day hikers often de-prioritizes the communities that most need to exercise their rights to our wildernesses and keep those values alive back home. But the flood will always wash in folks who have the potential to damage and diminish the very thing that attracts us all.”

Read more:
https://crosscut.com/2018/08/our-favorite-mountains-are-under-siege-blame-your-selfie

PS: A special “shout out” to Carly Reed on the Wenatchee River Ranger District, who is quoted in the story sharing some of her thoughts on social media and environmental impacts – including the ever-persistent “poop problem.”

Forest Service credits forest treatments for containment of Timber Crater 6 fire

A fire burns alongside a road in an area of previously thinned forest.

The Forest Service often talks about using thinning and prescribed fire for “fuels reduction” and forest restoration – but in recent years, wildfires that crossed paths with these treated areas have provided vivid demonstrations of how these treatments not only improve forest health, but also reduce the intensity and challenge of containing later wildfires, improving public safety and firefighters.

In mid-July, a lightning storm passed through southern Oregon, igniting multiple fires in the drought-stressed forest in and around Crater Lake National Park. Firefighters quickly contained most of these fires, but several grew together and became the Timber Crater 6 Fire. It was projected to grow as large as 20,000 acres. But earlier fuels treatment projects conducted in the area allowed firefighters to pursue an aggressive full-suppression strategy, which kept the fire to just 3,100 acres.

 

firefighters working among well-spaced pine trees

Thinning projects improve tree spacing and remove dead trees, while prescribed fire helps reduce ground duff and underbrush that could cause future fires to burn faster and with more intensity. Because ground plants and grasses have evolved with regular wildland fires in this region, native species often rebound quickly following low-intensity burns, while high-intensity fires may kill trees and damage surrounding soil. USDA Forest Service photo.

Over the years, the Fremont-Winema National Forest and Crater Lake National Park have worked collaboratively on a variety of thinning and prescribed burning projects in the Antelope Desert area of the Chemult Ranger District.

The Timber Crater 6 Fire was burning in an area with heavy fuels with few breaks where firefighters could work safely. Fire behavior can be extreme under these conditions. But, the nearby treated areas gave firefighters safe ground to operate and respond under more favorable conditions. The treated areas were critical in keeping the wildfire shorter in duration, less costly, safer for firefighters, less threatening to private property, and with few smoke and economic impacts to local communities.

Often, firefighters need to do significant preparation before starting a burnout operation, including removing trees, chipping, and digging fire lines. The burned area, now cleared of potential fuels, can then serve a “fire break” against a advancing, larger fire.

Two firefighters use a chainsaw to clear brush below a stand of pine trees.

Firefighters prepare an area for burnout operations on Fremont-Winema National Forest as part of efforts to contain the 2018 Timber Crater 6 fire. USDA Forest Service photo.

Because the treated areas required little prep work, crews were able to move in quickly to conduct a burnout operation, and confining the most dangerous part of the fire and removing fuels in its path.

In less than three weeks, the Timber Crater 6 fire was confined to just 3,126 acres and many firefighters were freed up early to move on to other fires.

Old-growth Ponderosa pine trees were protected from high-intensity wildfire, no community evacuations were required, and this fire did not contribute to the longer duration smoke impacts that occurred across the region this season.

The Timber Crater 6 fire demonstrates the value of fuels treatment projects. Many areas across the Pacific Northwest, especially in the wildland urban interface, need thinning and prescribed burning to improve forest health and reduce wildfire risk.

That’s why the Forest Service is working closely with state partners and local communities to increase the number and size of these fuels reduction projects in conjunction with efforts to strengthen fire-adapted community preparedness.


Source information: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region staff

Fire safety for hunting season

A mule deer with large antler rack in a hay field on the Fremont-Winema National Forest in Oregon.

It may feel like fall, but just because temperatures are getting cooler doesn’t mean conditions aren’t still tinder-dry. With hunting season already underway in some places and rapidly approaching for others, USDA Forest Service land managers are asking hunters and other forest visitors remember that fire season is still underway – and that even past fires can present hazards long after their flames have been extinguished.

When hunting on public lands, remember:

  • Just because the weather is cooler doesn’t mean it isn’t dry enough for fires to start, and spread! Know before you go if there fire restrictions in effect.
  • If campfires are allowed, make sure your fire is dead out before leaving. Drown, stir, and drown again – if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave!
  • Consider campfire alternatives, such as propane stoves.
  • Do not idle, drive or park on dry grass. Vehicle exhaust, or the hot metal on the undercarriage, could ignite the grass or brush beneath.
  • Do not flick cigarettes out vehicle windows. Extinguish smoking materials in an ashtray.
  • Check any chains you may be using on a trailer. Dragging metal on the roadbed can start a shower of sparks into dry vegetation causing a wildfire.
  • Report wildfires by calling 911.
  • Any time you are travelling in the woods, let someone know your planned route, destination and expected return time.

If you’re visiting an area recently burned by wildfire, use caution!

  • People intending to hike into, or near, the fire area should remain alert and aware of their surroundings at all times. Know the forcasted weather before entering the area, assess the weather conditions while in the area, and stay clear of burned trees. Don’t camp or hang out in the wildfire area.
  • Hazard trees or snags tend to pose the most immediate threat.  Dead or dying trees that remain standing after a wildfire are unstable, especially in high winds, and can lose heavy branches or fall at any time.
  • Look up! People are often more aware of obstacles on the ground but don’t often look up and around to assess danger.
  • Ash and fallen needles are slippery and can make for treacherous footing on trails.
  • Burned-out stump holes can make the ground weak and subject to failure. Be aware that ground can be unstable, due to burned-out roots beneath the surface.
  • Loose rocks and logs are unpredictable, and can down slope towards you or out from under you.
  • Burned vegetation can also contribute to landslides, mudslides and erosion when the rain returns. Badly burned ground is less absorbent than healthy forest soil. Flash floods and mud flows may occur.
  • Expect to encounter firefighter traffic, dusty roads, and smoke in some areas. Be aware, and be prepared for possible obstacles or closures related to firefighting activity. Be careful, for your safety and theirs.

Image of a target, icons, and text: Know Before You Go - Hunting and Shooting on Public Lands. Get a map: Know where you can hunt, check for any fire restrictions in effect. Make sure your fire is dead out: Drown stir, and drown again, then check for warmth. If it's too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave. Check the weather: Avoid fires on hot, dry and windy days. Watch for fire danger ratings and ref flag warnings. Place targets away from dry grass, and do not use targets on trees. Consider an indoor range for target practice on hot days. If you see a fire, call 911 to report its location, what is in danger, and stay on the phone until help arrives. Thank you for your help in preventing wildfires!

Know Before You Go – Hunting and Shooting on Public Lands. Get a map: Know where you can hunt, check for any fire restrictions in effect. Make sure your fire is dead out: Drown stir, and drown again, then check for warmth. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave. Check the weather: Avoid fires on hot, dry and windy days. Watch for fire danger ratings and ref flag warnings. Place targets away from dry grass, and do not use targets on trees. Consider an indoor range for target practice on hot days. If you see a fire, call 911 to report its location, what is in danger, and stay on the phone until help arrives. Thank you for your help in preventing wildfires!

In the news: U of I study measures firefighter fatigue, health impacts

A row of firefighters mop-up smoldering coals in a smoky, wooded area by chopping up the dirt with axes and other hand tools

In 2015, three firefighters died after being trapped by a shift in wind direction while fighting a fire outside Twisp, Wash; Tom Zbyszewki, 20, Andrew Zajac, 26 and Richard Wheeler, 31.

Their deaths prompted Randy Brooks, a professor of Forestry, Rangeland and Fire Sciences at the University of Idaho;s College of Natural Resources, to study how fatigue during long, physically and mentally intense firefighting seasons impact firefighter alertness, decision-making ability, health, and overall safety. His reasons were both professional, and personal – his son, Bo Brooks, was also a firefighter on the Twisp River Fire.

“I think we need a paradigm shift in the way we think about fighting wildfires at all cost and place a greater emphasis on personal safety over protecting resources,” the elder Brooks said. “Trees grow back, homes can be rebuilt, but lives can’t be replaced.”

Read more about the study, which collects real-time health data from 18 smokejumpers, and has surveyed hundreds of wildland firefighters, on the University of Idaho website, at: https://www.uidaho.edu/cnr/research/stories/wildlandfirefighter

VIDEO: Drones are changing how wildland fire is fought

A firefighter loads plastic sphere dispensers into an unmanned aerial system, or drone, that will be used to deliver the payload

Drones are changing the way we scout and manage wildland fires; getting eyes on backcountry and steep terrain without additional “boots on the ground,” providing real-time information about terrain, conditions and fire intensity – even in zero-visibility smoke – using thermal and infrared cameras, and even allowing firefighters to light backfires, used to encircle and contain a larger fire, remotely in terrain that can’t be safely accessed by firefighters.

In this video, Incident Commander Tom Kurth with the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team introduces four applications for unmanned aerial systems, or drones, for use in fire management: aerial survey; heat location; aerial firing; and mapping. The Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team was assigned to incidents in southwest Oregon during the summer of 2018.

 

Unauthorized drones are a serious hazard to aviators, aircraft and firefighters during wildland fires. Not only do they place aircraft, passengers and crews at risk, but dection of unauthorized flights grounds dozens of emergency air resource flights supporting wildland firefighting efforts every year.

Unmanned Aerial Systems, or drones, are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.  Never use a personal drone to fly over an emergency response area, and check for temporary flight restrictions every time you fly.

All drones are aircraft - even the ones at the toy store. When you fly a drone, you're a pilot. Use your pre-flight checklist - stay below 400 ft., stay within your visual line of sight, don't fly within 5 miles of an airport without first contacting air traffic control and airport authorities, and always check for temporary flight restrictions before you fly. For more info, visit faa.gov/uas or knowbeforeyoufly.org

All drones are aircraft – even the ones at the toy store. When you fly a drone, you’re a pilot. Use your pre-flight checklist – stay below 400 ft., stay within your visual line of sight, don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport without first contacting air traffic control and airport authorities, and always check for temporary flight restrictions before you fly. For more info, visit faa.gov/uas or knowbeforeyoufly.org


Source information: Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team, via Northwest Interagency Fire Information Center – Pacific Northwest Fire Information, on YouTube

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