Federal Judge Affirms Management of Grazing on Lands Burned in Murphy Fires

BLM News Release, March 2, 2009 [here]

A federal district court judge has ruled that actions by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to stabilize and rehabilitate public rangelands burned in the 2007 Murphy Complex wildland fires are consistent with all legal requirements and found no need to ban livestock grazing in these areas.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued an Order last Thursday expressing confidence in the BLM to modify grazing permits for certain allotments in the Jarbidge Field Office (JFO) to account for the loss of habitat for sensitive species in the 2007 fires “so that the Court does not need … to issue a total ban on grazing.” The Order also concludes that BLM’s environmental studies of its emergency stabilization and rehabilitation plans were in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“We greatly appreciate the Court’s confidence in the BLM’s ability to manage public lands in the Jarbidge Field Office,” said JFO Manager Rick Vander Voet. “We will continue to use our expertise in multiple disciplines to maintain and restore the health of the lands we steward.” The Order acknowledges and defers to the agency’s expertise to determine which lands burned in the Murphy Complex fires should be closed to grazing as well as its decisions related to reseeding and fences.

The Court rejected as “far-fetched” the idea of ordering an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzing decisions on fencing, closure, and re-seeding in burned areas while an EIS on the Management Plan for the entire JFO is underway. “[T]he burden would be so great on an already overloaded agency that the task would be impossible to perform. … [O]rdering the BLM to simultaneously prepare two EISs [is] a remedy so unrealistic that it must be rejected.”

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1 Mar 2009, 9:12pm
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Texas State Resources Used to Combat Fire

Fox 7 Austin, Sunday, 01 Mar 2009 [here]

AUSTIN - Governor Rick Perry put state resources into action to combat wildfire in Central Texas on Sunday afternoon. The resources include four Texas Military Forces Blackhawk helicopters that drop water and fire retardant, Texas Forest Service firefighters, contract aircraft and heavy equipment.

“Wildfires burning in Central Texas have destroyed homes and property over the weekend, but fortunately there have been no reports of lives lost,” Gov. Rick Perry said. “The state is assisting in battling this threat and will continue to provide necessary resources to protect our communities. I urge all Texans to use extreme care in outdoor activities, to be aware of burn bans in their counties, and to take precautions to protect their homes and property.”

Since Jan. 1, 2009, 3,685 wildfires have burned 118,061 acres of land across the state. These fires have threatened 1,763 homes, firefighters have saved 1,630 homes, and 57 homes were lost, according to Governor’s Office officials.

The most significant damage occurred over the weekend in Bastrop County, officials said. These damages include 25 homes destroyed and 1,000 acres burned. The fire is burning in heavy terrain, hampering firefighting efforts. … [more]

1 Mar 2009, 8:32pm
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Grape crop tested for bushfire smoke

ABC.net.au, Feb 19, 2009 [here]

Test results are expected within weeks on how Victoria’s bushfires have damaged grape crops.

The Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation says South Australian laboratories are testing 500 gram samples of grapes from Victorian vineyards.

They are testing for a chemical that produces a smoky tainting, which is capable of ruining the vintage for some growers.

Corporation executive director John Harvey says conditions in the aftermath of the bushfires may not have been as damaging as feared.

“Probably the smoke hasn’t actually hung around quite as long as it has on previous occasions,” he said.

“In terms of the research that’s been done, the smoke has been around probably at not the most critical time in terms of having a smoke effect, so it really depends on what those results start to show.”

1 Mar 2009, 1:12am
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Texas Fire Destroys Two Dozen Homes

Fire rips through Bastrop County, destroying homes and businesses

By Laura Heinauer & Asher Price, Austin American-Statesman, March 01, 2009 [here]

At least 23 homes and nine businesses were destroyed and more than 650 acres were scorched as a fire probably caused by a downed power line rolled through a semirural stretch of Bastrop County on Saturday,

The blaze, which officials named the Wilderness Ridge Fire, sent billows of smoke skyward all afternoon, and it forced dozens of residents to evacuate their homes in the early afternoon.

At one point, more than 200 homes were threatened. One firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation, but no other injuries were reported Saturday night.

Portions of Texas 71 between Bastrop and Smithville were shut down as crews from at least four firefighting airplanes, three helicopters and a host of emergency vehicles toiled to keep the fast-moving fire, fed by gusty winds and parched conditions, at bay.

County Judge Ronnie McDonald declared Bastrop a disaster zone, opening the way for state or federal help. It’s the second time in less than two weeks that the judge has declared a disaster. McDonald recently wrote Gov. Rick Perry asking for help because of record dry conditions.

The area struck by the fire is home to Bastrop’s piney woods and some of its agriculture. It is also dotted with subdivisions. Sandra Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service, which was assisting Bastrop County with the fire, said officials did not know the names of the destroyed businesses.

As night fell, officials said the fire was 40 percent contained and said they were hoping to make a stand along the Colorado River.

Officials were hoping that the fire, whipped by gusts up to 39 mph in midafternoon, would slow down as winds steadily decreased after sunset. … [more]

23 Feb 2009, 12:20pm
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Forest report cites dangers to water source

by Joe Hanel, Durango Herald, February 21, 2009 [here]

DENVER - Calling Colorado’s high-altitude forests a national asset, the region’s top forester thinks urban water utilities should consider charging their customers a monthly forest-health fee.
Many bills, little money to fight wildfires

Rick Cables, head of the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain region, told state lawmakers Wednesday that forest protection is every bit as important for water supplies as building dams and pipelines.

“The new water project is protecting the headwaters - investing in where the water comes from,” Cables said.

Cables and Colorado State Forester Jeff Jahnke visited the Legislature’s two agriculture committees to release the annual forest health report, which this year focuses on threats to high-altitude forests.

Trees above 9,000 feet provide biodiversity and homes for wildlife, Jahnke said.

“Probably more than anything - and I think of national strategic value - is their role in producing water,” Jahnke said.

Cables agreed. People in 143 counties in 10 states rely on water from Colorado’s headwaters, he said.

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16 Feb 2009, 12:06am
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Scores of Animals Ravished by Aussie Fires

The Associated Press, February 13, 2009 [here]

SYDNEY — Kangaroo corpses lay scattered by the roadsides while wombats that survived the wildfire’s onslaught emerged from their underground burrows to find blackened earth and nothing to eat.

Wildlife rescue officials on Wednesday worked frantically to help the animals that made it through Australia’s worst-ever wildfires but they said millions of animals likely perished in the inferno.

Scores of kangaroos have been found around roads, where they were overwhelmed by flames and smoke while attempting to flee, said Jon Rowdon, president of the rescue group Wildlife Victoria.

Kangaroos that survived are suffering from burned feet, a result of their territorial behavior. After escaping the initial flames, the creatures — which prefer to stay in one area — likely circled back to their homes, singeing their feet on the smoldering ground.

“It’s just horrific,” said Neil Morgan, president of the Statewide Wildlife Rescue Emergency Service in Victoria, the state where the raging fires were still burning. “It’s disaster all around for humans and animals as well.” … [more]

11 Feb 2009, 7:33pm
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Fearless fighters storm through fire to save campers

Andrew Collard, Herald Sun, February 11, 2009 [here]

FEARLESS firefighters have stormed through fire to save 19 campers, including seven toddlers and babies.

As the firefighters led them to a river and hosed them under fire blankets, their parents begged: “Are we going to make it out of this?”

Andrew Collard, 30, and Brian Lawry, 46, who are Department of Sustainability and Environment workers, told of their extraordinary efforts to first storm through the fire in their truck and then save the eight families as flames engulfed them at a scenic park in Murrindindi at 3.30pm on Saturday.

Firefighter Brad Sexton tried to cut his way into the scenic reserve — which was destroyed by the start of the fire that later razed Marysville — with a bulldozer to rescue the group. He later learned his own house had burned down at Kinglake.

he firefighters herded the families, all campers from Melbourne, into the shallow water, parked their truck to protect them and then drove cars into the water.

They bundled the toddlers and babies, as young as six months, inside before covering them with a fire blanket and hoses.

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11 Feb 2009, 12:26pm
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Angry survivors blame council ‘green’ policy

by Andrea Petrie, Arthurs Creek, The Age (AU), February 11, 2009 [here]

ANGRY residents last night accused local authorities of contributing to the bushfire toll by failing to let residents chop down trees and clear up bushland that posed a fire risk.

During question time at a packed community meeting in Arthurs Creek on Melbourne’s northern fringe, Warwick Spooner — whose mother Marilyn and brother Damien perished along with their home in the Strathewen blaze — criticised the Nillumbik council for the limitations it placed on residents wanting the council’s help or permission to clean up around their properties in preparation for the bushfire season. “We’ve lost two people in my family because you dickheads won’t cut trees down,” he said.

“We wanted trees cut down on the side of the road … and you can’t even cut the grass for God’s sake.”

Later, the meeting was cut short when Mr Spooner’s father, Dennis, collapsed in his chair and an ambulance had to be called. Despite losing his wife and son and everything he owned, a friend later said he had not stopped or slept since the weekend. … [more]

10 Feb 2009, 9:44pm
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Victoria fires: 80 missing, 181 dead, police chase arsonists

By staff writers, NEWS.com.au, February 11, 2009 [here]

POLICE are close to arresting an arsonist suspected of setting a blaze in Gippsland, as reports emerge that several fresh fires were deliberately lit in the Beechworth area overnight.

Victorian Premier John Brumby said he believed the 100 police officers in Taskforce Phoenix were “close to finalising investigations” into the south Gippsland fires which left 21 people dead.

He said it was virtually impossible to believe that people would be still lighting fires given the current situation.

It is believed police have a description of a car used by those allegedly responsible for the overnight blazes in Beechworth.

“There seems little doubt that these were deliberately lit. I think words escape us all when it comes to describing that deliberate arson,” he said.

Community shock and anger at arsonists have spread nationwide as the massive scale of death and destruction becomes known.

Whole towns are being treated as crime scenes as police hunt those responsible for deliberately lighting fires.

Up to 80 people are still missing in the Victoria fires as the official death toll continues to climb.

The toll climbed to 181 overnight but with dozens still unaccounted for it is expected to exceed 200.

Those missing were “people who the coroner believes are already deceased, but are not yet identified,” Mr Brumby said. … [more]

9 Feb 2009, 2:26pm
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U.S. intel alerted to threat of ‘Forest Fire Jihad’

World Tribune, Tuesday, January 15, 2008 [here]

U.S. officials monitoring terrorist web sites have discovered a call for using forest fires as weapons against “crusader” nations, in what may explain some recent wildfires in places like southern California and Greece.

A terrorist website was discovered recently that carried a posting that called for “Forest Jihad.” The posting was listed on the Internet on Nov. 26 and reported in U.S. intelligence channels last week.

The statement, in Arabic, said that “summer has begun so do not forget the Forest Jihad.”

The writer called on all Muslims in the United States, Europe, Russia and Australia to “start forest fires.”

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9 Feb 2009, 11:33am
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Islam group urges forest fire jihad

by Josh Gordon, The Age (Australia), September 7, 2008 [here]

AUSTRALIA has been singled out as a target for “forest jihad” by a group of Islamic extremists urging Muslims to deliberately light bushfires as a weapon of terror.

US intelligence channels earlier this year identified a website calling on Muslims in Australia, the US, Europe and Russia to “start forest fires”, claiming “scholars have justified chopping down and burning the infidels’ forests when they do the same to our lands”.

The website, posted by a group called the Al-Ikhlas Islamic Network, argues in Arabic that lighting fires is an effective form of terrorism justified in Islamic law under the “eye for an eye” doctrine.

The posting — which instructs jihadis to remember “forest jihad” in summer months — says fires cause economic damage and pollution, tie up security agencies and can take months to extinguish so that “this terror will haunt them for an extended period of time”.

“Imagine if, after all the losses caused by such an event, a jihadist organisation were to claim responsibility for the forest fires,” the website says. “You can hardly begin to imagine the level of fear that would take hold of people in the United States, in Europe, in Russia and in Australia.”

With the nation heading into another hot, dry summer, Australian intelligence agencies are treating the possibility that bushfires could be used as a weapon of terrorism as a serious concern. … [more]

8 Feb 2009, 10:12pm
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Fire plans no help in killer Victorian bushfires

News.com.AU, Feb. 9, 2009 [here]

VICTORIA’S Premier John Brumby said the state may need to review its bushfire policy of “stay and defend or leave early” in light of the appalling death toll from the bushfire disaster.

Mr Brumby said the Government would this week initiate a royal commission into the Victorian bushfires and the lead-up to them. “It will look at everything,” his spokesman said this afternoon.

He said the Government and authorities’ long-standing approach of advising people to have a bushfire plan ready to either stay to defend their homes or leave well before the fire became a threat had in many cases not saved people at the weekend.

“I think when the time comes to examine in-depth all of the issues that occurred on Saturday, obviously fire policy will be one of those areas,” Mr Brumby told Fairfax Radio Network.

“People will want to review that, examine that, it may be right, it may not be. It’s served us well for 20 years or more - that is, if you decide to leave, leave early and if you decide to stay make sure you’ve got a fire plan.

“But there is no question that there were, you will talk to them there at Whittlesea, there is no question that there were people there who did everything right, put in place their fire plan and it wouldn’t matter, their house was just incinerated.”

Mr Brumby said in the Boolarra fires at Gippsland last week, everybody who had stayed to defend their homes with a fire plan had saved their homes and survived.

“It’s not true to say that of the fire on Saturday. There were many people who had done all of the preparations, had the best fire plans in the world and tragically it didn’t save them.”

He had spoken to one couple from Kinglake who were ready to defend their home but had to flee at the last moment, saving their family but losing their house.

“They put their fire plan in place, they did everything right, 30 metres of grass, water in spouts, everything, and they were going to save their house and they said it just came over, like a sun almost, a fireball just came over.

“Their kitchen just exploded and they left in the car and miraculously they survived.

“But how else do you describe that, it is, it’s like hell on earth.”

8 Feb 2009, 10:11pm
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Australian Fire Death Toll May Reach 230

131 people dead, 750 homes destroyed in worst bushfires in Australia’s history

News.com.AU, Feb. 9, 2009 [here]

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd said arsonists in Victoria had committed mass murder as the death toll in Australia’s worst ever bushfires rose to 131 this afternoon, with the final toll expected to be much more.

Authorities are being warned to expect a toll of 230, The Australian quoted sources inside state emergency meetings as saying.

Fires were still burning out of control and putting towns at risk in the Beechworth and Yackandandah regions in the state’s northeast. Shortly after 4pm (AEDT) a third town, Toolangai, was also put on alert.

Amid speculation some of the fires were deliberately lit - and with reports yesterday that people were returning to relight blazes after fire crews had left an area - Mr Rudd said: “There are no words to describe it other than mass murder.”

At least 750 homes have been destroyed and 3733 people have registered with the Red Cross after evacuating their properties. The number left homeless is expected to be far higher, the Red Cross said.

It was confirmed that at least four children have died, but that figure would also be expected to rise as full details emerged.

A two-year-old girl was among 13 in intensive care in hospital. Twenty-two people with shocking burns were admitted to the Alfred hospital, the state’s main trauma centre, where staff ran out of morphine trying to ease patients’ pain.

Most of the damage was done by two massive fires - one that virtually wiped out towns northeast of Melbourne including Kinglake and Marysville with a 100km front - and a second inferno that raced across Gippsland. … [more]

Large gallery of fire pics [here]

8 Feb 2009, 1:57am
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Victoria’s bushfire toll hits 76 as fires continue to spread

from The Australian, Feb. 8, 2009 [here]

The death toll from Victoria’s bushfires has risen to 76, amid grave fears for towns in the state’s northeast as fires continue to rage out of control.

Five people died at Flowerdale, two people at Hazeldene and three at Taggerty, while two more people were confirmed dead at Kinglake and a further person died at St Andrews. A person from Yea died in hospital.

The figure surpasses the 47 Victorians that died in the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires.

Lives and buildings remain at risk in the Victorian town of Beechworth, where residents have been told to immediately activate their emergency fire plan - stay and fight or leave - as the Country Fire Authority warned that the wind has shifted and strengthened.

The township of Dederang in the Victorian alpine region was on Sunday coming under attack on two sides from falling embers blowing in from the massive Beechworth blaze in the state’s northeast.

Local grazier and Country Fire Authority volunteer Jack Hicks said the fire threat to the township was escalating through the afternoon. “There’s no actual fire in Dederang at present but we’re coming under attack, ember attack, from both sides,” Mr Hicks said.

Hundreds of homes have already been destroyed and at least 200,000 hectares of land has been burnt out in more than 400 fires in every part of the state over the weekend. … [more]

7 Feb 2009, 5:05pm
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Bushfires rage in Australia, 25 dead

By Michael Perry, Reuters, Feb 7, 2009 [here]

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Bushfires continued to rage across Australia’s southeast on Sunday [still Saturday here] as the death toll from one major blaze rose to 25, with fears that as many as 40 people have been killed, said police.

Many of those killed were trapped in cars trying to flee a huge inferno north of Melbourne, while survivors on Sunday described “walls of flames” destroying homes and engulfing entire towns.

Wildfires are a natural annual event in Australia, but this year a combination of scorching weather, drought and tinder-dry bush has created prime conditions for blazes to take hold

Australia’s worst bushfires occurred in 1983 when 75 people were killed in Victoria.

The fires are around towns about 80 km (50 miles) north of Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city.

Fourteen people were killed on Saturday night — six at Kinglake, four at Wandong, three at Strathewen and one in Clonbinane. Police have not said where the other 11 died.

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