Criminal Incineration of the Rogue River-Siskiyou NF

The Oak Flat Fire [here] was reported this morning to be 1,706 acres. The plan, however, is to allow the fire to grow to 12,000 acres, either through inaction or deliberate backfiring.

The Oak Flat Fire was ignited by unknown causes in the Briggs Creek area of Rogue River-Siskiyou NF, about 10 miles west of habitations in the Rogue River Valley and 8 miles northwest of the community of Selma in the Illinois River Valley.

Oak Flat Fire Briefing Map, August 19, 2010. From InciWeb [here]. Click for larger image.

The red outlined area is the current fire perimeter. The black lines indicate the positions of the “indirect” fire lines planned by the Southern Oregon/Northern California Type II Interagency IMT Incident Commander Brett Fillis [here] in collaboration with the Rogue River-Siskiyou NF Forest Supervisor Scott Conroy, and with the approval of Region 6 Regional Forester Mary Wagner.

The black lines encompass approximately 12,000 acres. The area to be burned includes portions of the Illinois Valley Wild and Scenic River corridor. It also includes known nesting sites of the Northern Spotted Owl, a species on the Threatened and Endangered Species list.

InciWeb reported:

…[F]ire managers are planning to conduct burnout operations aimed at efficiently connecting the fire into the containment lines within the few days. Both ground and aerial ignition methods will be used, with particular attention paid to minimizing tree mortality and preserving spotted owl habitat. …

The Regional Forester reviewed the fire management plan, activities and organization on Thursday, 8/19/10.

That language implies that deliberate ignition of spotted owls stands will be occurring as the fire managers expand the footprint of the fire 10-fold. Further, those operations have been approved by Regional Forester Mary Wagner.

Deliberate incineration of endangered species habitat is a violation of the Endangered Species Act. The USFS has not conducted any NEPA analysis, such as an Environmental Impact Statement. Nor have they conducted any Section 7 (of the ESA) consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The entire area is an ancient cultural landscape, as indicated by place names such as Oak Flat and Onion Mountain. Soldier Creek was named during the Rogue River Indian Wars [here] of the 1850’s. As such the area has significant archaelogical and heritage sites. No Section 106 review (of the National Historical Preservation Act [here]) has been conducted.

The USFS is well-aware that deliberately expanding a wildfire by backburning thousands of acres of legally protected landscapes is illegal.

In March of 2008, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest issued a notice of intent to produce a Fire Use Amendment Environmental Assessment [here] that would change the language in their Land and Resource Management Plan and Fire Management Plan to include “allowing” wildfires to burn across vast acreages.

That plan amendment has NOT been adopted. Serious objections have been raised and appeals filed. What the final outcome will be is unknown, but the Fire Use Amendment has NOT been adopted as yet.

Regardless, USFS officials are proceeding as if the laws do not apply to them.

This is not the first time the Rogue River-Siskiyou NF has ignored the law. Adjacent to the planned fire perimeter of the Oak Flat Fire is the Biscuit Burn, a 500,000 acre scar that resulted from a Let It Burn fire of 2002. The Biscuit Fire was the largest fire in Oregon state history and eventually cost over $150 million to suppress when it blew up into a 12-mile-long fire front and threatened the communities of Selma and Grants Pass (the same communities now threatened by the Oak Flat Fire).

Over 75 Northern Spotted Owl nesting sites were destroyed by the Biscuit Fire.

In 2008 the Rogue River-Siskiyou NF perpetrated another illegal Let It Burn fire, the Lonesome Complex/Middlefork Fire [here], which was allowed to grow from 500 acres to 21,000 acres, incinerating numerous old-growth and Northern Spotted Owl nesting stands.

The criminal activities by Federal government functionaries on the Oak Flat Fire will have devastating impacts to wildlife, wildlife habitat, heritage, scenery, recreation, and other natural resources. Those impacts will be long-lasting. Furthermore, allowing the fire to burn for weeks on end will pour smoke into communities and cause severe public health problems. Expanding the planned fire perimeter and backfiring thousands of acres will exacerbate those damages.

Allowing the fire to burn for weeks on end also runs the risk that a wind event could cause a fire blow-up and carry the fire to private lands and communities.

None of those communities, or their elected officials or representatives, have any influence over the USFS fire decisions. The USFS acts like an occupying army with no regard for the local residents or the law, and with the malicious intent to devastate and destroy watersheds and landscapes no matter what the impact may be resources or to the local communities.

The Oak Flat Fire is growing and will continue to grow, due to deliberate actions of the USFS, because the criminals in charge feel that they are impervious to legalities and public opinion. But there will be a denouement after this fire. Their crimes will not be swept under the rug this time.

21 Aug 2010, 8:22am
by Larry H.

There is bound to be a TON of beetle-killed trees there, right on the edge of the Biscuit Fire. I saw a fairly recent picture of a large helicopter unit I worked on, up near Babyfoot Lake, and saw how much extra mortality had occurred since I was there in 2004. We were only allowed to mark “wildlife snags” which were actually dead. Any tree with ANY green on it was to be considered a perfectly healthy tree. I also noticed in the picture how much of that mortality had spread outside of the burned area.

With the specter of the Station Fire investigation looming, we need to call for additional investigations when their Let-Burn fires escape, even on small scales. ALL large escapes start out as small ones. I simply don’t trust the Forest Service fire folks to aggressively fight fires AND to still be safe.

Reply: I’ll say this again for clarity. The Oak Flat Fire is an illegal, criminal action right now. The crime being perpetrated does not hinge on whether the fire “escapes” or not. Deliberate incineration of one acre, let alone 12,000 acres, is a crime known as arson. It’s a felony. If there was justice in this country, the perpetrators would get 15-20 years of hard time in a federal penitentiary.

22 Aug 2010, 9:27am
by bear bait

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…” When public policy and directed actions are based on lies, founded by liars, and promoted to keep the lie alive, you do wonder how long the Wildland Fire Leadership Council can keep their balls in the air. This deal has to be exposed for what it is. People in Josephine County need to be told how to work through a One Pager and make a case to present to their county government. Illegal fire growers from Region 6 are working to destroy rural communities. That is now the Federal mantra. They are out to prove that living withing 30 miles of the National Forest is a mistake. And to that end, fire is to be their tool. The proof in their pudding.

It is time to demand that those running for national office in the Fall be required to go to the fire camp and ask the questions and demand answers. If they don’t, and they don’t make the effort, then there is no reason to consider their name on a ballot. Just write them off. They had a chance.

22 Aug 2010, 12:41pm
by Foo Furb

bear bait:

Good points. It would be interesting to see what official comments our governor, congressperson, and senatorial wannabes have on the management of this fire.

More interesting would be their public reactions to the specific charges made in this editorial.

Any ideas on how to bring that about?

22 Aug 2010, 3:03pm
by YPmule

Last night we had quite a wind storm roar thru, 100 years to the day of the “Big Burn”. An hour after the wind started, our valley smelled of smoke from fires blowing up far to the south. Down in the capitol they recorded winds of 70 mph, power outages and fires all over. Had conditions been like they were in 2007 - it would have been the “Big Burn” all over again.

22 Aug 2010, 6:35pm
by Mike

YP, At least 6 forest fires were burning in Idaho when the winds came through last night. We’ll see what transpired in the morning reports tomorrow. Big winds in August in Idaho happen every year. Cold fronts from the north meet warm fronts from the south somewhere over the Palouse, and big winds result over Idaho and Montana.

Generally the Palouse winds come every 5 days or so from August until mid-September, so Idahoans can reasonably expect at least 2 or 3 more such big wind events in the next 2 or 3 weeks.

Allowing fires to burn in August when big winds can be expected is positively criminal. It’s like driving drunk at 100 mph.

23 Aug 2010, 5:58pm
by YPmule

We always get big winds in August, generally we get several “micro bursts” that may or may not be dry. Some years have bigger winds than others. I just thought it was a sad coincidence of the timing of this year’s big wind.

I like your drunk driving analogy.

24 Aug 2010, 8:58am
by admin

Situation as of 08/23/2010 6:00 pm
Personnel: 977
Size: 4,363 acres
Percent Contained: 65%

Costs to Date: $7,061,587 (no update, est. $8 million)

Another 1,000 acres deliberately incinerated yesterday, at an estimated (no report) cost of $1 million per day. This fire could have been contained at 800 acres. Everything burned in excess of that is deliberate, malicious arson on the part of the USFS.

24 Aug 2010, 1:35pm
by Zeke

RE: the comment above “This fire could have been contained at 800 acres” - is this true? Was it possible to SAFELY put this fire out by ‘going direct’ on it?

There is a difference between choosing to use indirect tactics (because direct attack is not safe or possible) and letting a fire burn for resource benefit, my impression is that this is more a case of the former.

Here is a Google Maps overlay showing the fire at midnight on the morning of 8/15 (800 acres).
Check it out in Google Earth - steep, brushy, nasty, with no access, no safety zones, exposed to daily canyon winds, and no good place to use dozers.

So you think that they could have held it to this footprint? Have you ever fought fire in that country? Are you an expert on wildfire tactics? Is anything about that ground worth killing a single firefighter?

What do you hope to accomplish with your rant? Are you hoping that the USFS will decide tomorrow that the land really isn’t that steep, that dozers can run on 60% slopes, that it is not the 3rd week of August, and that they can just put out every fire on the midslope, with no concern for firefighter safety?

If not, I suggest reserving judgment until the firefighters have done their hard work. Maybe their (backing) firing operations are just what the place needs, and this fire will avert the kind of blowup that the Biscuit fire gave us in 2002.

24 Aug 2010, 3:35pm
by bear bait

If you want to rate jobs by “safe” working conditions, and fatalities by 100,000 workers, astronaut is the most dangerous. After that comes logging, high seas commercial fishing, in the 75-85 per 100,000 range, and the firefighters are in the same class as farmers and farming, truck drivers, at about 25 per 100,000 working. The safety issue is bogus anyway, as they never put people in inherently unsafe places, and fire crews are responsible for not putting themselves in unsafe conditions.

The real issue is that burning removes fuel and burning selectively logged areas might or might not take out understory fuel and that might or might not provide a benefit in the future. But to take less than a thousand acre fire and administratively expand it ten-fold in not a rational decision. No matter what the options are, or what someone else says in approval, insanity is still insanity. Bad moves and bad law and bad decisions do not make bad things better.

“Wild” fire is just that: uncontrolled and going to go and do whatever it might unless man steps in to control it. To even have the stuff called “fire”, you have to logically understand something is burning, and in ecosystems, and habitats, that something has value. Collectively it has a lot of value. To say that logging will devalue habitat is correct, and you do that purposefully to gain raw material to better human life. Fire does not do that. Fire removes material that humans can use, or potentially use. Fires produce carbon in the air. Release carbon to the air. All the while we are legally tied to having electricity and autos that do not emit carbon into the airshed.

So, Zeke, you might wonder what is going on, and I certainly do myself. I think that empire building in the Federal Service is going on. Rational thinking is not going to have a stated purpose of expanding fire in the most fire dangerous time of the year. You don’t do controlled burning at the gasoline refinery. You don’t test drive a Porsche on a logging road. You don’t look down the end of a gun barrel to see how fast a bullet moves. These people have a fire budget with a lot more money in it than has been spent so far this year, and it smells to me like there is a bean counting way to siphon off money from the All Forests Fire Fund for Region 6 by expanding a fire. A way to request and get resources to do stuff you don’t have a budget to do. For example, brush cut and chip roadsides, and then motor patrol grading of that road, all in order to make it safe and passable for fire equipment. Maybe get some burn piles burned without having to pay out District money. If you knew what to look for, I would imagine there is a lot of off budget, pay-it-with-fire-money stuff happening. People are clever, smart, crafty, underhanded, and a lot more. Even when they work for US….

24 Aug 2010, 9:37pm
by larbear107

I’ll ask the same question zeke asked, have you ever fought fire? Sounds to me like a personal rant from some one who is only looking at one side of the issue.

25 Aug 2010, 9:03am
by bear bait

Yep. Started on the Oxbow Burn in 1966, west of Eugene. 45,000 acre fire in the Coast Range. Started by a rock truck exhaust ember while grinding out of the Smith River drainage. International Paper and BLM were still salvaging 1962 Columbus Day windfall. After the fire, the next salvage operation, that of the burned Oxbow timber, had a log truck over the divide into Eugene about every ten seconds.

Oxbow Fire was a State of Oregon overhead fire. They fight fire. Still do. Go at it like they were killing snakes. That burn is now a source of logs for Eugene mills now that the Feds don’t log. 40 year old timber is just right for a dimension mill.

Have I sat in fire camp for two days while a new overhead team figured out which state they were in? Have I sat through a two minute weather discussion at the morning briefing, and then a half hour nanny discussion of proper behavior with female firefighters in camp? Did I ever stop to realign a hose lay with the fall line, and an hour later see a rot wad take a whole other hose line to the creek, tearing up two guys on the way? I got out of fire fighting in the mid 1990s. My last several fires I was the liaison for a three crew contractor and the Feds. Roamed between crews to keep tabs on safety, equipment and Division supervision, which is not always first class. Except on State of Oregon fires, where everything is a lot more rawhide, rough it, and accountable. State fire overhead is so much more common sense and efficient. Over the years I got to know them all. The ODF, the Douglas County, the Walker Rim, and all the other quasi public private fire outfits. Totally different from having overhead from, say, the South. Oregon ain’t flat. They don’t know empirical stuff like afternoon coastal wind. Or how much heating can occur under a marine cloud layer.

So, yes, I have close to 40 years on the private side, as a logging manager, sawmill resource manager, private reforestation outfit fire crew manager. Having some pointy headed dipwad from the now totally social engineered US Florists Service call the shots on fires that directly affect real people’s lives, property and futures, shots like unilaterally deciding how big a fire they “need” in that area, goes against my grain. Sure it is personal. All politics is personal. The Feds own 60% of the state I live in, and are managing that land to burn. The smoke is personal. The loss of resources is personal. The indifference to local needs is personal. The whole idea of a transient force of soon to be pensioners with no worry about how to pay bills in ten years (now that we know that Federal salary, benefit and pensions are twice that of private sector jobs), get to play with theories and incinerate 500 year old trees, and destroy watershed values, ESA plant and animal habitats, all the while anyone else has years of permitting and NGO litigation to endure to try to do anything on private land, let alone public, while the Feds incinerate it with impunity, grates. More than grates: pisses me off to no end. What right does some Obama Administration appointee have to incinerate land where I live?

The decisions to burn up the Public Estate comes from somewhere, and it is not from Oregon. Let either candidate for Governor, or other public office utter one word of approval of planned incineration of land of any ownership in Oregon, and that will ensure their defeat in November. They might not say anything, and secretly support the USFS, and I have no reason to believe a snake like DeFazio is not a secret closed mouth supporter, and I know damned well that Kitzhaber takes money from people with insane environmental ideas, as does the current Democrat Governor. Kulongoski is a labor lawyer who declared from the Governor’s office that hydroelectric power is NOT renewable. He has pissed away close to half a billion dollars on useless unaffordable electrical energy deals with state tax forgiveness. The sacred upper Columbia River Gorge is now picket fenced by a thousand or more off and on wind turbines 350 feet tall. Butt ugly. You can’t hire teachers when the money flows to some German or secret Chinese energy outfit selling their excess tax credits to the likes of Walmart, which can reduce their Oregon State income taxes by buying the credits.

Selling out Oregon, and purposeful burning is selling out Oregon, is criminal. Nothing more than official arson in a state opposed to smoke in the air. Forest fires in California, WFU fires, made it to Eugene, and that precipitated an all out war against agricultural burning by urban interests who prevailed. If Ag burning, used for the same purpose as Forest Health burning, is not legal, how in the hell does a Democrat anti-smoke Governor not take long steps to Washington DC to protest fires on Federal land that produce smoke that lasts for weeks?

Yes. I rail. Yes, I am not understanding of permitted arson when NEPA has never, ever been addressed, and the liquid and plastic line between NGOs and Federal Land management agencies seeming to be one and the same, the same people on one side or the other depending on the year and occupancy of the White House. Burn Virginia. Burn Maryland. Burn West Virginia. And get the hell out of the West. Take your arson to elsewhere.



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