31 Dec 2007, 6:04pm
2007 Fire Season
by admin

The 2007 Fire Season: A Year-End Recap

With over 9.3 million acres burned in wildfires nationally, the 2007 fire season was the second worst fire season in over fifty years (the 2006 fire season was the worst with over 9.7 million acres burned).

In terms of total acres burned, seven of the worst ten fire seasons since the early 1950’s have occurred in the last 12 years.

Average acreage per wildfire was nearly 110 acres, again the second worst in over fifty years (the 2005 was the worst averaging 131 acres per fire).

In terms of average acres per wildfire, nine of the worst ten fire seasons since the early 1950’s have occurred in the last 12 years.

The preceding graphs are based on data provided by the National Interagency Fire Center Wildland Fire Statistics [here]. The following is a recap of some of the high and low lights of the 2007 Fire Season.

Fall 2006

The 2007 Fire season began with ominous forebodings from the previous fall. In November, 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General issued Audit Report on Large Fire Suppression Costs [here, here, here, here, here]. The Audit called for:

expanding burned acreage in order to minimize fire suppression costs per acre, a break from rational fire control goals of minimizing cost-plus-loss,

expanding the Wildland Fire Use program and thereby increasing the number and acreage of unfought (Let It Burn) federal fires

abrogating federal responsibility for fighting fires that arise on Federal land,

threatening legal actions against federal fire Incident Commanders who spend “too much” money fighting wildfires.

Chief of the USFS, Dale Bosworth, signed off on and agreed to each and every Recommendation. Shortly thereafter, Bosworth retired.

Then in December, 2007, the US Forest Service published Fire Management Today, Vol.66. No. 4, a glossy magazine issue devoted to extolling the virtues of Wildland Use Fires [here]. Tim Sexton, fire use program manager for the USFS, wrote:

Fire management plans completed in December 2004 greatly increased the area available for WFU outside of wilderness areas. In 2005, about 25 percent of Forest Service lands had planning in place to allow WFU. As new fire management plans in progress are completed, this percentage should increase significantly during the next 2 years.

2007 — January

Gail Kimbell, Region 1 Regional Forester, is named to replace Dale Bosworth as USFS Chief. In Region 1 no Healthy Forests Initiative projects had taken place during the 3 years following passage, and in 2006 over a million acres of Montana forests (in Region 1) had been incinerated by wildfires. Despite her record of dismal failures, Kimbell is appointed anyway.

Also in late January the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing regarding Federal fire suppression costs, and reviewed the USDA OIG Audit. We submitted testimony [here], but the Committee chose to ignore it and it was never placed in the public record.


The Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC), the Federal team that writes and implements the National Fire Plan, “partners” with the Nature Conservancy and the Wilderness Society to promote a “blackened, Burned Forests Are Beautiful” propaganda campaign. In response to our complaints, the WFLC shuts down their website [here].


The 2007 Fire Season opens with a bang as the Big Turnaround Complex Wildland Fire burns 386,722 acres in Georgia and Florida, 330,114 acres of that within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Ironically, in June the U.S. Postal Service releases a postage stamp commemorating Okefenokee Swamp, which had just lately burned up, at an estimated fire suppression cost of $27 million.


On June 24 the 2007 Fire Season heads west as the Angora Fire erupts in overly dense stands of the Eldorado National Forest. The firestorm sweeps across USFS property lines and burns 254 homes in South Lake Tahoe [here, here, here, here].


July 1st - three civilians are killed in the Neola North Fire in Utah [here].

July 3rd - ten WFU’s (Wildland Use Fires or whoofoos) are burning on New Mexico’s Gila N.F. alone [here].

July 6th - in Arizona the Kaibab N.F. decides to control the 4,500 acre Slide Fire. This is good news considering that in 2006 the Kaibab N.F. chose NOT to control the Warm Fire, which ended up destroying 58,000 acres, much of that old-growth forest.

July 7th - 25 new large fires are reported nationally. These include the Antelope and Inyo Complex Fires in the Sierras, the Chitty Fire in Arizona on the Rodeo-Chedeski Burn (2002), and the Middle Fork and Fool Creek Fires, whoofoos in Montana.

July 9th - the Zaca Fire on the Las Padres N.F. east of Santa Barbara is reported at 8,200 acres and 30 percent contained. The containment didn’t hold because the Zaca Fire eventually grew to over 240,000 acres (the second largest fire in modern California history) with suppression costs exceeding $100 million (the most expensive fire in modern California history). Incredibly, the USFS declares the Zaca Fire a great success [here]:

Successful management of the Zaca should be directly attributed to the tremendous hard work and determination of the fire crews, but it is also owed in large part to the willingness of fire managers to recognize the constraints of the terrain and the fuels and to use patience, planning, and the best science available in laying out an opportunistic and effective strategy.

July 14th - the Ahorn Fire is 170 acres and 60 percent contained when the fire blows up, trapping 35 smokejumpers and hotshots and 17 backcountry hikers. After witnessing a non-fatal helicopter crash, the firefighters and hikers elected to hike out 16 miles [here].

At the time, the crew was 16 miles west of Benchmark, the most popular trailhead into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and four miles south of Indian Point, a landmark on the way to the Chinese Wall.

The firefighters set out across mountain slopes of 65 degrees through the heavy lodgepole and spruce. For the next 7 1/2 hours, they bushwhacked it out of the Bob, sticking to burned and rock talus areas as best they could, and staying out of the prevailing winds.

The fire burned on both sides as the crewmembers walked through it. At times, they were showered with embers from crown runs.

“There wasn’t anybody who had witnessed or had seen anything like those previous three days,” Bardwell said.

[Rocky Mountain Ranger District Ranger Mike] Munoz later second-guessed himself for not stressing safety more.

July 15th - the Milford Flat Fire grows to over 350,000 acres and becomes the largest fire in Utah state history. Eventually it will reach 363,052 acres [here].

July 16th - the Egley Fire in central Oregon explodes from three lightning strikes on July 6 into a 100,000 acre megafire. Eventually 140,360 acres of public and private land will burn, much of that acreage roasted in set backfires that never reached the main fires [here, here].

July 20th - the Wildland Fire Leadership Council website reappears, loaded pro-holocaust, anti-forest, BINGO propaganda [here].

July 26th - the Murphy Fire in southern Idaho and northern Nevada grows over 650,000 acres, or more than 1,000 square miles. The Shoshone-Paiute Duck Valley Reservation on the Owyhee River is especially hard hit [here].

July 30th - the USFS declares the Payette National Forest in Idaho, the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico and the Bitterroot National Forest that straddles the Montana-Idaho border, to be “let-it-burn laboratories” [here].

July 30th - Mann Gulch, the setting of the 1949 fire that killed 11 smokejumpers, burns again in the Meriwether Fire [here].


August 9th - Montana reports seven new fires, including the Chippy Creek and Brush Creek Fires [here]. Eventually over 860,000 Montana acres will burn in 2007, somewhat less than the 1,100,000 Montana acres that burned in 2006.

August 14th - Yellow Pine, Idaho, is evacuated in the face of let-it-burn fires that stretch from north of the mainstem Salmon River 100 miles south to the Middle Fork of the Payette River. The Payette, Boise, and, Nez Perce N.F.’s are aflame. Idaho fires include the Cascade Complex, Monumental, North Fork, Landmark, Trapper Ridge, Middle Fork Complex, East Zone Complex, Krassel, Raines, Rattlesnake, Shower Bath, Red Bluff, Cow Creek, Mitchell, Bridge, Poe Cabin, Chimney Complex, and Cleveland Fires, among others [here].

Eventually the forests on over 1,250 square miles of the Idaho Batholith were incinerated. It was the worst fire season in Idaho since the Great Fires of 1910. It is important to note that these were mid-summer fires, not early spring fires due to early snowmelt. August is always dry in Idaho. The 2007 Idaho fires were driven by Palouse winds, just as they were in 1910. Palouse winds have been a feature of annual Idaho weather since the early Holocene.

August 15th - Sam Hescock, East Zone Fire Management Officer, Krassel Ranger District, Payette National Forest denies that the USFS has declared the Payette N.F. to be a let-it-burn laboratory [here]:

The “Let it Burn Laboratory” is a media/reporting mistake or interpretation on an interview that I was involved in. My forest has an approved wildland fire use policy thru our forest plan that we implement on the forest. It was stressed in the interview that the words “let it burn” are not the message we like seen across the headlines due to the 1988 Yellowstone fires. There are no documents that deal with this “declaration”. - Sam Hescock, East Zone Fire Management Officer, Krassel Ranger District

On this date the Krassel Ranger District is enjoying a monster whoofoo, the Krassel WFU Complex Wildland Fire Used for Resource Benefit (Payette NF) reported yesterday to be 32,648 acres. The Payette is also hosting a 166,000 acre fire, the East Zone Complex Wildland Fire. The towns of Warren, Secesh, and South Fork, and the USFS’s own Krassel Work Center are threatened. It’s the largest forest fire in Idaho this year.

The Raines Fire on the Payette is 30,667 acres today and growing like a weed. While not declared an official whoofoo, there are only 13 people “fighting” the Raines Fire. It is expected to expand another two miles in the next 72 hours, mostly along the Salmon River main fork.

Eventually the Idaho Batholith fires converge, incinerating 1,250 square miles of the Salmon Mountains and watersheds. The 2007 let-it-burn fires are the single greatest disaster to ever strike the Krassel Ranger District (and a dozen other RD’s besides). Apparently, if USFS officials can be believed, all of these holocausts happened in exact accordance with documented N.F. Forest Plans.

August 19th - Palouse winds whip up fires in Idaho and Montana. Fires burning in Montana include the Ford, Rombo, Rat Creek, Black Cat, Jocko Lakes, Skyland, Ahorn, WH Complex, Chippy Creek, Bitterroot, Fool Creek, Sawmill, and Conger Creek Fires [here].

August 21st - At the urging of Andy Stahl of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy in Missoula, Mont., orders Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey to appear in a court contempt hearing because the US Forest Service has failed to restrict the use of fire retardant on forest fires [here]. Evidently neither Mr. Stahl’s nor Judge Malloy’s homes or properties are threatened by the wildfires raging across the West. If that were the case, they might possibly be in favor the use of fire retardant.

August 25th - Ketchum, Idaho is evacuated in the face of the Castle Rock Fire. Upper Willow Creek, Montana, is also evacuated due to the Fisher Point Fire. Yellow Pine, Idaho, is still under evacuation [here].

August 26th - Fires raging in Greece have killed over fifty people [here].

August 27th - The USFS declares the 2007 Fire Season to be a financial success [here]

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Forest Service has spent $828 million fighting wildfires across the country since last Oct. 1, with new cost containment measures having a real impact, agency officials said Thursday.

That figure, current as of Monday, is higher than the $750 million the agency had spent on fire suppression at the same point last year. But many more acres have burned this fire season, said Tom Harbour, the agency’s director of fire and aviation management.

“It’s been an extraordinary season,” Harbour said. “We’ve burned to date about 300 percent, three times the numbers of acres that we would typically burn based on a 10-year average. We’ve burned about 170 percent of the acres we burned at this time last year.”


September 1st - The GW Fire breaks out in the Deschutes N.F. ten miles west of the resort community of Black Butte Ranch [here].

September 3rd - Black Butte Ranch is evacuated as the GW Fire approaches to within a half mile [here].

September 6th - The GW Fire is now 60 percent contained at 7,500 acres. The GW burn connects with other burns of the Cache Mountain, Eyerly Complex, B and B Complex, Link, Black Crater, Puzzle, and Lake George Fires. A total of over 150,000 acres of the Metolius watershed on the Deschutes N.F. have now burned in the last six fire seasons [here].

September 8th - Strong east winds fan the 1500 Road Fire in the Oregon Coast Range, sparking memories of the Tillamook Fires [here]. The Oregon Dept. of Forestry attacks the fire with 25 blackline crews, as well as every sort of machine in their arsenal, and ODF declares the 1500 Road Fire contained at 425 acres three days later. A major forest tragedy is averted.

September 9th - Palouse winds strike Idaho and Montana, fanning the dozens of let-it-burn fires raging in those states.

September 13th - the Daily Bulletin of Ontario, CA, reports that a nine-year public-affairs officer for the San Bernardino National Forest was terminated July 2 because she refused last year to downplay the severity of the wildfire danger in the forest [here].

[Ruth] Wenstrom claims that in April 2006, National Forest officials were told not to request budgetary augmentation funds, known as “severity dollars,” that they had sought and received in the past. As a result, they would have to cut the number of fire engines staffed in the forest, she said.

She was told to draft talking points to address the public’s concerns about having fewer firefighters and engines in the nation’s most urbanized forest, filled with millions of dead trees and drought-dried brush. When she described the reduced funding as “a problem,” she said, her supervisor told her the talking points should say that “everything is fine out there in the forest, and there is no need for additional funds.” She refused and was quickly removed from her public-relations job, Wenstrom claims.

Her boss, Matt Mathes, the Forest Service’s regional press officer based in Vallejo, was upbeat the next month about Forest Service strategy, despite announced plans to cut the number of staffed engines from 25 seven days a week to 15 on weekdays and 20 on weekends, which as few as 12 engines staffed at times. “Oh, they’re in great shape,” Mathes said in May 2006. “I think they’re in a situation where there’s one of two less fire engines in a certain location, but they’ll be moving resources around. We’ll be able to bring in more engines when there’s a need.”

Wenstrom’s accurate prediction of disaster was realized less than two months later when overly dense National Forests of Southern California exploded into firestorms.

September 16th - The 48,520 acre Castle Rock Fire near Sun Valley, Idaho is 100 percent contained, but the fallout from the burn is just starting. Area businesses, hard hit by shutdowns and evacuations during the height of tourist season, are having trouble making payrolls [here].

September 19th - The acreage burned total for 2007 topped 8 million acres over the weekend. The year-to-date total reported by the National Interagency Fire Center is 8,064,011 acres. Only three other years since the early 1950’s have seen more than 8 million acres burned: 2000 - 8,422,237 acs., 2005 - 8,686,753 acs., and 2006 - 9,725,805 acs. This year’s fire season is not over yet, either. Currently 12 large fires are burning nationally [here].

September 22nd - The dozens of fires that merged in the Salmon Mountains have burned over 750,000 acres (1200 square miles) directly atop the Idaho Batholith, a composite mass of granitic plutons and highly erodable soils. High rates of increased sedimentation are expected this winter in fish-bearing streams of a large portion of the Salmon River watershed [here].

September 26th - 2007 fires on the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana have devastated wildlife habitat [here].


October 8th - Carole King and supporters get the US House of Reps to hold a hearing on a wilderness bill. The bill, sponsored by New York Democrat Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Connecticut Republican Christopher Shays, would designate as wilderness nearly 7 million acres in Montana, 9.5 million acres in Idaho, 5 million acres in Wyoming, 750,000 acres in eastern Oregon, and 500,000 acres in eastern Washington. The prospect of 23 million acres burning at once in megafires apparently excites Congress as well as Ms. King and supporters [here].

October 16th - Judge Morrison C. England of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California issues a written judgment refusing to enjoin three forest thinning projects on the Plumas National Forest initiated through the efforts of the Quincy Library Group [here]. From England’s landmark decision:

The fire danger in the Plumas National Forest remains clear despite the respective validity of these two opposing viewpoints. This summer’s Antelope Fire burned 23,000 acres, impacted six owl PACs and completely burned three. Observation following the Antelope Fire showed that fire activity slowed and moderated when reaching a DFPZ…

DFPZs have hence been proven effective in reducing fire intensity, controlling fire spread, and protecting ecological resources like habitat. In addition, the Moonlight Fire, which has only recently been contained, has burned 65,000 acres and impacted at least 21 owl PACs and HRCAs on over 21,000 acres. The blaze has threatened 2500 homes and came within six miles of town of Taylorsville and within eight miles of the nearest treatment unit contemplated by the Empire Project.

Fire protection through vegetation management in these areas is therefore important both from the standpoint of wildlife and humans. For wildlife, unchecked wildfire may completely destroy habitat. For humans, both lives and property are at stake.

October 21st - Fire erupts behind Malibu, CA.

October 22nd - Santa Ana winds propel a dozen fires in Southern California. In San Diego County more than 250,000 people are evacuating from the Fallbrook Fire, the Rice Fire, the Witch Fire, the Coronado Hills Fire, and the Harris Fire. Evacuated towns include Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach, Fairbanks Ranch, Crosby Estates, Cielo, Carmel Valley, Santaluz, Rancho Penasquitos, Rancho Bernardo, Poway, Ramona, Carlsbad, Encinitas, and half of San Marcos. Del Mar is under voluntary evacuation [here].

October 24th - Twenty-two fires blaze across Southern California [here]. Eventually over 600,000 acres will burn in rural and urban areas, and 1,600 homes will be destroyed.

October 25th - At a Society of American Foresters convention in Portland, OR, USFS Chief Gail Kimbell blames “global warming” for the disastrous 2007 Fire Season, discounting her own agency’s let-it-burn policies.

October 26th - Thinning and fuels disposal in prior years on the San Bernardino National Forest are credited with the spread of a firestorm in the Lake Arrowhead vicinity, saving that town and residents from destruction [here].

October 29th - SOS Forests calls for landscape-scale solutions to a landscape-scale problem [here]. While neither a new nor original message, it will gain traction in the months to come due to its obvious logic.

October 30th - The National Fire Information Center reports that the acreage burned by wildfires in 2007 in the U.S. is now approaching 9.2 million acres. To date, more acres have been burned by wildfires in 2007 than in any since the early 1950’s, save for 2006, when 9.7 million acres burned. 2007 year marks the third year in a row that more than 8 million acres burned and fourth this century. Of the ten worst fire years in post WWII history, seven have occurred since 1995 [here].

October 31st - SOS Forests points out that it is the fuels. Others blame decades of fire suppression or global warming for creating hazardous conditions. Yet eliminating fire suppression, cutting fire budgets, or burning ethanol, will not put out a single fire [here].

Not fighting fires will not make the fires go away.

While neither a new nor original message, it will gain traction in the months to come due to its obvious logic.


November 2nd - In another Santa Ana wind event, the Corral Fire near Malibu, CA grows to 2,200 acres. Thirty-five homes have burned, and an additional 200 homes have been evacuated [here, here].

December 6th - In the aftermath of her first fire season as Chief of the USFS, Gail Kimbell declares a national plan to extend “wildlands” designation to 400 million acres of private property [here].

“If people have an incentive to hold on to wildlands (rather than develop them), we as a society benefit from that,” she [Gail Kimbell] said in an interview. “We all benefit from keeping wildlands wild.”

The declaration is a de facto plan to extend whoofoos (Wildland Use Fires) to the entire Western United States. “Keeping wildlands wilds” is synonymous with burning them, and in this case the them is 400 million acres of private, non-federal land (an area equal to 8 times the entire state of Oregon). Kimbell also declares that her plan takes effect immediately and does not require congressional approval.


December 13th - Prominent forest scientists testifying at a Congressional hearing call for aggressive forest thinning on a landscape-scale to save forests from catastrophic fires [here].

The 2007 Fire Season was horrific in magnitude, and the tragedies wrought will scar our landscape and society for decades and longer. In some circles no lessons were learned, but the renewed cry for forest stewardship to prevent megafires cast one ray of hope into the otherwise dismally catastrophic 2007 Fire Season.

2 Jan 2008, 5:05pm
by John M.

Mike, that is an interesting and valuable summary of the 2007 fire season and the only narrative summary I have seen from any source.

You mentioned the 1250 square miles burned in the Idaho Batholith, but nothing about the potential damage to the Endangered Salmon habitat. But maybe all of the research and science is wrong and the fires improved the spawning beds?

Being an old and confused forester I would have to shake my head and flat out admit I don’t understand how fires of the magnitude of last summer improve watersheds, salmon, old growth, air quality, wildlife or future forests. But as I said, I am old now.

2 Jan 2008, 5:37pm
by Mike

Old like a fox.

Massive post-fire erosion has the same effect on salmon spawning beds it always has: the sediment smothers the gravels, adds turbidity, alters the pH, reduces available oxygen, coats the gills of fingerlings, and fertilizes algae, all of which lead to more problems in the future.

The terrible thing is the existing leadership on the Payette and other N.F.s involved, and the leadership at Boise and the WO, said they were going to burn the Idaho Batholith before they did. They promulgated a let-it-burn whoofoo plan, with maps, and then carried that plan out, on purpose.

The USFS gave out awards in 2006 to the individuals involved in planning to burn millions of acres in Idaho and Montana, and then those same individuals did burn those forests, on purpose, according to the plan.

The plan stated the fires were “for resource benefit” but instead they sledge-hammered resources of all types. And the non-beneficial ecological pollution consequences will be felt for decades.



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