National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy September Newsletter

An Assessment of Wildfire Transmission and its Implications for Risk Governance
An Assessment of Wildfire Transmission and its Implications for Risk Governance

We thought that North Forkers would be interested in reading the Western Region National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy September Newsletter. It begins…

This has been a particularly tough season for stakeholders in the West. Cohesive Strategy’s Western Region and its partners are leading the charge to facilitate identification and implementation of collaborative, cross-boundary solutions to the complex, landscape-level issues we are facing today. The Cohesive Strategy is the right framework from which to continue to build social, political and scientific support to address these issues. Change will not occur overnight but together we can change the trajectory that can be plainly observed in recent fire seasons.

In this issue:

  • Collaborative Landscape Planning and Fuels Reduction Pays Off
  • “Why I Burned My Property and How I Shot It”
  • Public – Private Partnerships Paying Off During Montana Fires
  • An Assessment of Wildfire Transmission and its Implications for Risk Governance
  • Teaching Fire with Fire
  • Increases in Wildfire-Caused Erosion Can Impact Water Supply and Quality
  • What the Joint Fire Science Program Can Do for You
  • Upcoming Learning Opportunities

Tap here to read the full newsletter.

Firewise Day 2017

Firewise Day 2017Following is a report from co-chairs Molly Shepherd and Allen Chrisman…

The NFLA’s Fire Mitigation Committee sponsored its annual Firewise Day workshop on July 19, 2017, immediately preceding the Summer Interlocal meeting.  About 55 people attended.  The program was compelling and well-received by attendees.

Our principal speaker was Byron Bonney, who had a long and distinguished career with the Forest Service.  He now works as a community forester with the Bitterroot Resource Conservation and Development Council, assisting landowners in designing and implementing fuels treatments.  Those treatments were put to the test during the dangerous Roaring Lion Fire in the summer of 2016.

Mr. Bonney reminded attendees of the three purposes of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy:

  • To create a resilient landscape,
  • To build fire-resistant communities, and
  • To assure a safe and effective wildfire response.

Secondary goals are to increase forest health and to reduce insects and disease.

Since 2000, wildfire has consumed enormous resources in the United States, including both the costs of suppression and damage/loss to lives and property.  Three factors affect fire behavior:  fuels, weather and topography.  The only factor we can do anything about is fuels.  The objective is to get fire to the ground instead of spreading through the crowns so that it can be better managed, increasing opportunities to divert it around structures.

When the Roaring Lion Fire started in late July 2016, fuels work had been done on twenty of the properties within what would become the fire perimeter.  Fifteen of the primary structures within the thinned areas survived.  Many of the homes that burned were adjacent to national forest designated roadless areas, choked with fuels.  Fire generally went to the ground when it hit the thinned areas, sparing structures that otherwise might have been lost.

Mr. Bonney asked us whether we had prepared our homes and our properties for a devastating wildfire.  He emphasized the potential consequences of lack of preparedness.  For example, a fire crew may refuse to enter a property if a landowner has not done his or her part to reduce risks.  Fuels mitigation around a home and the road accessing the property is particularly important, providing a safe area for wildland and structure firefighters to work and adequate ingress and egress.

Removing flammables from your decks and immediately adjacent to the structure that can be ignited by a shower of embers is critical.  In addition, nooks and crannies, vents, and ridge caps should be sealed or screened to prevent embers from landing and igniting the structure.  Landowners must be proactive, not reactive, and must understand the consequences of their decisions.

Lincoln Chute, Fire Service Area Management Chief, and Ali Evans of the DNRC spoke about the status of revisions of Flathead County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan.  They hope to have a draft of the revised plan later this year.  The North Fork has its own plan appended to the county’s plan.  The Fire Mitigation Committee expects to update the North Fork plan in conjunction with the revisions.  Community participation is required in the process.

Lincoln also addressed the current Evacuation process – residents can expect to receive a Warning during the first contact with the Sheriff’s Office, and then an ordered Evacuation on the second contact if time allows.  Residents are expected to be aware of the hazards of wildland fire, and when they see smoke, they need to begin implementing their preparations for evacuation without notice from the Sheriff’s Office.  If the risk is imminent, residents need to remove themselves and their most critical possessions to a safe area without waiting for a formal evacuation notice.

The Blankenship Fire Department is designated as the primary responding Department in the Fire Service Area for the North Fork.  They will respond to provide structure protection in the North Fork Valley.  Chief Ed Burlingame described the resources that can be deployed to protect our homes.  In reality, there are not enough resources available to defend multiple structures in a short time frame.  Response times up the North Fork are significant as well.

Keith VanBroeke, who worked with the Fire Mitigation Committee in its early days, is now the Deputy Forest Fire Management Officer for the Flathead Forest.  He was the Operations Assistant Fire Management Officer for Hungry Horse/Glacier View Ranger District, and is very familiar with the North Fork.  He described the staffing the Forest has, bringing in initial attack resources from other Geographic Areas to bolster their I/A capability.

The current Operations AFMO for HH/GV is Ryan Butler.  He gave us an overview of the current burning conditions.  He commented that as of July 19, we’re ahead of schedule in fuels flammability and fire potential.  He likened conditions at that time to peak dryness in August.  The Forest Service is in an aggressive initial attack mode, as seen in its response to the recent fire up Moose Creek.

Firewise Day 2017

Finally, Bill Swope of the Flathead Economic Policy Council summarized hazardous fuels grant activity on the North Fork.  He called the Trail Creek ingress/egress project a “big success.”  Flathead County assisted in the project by chipping the resultant slash.  The North Fork still has a small amount of money available in its fourth grant.  Moreover, a recent $300,000 grant that was awarded to the northern end of Flathead County may be used for treatments on the North Fork.

As ever, the Fire Mitigation Committee appreciates the continuing support and collaboration of agencies with jurisdiction on the North Fork, including the participation of agency personnel in our Firewise Day workshop.

Fire Mitigation Committee Update – June 2017

Firewise Day 2016The Fire Mitigation Committee met in May to plan its activities for the year, including its annual Firewise Day workshop.  The workshop will be held in Sondreson Hall on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 from 9:30 a.m. to noon, preceding the Summer Interlocal.

Our principal speaker this year will be Byron Bonney, who has been instrumental in working with landowners on hazardous fuels treatments in the Bitterroot Valley.  He’ll tell us about the effects of those treatments in the area burned by the Roaring Lion Fire last summer.   The fire was aptly named:  it came roaring out of a canyon and then fanned out into the valley, behavior that is also typical of many North Fork fires.  Although the Roaring Lion Fire destroyed a number of homes, most of the homes whose owners had created defensible space around them were spared.  The treatments brought fire to the ground and limited the fuels that could be ignited by flying embers.  They also improved the chance of survival for neighbors’ homes downwind.  So as we’ll hear at the workshop, the fire provided important corroboration of the value of defensible space.

We’ll also hear from Lincoln Chute, Director of Emergency Services for Flathead County and a member of our committee.  He’ll talk about the county’s pending revision of its Community Wildfire Protection Plan or CWPP.  The committee expects to update the North Fork’s fire plan in conjunction with the county’s revision.  Lots of work has been done since our last update in 2009, as maps will demonstrate.  Community input is required in the CWPP process so landowners can expect to hear more about the project this summer.

With respect to the status of our cost-share assistance grants, we basically have $10,000 left in our current grant.  We may apply for another, smaller grant.  But we also have potential access to funds from grants that cover larger areas of the county.  There’s now a fair amount of flexibility in where the monies can be spent.  Landowners who are interested in creating defensible space around their North Fork homes should contact Bill Swope at 406.250.9812 or bhswope@gmail.com.  Mason Richwine, who has worked with many North Fork landowners over the last 10+years, has retired.

Finally, the June 1 Wildland Fire Potential is posted on the NFLA website.  The Northern Rockies’ outlook is for a slower than normal fire season in June and July, moving to normal in August and September.  But we can’t be complacent:  hot, dry, windy days cure out fine fuels, making them more combustible.  Landowners should be cautious about any burning, and do so only with a permit.   Now is also a good time to clean up accumulated flammable debris around our homes, so it doesn’t provide a fuel bed for embers.

Fire Mitigation Committee Report, Late Winter 2017

The Fire Mitigation Committee is planning for the North Fork’s 2017 Firewise Day, which probably will be held the morning of July 19, preceding the Summer Interlocal. Byron Bonney will be our featured speaker.  He has been instrumental in working with landowners on hazardous fuels treatments in the Bitterroot. We expect him to tell us about the effects of those treatments in the area burned by the Roaring Lion Fire last summer. Although many homes were destroyed in the fire, almost all of the homes whose owners had created defensible space around them were spared. The treatments brought fire to the ground and limited the fuels that could be ignited by flying embers. They also improved the chance of survival for neighbors’ homes downwind. So as you’ll hear at the workshop, the fire provided important corroboration of the value of defensible space.

We have at least $10,000 left in our 4th hazardous fuels grant, with about 55 acres already treated and 35 in process. So far, landowners and community members have provided over $80,000 in cash match and in-kind labor. Special thanks goes to Flathead County, which donated almost $8000 in equipment and labor for chipping the slash that resulted from our Trail Creek Project. The Fire Mitigation Committee probably will apply for a 5th grant if it has the opportunity.

The Flathead Economic Policy Center administers the grants and provides landowners and the committee with invaluable technical assistance. We’ve just learned that our friend Mason Richwine, a FEPC forester who has worked with many North Fork landowners, is retiring in order to concentrate on hunting and fishing. We wish him success.  Bill Swope will continue to work with us.

Flathead County is launching another revision of its Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The Fire Mitigation Committee expects to update its North Fork Wildfire Mitigation and Planning Report in conjunction with the county’s revision. We’ll need community input in the process. We’ll also need to update maps of the significant public and private work that’s been done on the North Fork since the fires of 2003.

Finally, the DNRC is sponsoring a multi-media presentation on the Era of Mega-Fires in Kalispell this Spring. The presentation will be held on Tuesday April 25 from 6 – 8 p.m. at Flathead Valley Community College, Arts & Technology Room 139.  We understand that the program is compelling.

Firewise Day 2016

The NFLA’s Fire Mitigation Committee sponsored its annual Firewise workshop on July 13, 2016, preceding the Summer Interlocal meeting. About 45 people attended. Committee co-chair Allen Chrisman once again put together an outstanding program, with presentations from all of the federal, state and local agencies with wildfire responsibilities on the North Fork.

Angela Mallon and Erik Warrington represented the DNRC. According to Ms. Mallon, grant funding for fuels treatments by private landowners probably will continue. In order to assure that grant monies are well-spent, the DNRC recently decided to model and evaluate the effectiveness of treatments in different forest types in Montana.

In the past, the DNRC has recommended a uniform prescription for fuels treatments, calling for a minimum of 10’ between the crowns of trees. Based on its recent physics-based modeling, however, the DNRC now recommends that treatments be designed around site-specific attributes. Basically, except around homes, one size does not fit all. Landowner preferences are taken into consideration, too.

The DNRC continues to encourage at least 300’ of defensible space around homes. Ms. Mallon also emphasized the benefits of pruning trees to remove ladder fuels. Doing so encourages fire to drop to the ground, making firefighters’ job easier.

Smith Valley’s James Brower spoke on behalf of Flathead County, which has structure protection responsibilities on the North Fork. He commented that it takes a long time for a structure engine to reach the North Fork, so that it’s up to landowners to make their homes more defensible. He further commented that engines won’t enter overgrown driveways because of life safety concerns. If possible, the county prefers two means of ingress and egress from a property.

Mr. Brower added that woodsheds are structure firefighters’ nemesis. He suggested placing mesh over woodshed openings so embers can’t reach the firewood stored there. He also warned attendees not to stash firewood on decks or adjacent to structures.

Andy Huntsberger recently was named Fire Management Officer for the Flathead Forest’s Hungry Horse-Glacier View District. He told attendees that the Glacier Rim Fire in 2015 had brought home the potential for reburn on the North Fork. We were lucky last year because the North Fork did not get significant lightning. Almost 100,000 acres burned in the South Fork, however.

Mr. Huntsberger encouraged us to keep doing what we’re doing to protect our homes, as to make good decisions in the event of a fire. He stated that three lookouts will be staffed this summer, providing good coverage. He also mentioned that the Forest Service usually flies over the area the day after a lightning storm to check for any resultant fire starts.

Manny Mendoza, deputy FMO, commented that El Nino weather pattern appears to be breaking down. He said that fuel moistures were “pretty good” going into the mid-July to September fire season.

Bill Swope of the Flathead Economic Policy Council has worked with landowners for more than 10 years, implementing our hazardous fuels grant program. He estimated that they have probably spent $1 million in the North Fork since the fires of 2003.

Although about $18,000 is left in our fourth grant, the monies largely have been committed. We’ll probably apply for a fifth grant if the opportunity arises and will attempt to preserve our traditional cost-share ratio whereby the grant pays 75% of the cost of a project and the landowner pays 25%.

Mr. Swope remarked that grant monies may not cover the full cost of a job. For example, technical specifications may not provide for as much clean-up work as a landowner wants to have done. In that event, the landowner is responsible for the cost of any additional work.

In addition to live presentations, attendees saw a video by internationally known fire researcher Jack Cohen of the Missoula Fire Lab. Mr. Cohen stressed that it’s “the little things” that typically cause a house to burn during a wildfire. In particular, embers may land in fine fuels around a home, which in turn ignite it.  Open gables may allow embers to enter; covering vents with mesh may prevent them from gaining access. He emphasized that landowners should address the little things before a fire starts rather than waiting until their homes are threatened by wildfire. In follow-up remarks, Allen Chrisman commented that it’s incumbent on North Fork landowners to “self-rescue.”

The Fire Mitigation Committee is grateful for the continuing support and collaboration of agencies with jurisdiction on the North Fork, including their participation in our Firewise Day workshop.

Fire Mitigation Committee Report, Late Spring 2016

From Co-Chairs Molly Shepherd and Allen Chrisman

Hazardous Fuels Grant

The North Fork has received four hazardous fuels reduction grants since the fires of 2003. Monies have been available on a cost-share basis, with the grant paying 75% of the cost of an eligible project and the landowner contributing the remaining 25%. The Flathead Economic Policy Center has administered the grants and provided invaluable technical assistance on our behalf. We have closed out our three earlier grants and have a balance of about $20,000 remaining on the fourth. A number of landowners have committed to or are considering projects.

Our priority with the fourth grant has been to reduce hazardous fuels along the lower part of Trail Creek Road, where it passes through private property. The purpose is to improve ingress and egress, allow safer access for firefighters, and afford an escape route over the Whitefish Divide.   We’ve had a positive response from landowners. Flathead County is assisting us by chipping the slash generated by landowner treatments along the road.

The Fire Mitigation Committee tentatively expects to apply for a fifth grant when the opportunity arises. Committee members have discussed giving priority to ingress/egress projects along lower Red Meadow Road, similar to those funded along the lower stretch of Trail Creek Road. Flathead County also may support potential Red Meadow projects by chipping the resulting slash.

Information about participation in the grant program is available from Bill Swope, who may be reached at 406-250-9812 or at bhswope@gmail.com.

Firewise Day 2016

The North Fork has been recognized as a Firewise community for eleven years.  One of the requirements for recognition is to contribute a minimum of $2 per capita toward Firewise activities.  In 2015, we contributed about $8,200, most of it in volunteer time, with a landowner population approaching 500.

Another requirement for continuing recognition is to hold an annual Firewise Day event.  The 2015 workshop featured an excellent program and strong attendance.  This year’s workshop will be held on Wednesday July 13, 2016 from 9:30 a.m. to noon at Sondreson Hall, immediately preceding the Summer Interlocal meeting.

Our Firewise Day agenda includes the following items:

  • A video by Jack Cohen, internationally known wildfire expert at the Fire Lab in Missoula.  The video’s title is “Your Home Can Survive a Wildfire,” with advice about how to create defensible space around your home.
  • A presentation by Angela Mallon and Lucas Wells of the DNRC.  They will report on the preliminary results of their study on optimal spacing of trees in hazardous fuels reduction projects.
  • A presentation by Lincoln Chute, Director of Emergency Services for Flathead County.  Mr. Chute will explain the county’s “Ready, Set, Go” evacuation program.  He may illustrate ingress/egress concerns with video footage from the Fort MacMurray fires.
  • Remarks by Andy Huntsberger, Fire Management Officer for the Forest Service’s Glacier View/Hungry Horse District.  He will review the fire season forecast and resources available on the North Fork this summer.  He’ll also touch on the potential for reburn in areas burned since the Red Bench Fire in 1988.
  • A review of the status of our hazardous fuels grants by Bill Swope and Carol Daly.  They also will address opportunities for landowners.
  • Tentatively, remarks by Christine Johnson, Executive Director of Firesafe Montana.  She will tell us about the Firesafe program.  The North Fork Landowners Association is a Firesafe member.

Here is the final agenda for Firewise Day.

Wildfire Mitigation and Planning Report

The Fire Mitigation Committee prepared a North Fork Wildfire Mitigation and Planning Report in 2005 and updated it in 2009. If you would like to see a copy of this report, please click here. The report is appended to Flathead County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).

The county anticipates revising its CWPP within the next year or two. The Fire Mitigation Committee expects to revise the North Fork’s plan in conjunction with the county’s revision. We’ll update our demographic information, grant history and achievements. We’ll also generate new maps of public and private fuels mitigation work. Public participation is required in the CWPP process.

Fire Mitigation Committee Report, August 2015

Firewise Day

The Fire Mitigation Committee sponsored a successful Firewise Day workshop on July 15, 2015, preceding the Summer Interlocal meeting. About sixty people attended. Committee co-chair Allen Chrisman put together an excellent program, with presenters from all of the agencies with wildfire responsibilities on the North Fork. As ever, the committee is grateful for their long-term collaboration.

Lincoln Chute was among the presenters at the workshop. He is Flathead County Fire Service Area Manager and now a member of the Fire Mitigation Committee.   He reminded attendees that wildfire preparedness is a matter of personal responsibility. There’s only so much that firefighters can do. Furthermore, landowners can’t count on having fire engines available to save their homes, since a shortage of volunteers has made it difficult to staff engines. He urged landowners to put their addresses on posts or mailboxes marking their driveways, using reflective numbers that can be easily seen in an emergency.

Mr. Chute and other presenters also discussed the danger of ember showers, which can ignite structures or the fuels around them a long way from a fire front. Decks and vents are especially problematic in an ember shower. Presenters encouraged landowners to inspect in and around their homes, to identify places where an ember might enter or ignite flammable materials, and to take steps to mitigate any hazards. Don’t store firewood on decks and do cover the openings to woodsheds, preferably with canvas or fire-resistant material. Cut the grass around structures and keep it green. Clean up the brush around propane tanks.

Manny Mendoza of the USDA Forest Service highlighted dangerously dry conditions so far this year. The area experienced the hottest, driest June in history. Although some rain and cooler temperatures in early July moderated the danger, Mr. Mendoza remarked that we’re still on the same track we were on in 2001 and 2003, when we had massive fires on the North Fork.

Grant Status

Progress has been made on the Trail Creek ingress-egress project. Duke and Naomi Hoiland have done significant work along their stretch of Trail Creek Road. Other landowners with frontage on the road are initiating fuels reduction projects, with assistance from the North Fork’s fourth cost-share grant.

Fire Mitigation Committee Report, June 2015

Firewise Day

The North Fork’s annual Firewise Day will be held on Wednesday, July 15, 2015 from 9:30 – noon in Sondreson Community Hall. The Firewise workshop will precede the Summer Interlocal meeting.

We anticipate another excellent program. We’ll begin with a video about wildfires in Washington and Oregon in 2014. The video depicts extreme fire behavior. Then Lincoln Chute, Flathead County Fire Service Area Manager, will give a presentation about evacuation planning, structure triage, and county responsibilities during a wildfire. U.S Forest Service personnel will inform us about fire season projections and staffing levels. DNRC foresters will explain their role and the services that they provide on the North Fork. Finally, we’ll have a display and demonstration of common tools for fire suppression and information about sources for the tools.

The program is timely and tailored to what is expected to be a very active fire season in Western Montana, given the record-setting warm and dry conditions this Spring. We hope to see you at the workshop.

Ten Years as Firewise Community

The North Fork recently was honored for having been a Firewise Community for ten years. The two basic requirements are to hold an annual Firewise Day event and make a minimum per capita expenditure on Firewise activities. We received a trophy commemorating our long-time membership. It will be displayed in the Hall.

Grant Status

Landowners along Trail Creek Road have received a letter informing them about potential grant assistance for removing hazardous fuels on their properties adjoining the road. The project is a priority for our fourth hazardous fuels grant. Treating fuels along the road will improve landowners and firefighter ingress and egress. It also will afford an escape route over the Whitefish Divide for the north end of the valley.

Fire Mitigation Committee Report, Late Winter 2015

2015 Firewise Day

The North Fork has been recognized as a Firewise Community for ten years. One of the requirements for continuing recognition is holding an annual Firewise Day event. The North Fork’s annual Firewise workshops have been informative and well-attended, covering a range of wildfire and stewardship topics.

This year, the NFLA’s Fire Mitigation Committee will sponsor its Firewise workshop on Wednesday, July 15 2015 from 9:30 a.m. to noon, immediately preceding the Summer Interlocal meeting. Although plans for the event are not yet complete, the committee expects to show a video of fire behavior during the 2014 Pacific Northwest fire season. Tentatively, presenters will include Lincoln Chute, Flathead County Fire Service Area Manager, and committee co-chair Allen Chrisman.   We’ll probably also hear updates from the agency representatives with whom we work. More information about the program will be posted on the NFLA website when the agenda is final.

Hazardous Fuels Grants

Since the fires of 2003, the Fire Mitigation Committee has helped numerous private landowners treat hazardous forest fuels on their properties by obtaining cost-share grants. The grants have paid 75% of the cost of an eligible project and the landowner has contributed the remaining 25%.

We are currently working on our fourth grant, this one in the amount of $91,000. One of our priorities for the grant is to reduce fuel accumulations along the lower stretch of Trail Creek Road, where it passes through private property. Treating fuels there will improve ingress and egress for landowners, allow safer access for firefighters, and afford an escape route over the Whitefish Divide. Committee members are contacting landowners to discuss the program and to determine their interest in participation.

Lincoln Chute has obtained approval from the Flathead County commissioners to use a county chipper to help dispose of slash generated along Trail Creek Road. We’ll need to show substantial, wide-spread benefit to warrant use of the equipment. Landowners also will need to cut slash material to size and align it along the roadside to facilitate handling.

More information about participation in the grant program is available from Bill Swope, who may be reached at 406-250-9812 or at bhswope@gmail.com.