Patterico's Pontifications

9/2/2009

Uncleared Brush Contributed to LA Wildfire

Filed under: Government — DRJ @ 5:04 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The U.S. Forest Service obtained permits to clear brush in areas near LA’s Station Fire but stopped work because of weather, wind, and environmental rules:

“Months before the huge blaze erupted, the U.S. Forest Service obtained permits to burn away the undergrowth and brush on more than 1,700 acres of the Angeles National Forest. But just 193 acres had been cleared by the time the fire broke out, Forest Service resource officer Steve Bear said.

The agency defended its efforts, saying weather, wind and environmental rules tightly limit how often these “prescribed burns” can be conducted.

Bear said crews using machinery and hand tools managed to trim 5,000 acres in the forest this year before the money ran out. Ideally, “at least a couple thousand more acres” would have been cleared.”

The fire has destroyed “more than five dozen homes, killed two firefighters and forced thousands of people to flee.”

Environmentalists argue prescribed burns are dangerous and can affect air quality and pose hazards if they can’t be controlled. Due to the need for compliance with environmental rules and delays caused by related lawsuits, some experts argue the best policy is to simply prohibit building in fire-prone areas.

The article is fuzzy on when the Forest Service stopped or limited its efforts to clear brush — saying only that it was “earlier this year” — so it sounds like this happened in the first or second quarter of 2009. The fact that it isn’t blamed on the Bush Administration suggests it was after the Obama Administration took office.

— DRJ

34 Responses to “Uncleared Brush Contributed to LA Wildfire”

  1. native So Cal vegetation *needs* to burn every few years….. that’s what it’s evolved to do. many plants don’t even germinate if they haven’t been heated.

    but no, we’re too smart let Mother Nature do what she does best. we prevent small fires on a routine basis from lightly burning off the excess and instead let it build up for years and years until it finally does catch and then everything gets destroyed.

    read about the fuels here (lots of other good info too)

    by the by: what moron or morons decided it would be a good idea to put all that vital commo gear on top of a mountain, and not build in defensible space for the inevitable fire?

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  2. Of course, they all laughed when George W. Bush spent his spare time clearing brush down at the ranch.

    Official Internet Data Office (6168a2)

  3. @ #2: So we can blame it on Bush…he should have been clearing brush in California!

    Old Coot (83c1d1)

  4. Then they’d just claim he was taking too much vacation.

    DRJ (3f5471)

  5. “LOS ANGELES (Sept. 2) – Firefighters made more progress Wednesday against a giant wildfire that has ravaged a national forest north of Los Angeles as investigators searched for information about how the fire started.
    Officials are still trying to figure out what set off the blaze in the Angeles National Forest that had burned nearly 219 square miles, or 140,150 acres, by early Wednesday. Deputy incident commander Carlton Joseph said Wednesday that the fire was human-caused, but it’s not known specifically how it was started or whether it was accidental or arson.– AP

    DCSCA (9d1bb3)

  6. I’m not sure why you linked that DCSCA. The article I linked said this is a human-caused fire. Clearly, humans can cause fires and, as far as I know, there’s no rule that brush should only be cleared to prevent naturally-caused fires like lightening strikes.

    DRJ (3f5471)

  7. Should have been a “shovel ready” project eligible for stimulus money.

    ROA (e2e9ec)

  8. If Bush had been listening to Clarke instead of playing cowboy on vacation in TX 9/11 would not have happened.

    Did IMP add anything of substance, or did it just copy and paste a wall o’text from someone?

    JD (f756a6)

  9. This is actually a tough call, because every so often these ‘controlled burns’ get out of control and turn into large fires … which means that it’s tough for me to second-guess the call to burn, or not to burn, at any given time.

    [It’s not like the program involves paying people to go manually haul away brush; what the forest service does is start fires which they think they can control, and use them to clear the brush]

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  10. This is consistant with the lead-up to the devastating Big Bear Fire several years back:
    The mountains are overrun with dead conifers due to a bark-beetle infestation; yet, when property-owners (including governments) attempt to cut down these invitations to disaster,the enviros go to court to stop these “devastations to the environment”. Too bad they couldn’t be held financially responsible for their poor legal strategy – hundreds of homes – and dozens of lives – were lost due to the still standing dead trees that created fire conditions that no agency could stop.

    AD - RtR/OS! (2172ef)

  11. Comment by aphrael — 9/2/2009 @ 6:11 pm

    I think the acreage lost to controlled-burns getting out-of-control is miniscule compared to what is lost year-in and year-out due to the legal interference by the enviros.

    AD - RtR/OS! (2172ef)

  12. I think we both know the answer to that, JD…

    Scott Jacobs (d027b8)

  13. Comment by aphrael — 9/2/2009 @ 6:11 pm

    Holy shit! Where the hell you been aphrael???

    Scott Jacobs (d027b8)

  14. FWIW, the rule of thumb is that 90% of wildland fires are “human caused”. However, since the non-human causes are usually lightning, there’s a whole lot of human activity that can cause something to go up.

    Considering that the pre-fire humidity was in the single digits, it wouldn’t have taken much to start this. Alas, such fire weather also tends to bring out the arsonists.

    Clearing brush can bring out the environmental lawsuits. I’ve heard of a few cases where the restrictions got “forgotten” in the midst of an incident. Save a tree frog or a neighborhood. Hmm?

    Red County Pete (119be6)

  15. A clean forest is a happy forest.

    happyfeet (6b707a)

  16. You hit it on the head AD – RtR/OS!.

    The whackado enviros pull the same thing here in Colorado. Several years ago it resulted in a 100,000+ acre blaze in the foothills. They blocked the removal of fallen trees which led to bark beatles and more dead trees which led to a runaway fire. Started, by the way, by a forest ranger burning letters from the lover who jilted her.

    At least Cali has some genuine bad guys to blame it on rather than a brokenhearted idiot. small consolation.

    MaaddMaaxx (b91eb0)

  17. do the controlled burns either during or right after the rainy season, so only the dead stuff burns out, and the rest of the adapted vegetation survives like has evolved to.

    the area in question hasn’t burned in at least forty years, and the brush is 15-20′ deep (read that at my link upstairs)…..

    you might as well have barrels of gasoline every few yards as brush. forests and So Cal brush *have* to burn every so often to stay healthy.

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  18. #17

    I have some experience in the brush removal field.
    The words “mosaic” and “lawsuit” appear frequently in any discussion.

    On a practical level burning chapparral in the rainy season is a no go.
    It usually won’t burn then, and if you do get it to burn, it usually triggers an Air Quality alert plus it just smoulders and makes more deadwood for next year

    SteveG (97b6b9)

  19. #18, hence my suggestion “right after” such as april or may…. depending on the rain that year and the local weather.

    as for the lawsuit part, make the filers against brush clearance live on the urban/wilderness interface, just to see if they have the courage of their convictions, or if they’re just Luddites.

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  20. Keep your lawsuit filers! We have enough trouble with those who think overgrown brush is “natural”.

    The local forestry types (Oregon and USFS) are taking a close look at risky properties around here. Already, one neighbor had to limb a tree near a fenceline, since it was at high risk of torching in a fire. Way too many trees hanging over the roof at another neighbor’s. He’ll get a nice letter from the Forest Service. (They can cite and/or harangue, even though we’re a couple miles from the nearest national forest.)

    We received no complaints. My other chainsaw is a Husqvarna.

    BTW, trying to time a brush burn with some fuels is a lot like Russian Roulette. (Maybe the rhythm method?) Lots of out-of-control brush burns in spring around here.

    Red County Pete (119be6)

  21. aphrael,

    The Forest Service spokesman specifically said there was manual labor but it stopped when they ran out of funds:

    Bear said crews using machinery and hand tools managed to trim 5,000 acres in the forest this year before the money ran out. Ideally, “at least a couple thousand more acres” would have been cleared.”

    I don’t know much about wildfires — the Texas ones are usually many miles from where I live — but I suspect the brush-clearing precedes the prescribed fires and is done primarily so they can control the fires they set. However, the inability to clear brush so you can control a prescribed fire would halt the entire process, wouldn’t it? In other words, it moots the decision to even set a prescribed fire.

    DRJ (3f5471)

  22. Forest Service resource officer Steve Bear

    Perfect name. Of course I am spoiled. I have a urologist named Dr. Wang.

    Huey (b957d9)

  23. Perfect name. Of course I am spoiled. I have a urologist named Dr. Wang.

    Comment by Huey — 9/2/2009 @ 8:38 pm

    If that spoils you, just be glad you don’t have two brothers named Dewey and Louie. And if Dr. Wang was a quack, we’re talking trifecta.

    I know. I’ll duck walk myself out…

    political agnostic (5a6129)

  24. Scott Jacobs – the school year just started, work picked up again after a slow period, and I spent last weekend at a music festival. So i’m really only marginally around. :)

    aphrael (9e8ccd)

  25. DRJ – fair point; the article you linked to had talked about controlled burns and I skimmed it rather than reading it in detail.

    That said, even with proper clearing before hand, there’s always a danger with controlled burns … and I don’t know enough to second-guess the guys making the decision to have the burn or not.

    Still … if the issue was that they stopped manual clearing because of a lack of funding, then the resource allocation decisions in the DoA need to be reexamined.

    aphrael (9e8ccd)

  26. #19

    We had a destructive fire in May. The weather forecast changed quickly from cool and possibly showery to 50MPH hot gusts of wind.
    80 homes burned from a fire started by what is thought to have been sparks from a power tool like a weedeater (no one has stepped forward… go figure)
    Weather systems that deviate as little as 50 miles off a predicted course change weather fast here due to the topography.
    Two nights of winds and low humidities will lower fuel moisture levels down to critical… two nights of fog and the stuff won’t burn at all.

    Chapparral only burns well under conditions of low humidity…
    Over 30% it’s a smudge fire that won’t stay lit and under 20% it’s a wildfire.
    All due respect to the firefighters on the Station Fire… they are working their butts off… but the higher humidity (levels the rest of the nation would consider low) is what is damping the fire. Yesterday and today humidity was what 40-50% over the fire?
    And it was just a giant smoker even in the wilderness areas with no firefighters on the line and all the air resources off knocking down the populated edges.

    In dense chapparral, there is little benefit to burning the “undergrowth” like you would in most controlled burns. Chapparral is sort of an all or nothing burn

    SteveG (97b6b9)

  27. Environmentalists argue prescribed burns are dangerous and can affect air quality and pose hazards if they can’t be controlled.

    This in contrast to the current conflagration that is dangerous, is affecting air quality, and has definitely posed hazards because it can’t be controlled.

    I feel much better now.

    navyvet (c7f520)

  28. aphrael,

    You sound like you have a lot on your plate. I’m glad you spared a few minutes to come by here.

    DRJ (3f5471)

  29. DRJ – the amount on my plate ebbs and flows; it’s the natural state of anyone working full time and going to school more than half time.

    I’ve got classmates who work full time and go to school and have kids. I cannot imagine how they make it go.

    Anyhow … this is sort of an online home for me; I’ve been coming here intermittently since the recall election. Which means that a month or two of silence won’t keep me from returning when things slow down. :)

    aphrael (9e8ccd)

  30. Well, so anyway, we out here in Denver would like to thank all the California environmentalists for the smoke we’ve had blanketing our area the last few days.

    Andy (c942e4)

  31. So if it’s risky to start controlled burns, could they be compared to no-knock drug raids that go bad? Is an out-of-control controlled burn really an “isolated incident”?

    I’m probably going to regret writing that.

    Clearing brush is a big pain in the butt. I have a section of woods behind my house. When I try to clean up some of the overgrowth I end up with big piles of brush that the city of Ann Arbor won’t let me burn (and it would make quite a bonfire) but if I rent a chipper and risk my life running it, the thin stuff would just wind around the chipper drum. You’d think you could make a big pile and it would all rot, right? But no, the forest rots a LOT slower than you’d think.

    I’m open to suggestions.

    Gesundheit (47b0b8)

  32. This is consistant with the lead-up to the devastating Big Bear Fire several years back:
    The mountains are overrun with dead conifers due to a bark-beetle infestation; yet, when property-owners (including governments) attempt to cut down these invitations to disaster,the enviros go to court to stop these “devastations to the environment”. Too bad they couldn’t be held financially responsible for their poor legal strategy – hundreds of homes – and dozens of lives – were lost due to the still standing dead trees that created fire conditions that no agency could stop.

    Why are these enviro groups even given any standing in court?

    Clearing brush is a big pain in the butt. I have a section of woods behind my house. When I try to clean up some of the overgrowth I end up with big piles of brush that the city of Ann Arbor won’t let me burn (and it would make quite a bonfire) but if I rent a chipper and risk my life running it, the thin stuff would just wind around the chipper drum. You’d think you could make a big pile and it would all rot, right? But no, the forest rots a LOT slower than you’d think.

    the brush can be used as fuel, and what is not used as fuel can be stored underground.

    Michael Ejercito (833607)

  33. Here in the southern Sierra mountains, we can get a ticket from the fire department if we don’t clear our lots. They come around and inspect. Also, if you don’t do it, they will hire someone to do it and bill you for it.

    Yes, it’s a pain, but only an idiot wouldn’t do it voluntarily. We have already had 4-5 fires here in our valley, one was arson. I watched a lightning strike turn into a fire a few hundred yards from my house. Our 2.5 acres is a pain to clear, and we have to pile the brush in a safe area, there’s no place to take it, it will burn but is full of major irritants. Since we like having a house to live in, we just do it. It’s nice to have something to complain about that isn’t idiotic, just exhausting.

    jodetoad (059c35)


Powered by WordPress.

Page loaded in: 0.8372 secs.