Futility and Fatality in Fighting the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire

#1

This press release just hit my inbox. I haven’t checked out the online interactive story yet…

EUGENE, OR ​ – Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE) released a report in StoryMap format, ​ “We Had to Do Something: Futility and Fatality in Fighting the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire,” ​ on Tuesday, September 10, 2019 analyzing the record-breaking Ranch and River Fires that burned across 459,123 acres mostly in the Mendocino National Forest in California. Fire managers felt pressure to “do something” to stop the spread of the Ranch Fire, attempting a hastily planned burnout along a bulldozer fireline. But this action contradicted the advice from Forest Service risk management experts who warned that aggressive firefighting tactics had low probabilities of success given record-level fuel dryness at the time. A crew of firefighters was nearly entrapped and had to run for their lives when, as predicted, the wildfire burned across a dozerline. On another section of the wildfire, a firefighter was killed and the rest of his crew severely injured when retardant slurry from a very large airtanker was dumped on top of their position.

“Firefighter safety is the highest priority on every fire management action, and one of the best means of safeguarding crews is to avoid putting them into harm’s way when conditions make conventional firefighting both unsafe and unlikely to succeed,” said Timothy Ingalsbee, executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE). “Incident Commanders on the Ranch Fire chose to ignore risk assessment experts who warned them of the folly of their plans that were knowingly futile and nearly fatal.”

FUSEE’s web-based interactive report features narratives, maps, and photos from official sources, including internal accident investigations and risk assessment analyses. It is one of the first efforts to combine a timeline of management decisions with risk assessments and significant events on the Mendocino Complex Fire. The report critically examines the Forest Service’s decision-making rationale in which ​fire managers placed firefighters at greater risk implementing an aggressive firefighting plan known to have a low likelihood of success due to inadequate preparation time, record-level flammability conditions, and rugged terrain features in the remote wildland area. In an area with fire-adapted ecosystems but few social values at risk, firefighters were exposed to a level of risk incommensurate with the minimal values needed to protect.

Key Points of the Report:

● The Ranch Fire of the Mendocino Complex burned largely in the Mendocino National Forest and Snow Mountain Wilderness Area–far away from homes or communities.

● Fire managers ignored science-based risk assessments of the costs and benefits of fire containment options, and pursued more aggressive suppression tactics despite record- setting fire danger over a crucial one-month period in August of 2018.

● The unified command of CalFire and Federal agency fire managers created ongoing tension and confusion due to conflicting organizational missions and management cultures.

● Federal fire managers must shift priorities from fighting fires in backcountry wildlands, and instead, focus suppression resources on protecting homes while helping frontcountry communities prepare for recurring prescribed and wildland fires.

● State and local wildland firefighters and the citizens they serve need to understand the human and environmental tradeoffs of attempting aggressive suppression for fire exclusion in fire-adapted ecosystems, and recognize that global warming has altered the fire environment and affected conventional firefighting strategies and tactics.

● A new paradigm of Ecological Fire Management offers more options and opportunities to protect rural communities and restore fire-adapted ecosystems for future generations.

The full report is available for download at https://arcg.is/rSuWL

CA-MEU-Mendocino Complex???
#2

As was the last release referencing the need for changing suppression tactics with Dozers…

The document has valid facts, timelines and reference material.

It also identifies “perceived” issues in modern-day tactics…

But is also charged with opinion and agenda’s ;

“The decision to try to stop the wildfire from burning into a wilderness was foolhardy not only because it was knowingly futile, but even if it could have succeeded it was the wrong thing to do.”

And as always…offers what VALID solutions? Ah yes give the scientists more time( They took 2 days totalling 90,000 acre fire spread) to gather the information necessary for a evaluation for the IMT’S. :+1:

Park the dozers, don’t do anything dangerous, don’t use aircraft, don’t construct contingency line, don’t protect the forest =Scorched Earth policy :ballot_box_with_check:

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#3

Tried to read it but gave up. Knowledgeable readers will detect the
author’s usual mishmash of good concepts with outright misrepresentations
and long-standing bias regarding fire suppression and management.
Still I understand why FUSEE came to be and don’t totally discount what they do.

#4

The FUSEE report on the Soberanes Fire was much the same way

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#6

I wrote a fairly lengthy post about their Carr Fire report. This report seems to be more of the same opinion based criticism of the Ranch Fire. My issue with their “reports” is that they spend a great deal of effort around their opinions of what we do incorrectly but completely miss or deliberately ignore any constructive ideas or suggestions on what should be done. If they want to be viewed as leaders in the way we approach these fires, then be leaders a provide alternative ideas about their vision. Otherwise, they are nothing more than Monday morning arm-chair quarterbacks.

A Southern California based fire photographer, and also a member of this forum, spend some time filming the Ranch Fire fight in Long Valley. For those who are interested, he has that video posted on YouTube https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JIXJjLSNPCU. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to visualize what the engines providing structure defense would have faced if the other engines were not handling the spots in the flat open field prior to the main flame front coming in.

Seriously, what would be FUSEE’s suggestion? Simultaneously fire Highway 20 from 101 to 5, 5 from 20 to 36, 36 to 101, and 101 to 20? That would have created a very nice BIG box with 10 times the acreage and 100x the destructive costs.

If they don’t like what we are currently doing, which is clearly evident from their reports, provide some ideas or suggestions.

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#7

Remember fellas. Politics Politics Politics. The machine we all work for. In one capacity or another. Keep heads high.

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#8

Much of the document is accurate. Especially the 3rd bullet.

As a matter of fact, the 3rd bullet should be in bold and underlined, imho.

MHB

#9

Everyone looks at these things through their own filter. Whatever your take on what these guys are saying, storytelling is the foundation of wildland fire culture, and I applaud FUSEE for using modern tools and REAL DATA to tell a story they think is important.
I liked these concluding quotes:

Between the two extremes of aggressively “fighting” fires and passively “letting them burn,” there is a whole range of alternative actions for safe, ethical, ecological fire management. Agencies have a multitude of advanced technology and tools that enable them to wisely manage rather than blindly fight all fires - if managers choose to use them. Science-based risk assessments are one of these powerful high-tech tools. The RMAT reports should have tempered fire managers’ compulsion to do something by providing rationale to do something different than a conventional firefighting strategy and tactics.

… The Mendocino Complex Fire offers valuable lessons to learn, and makes an urgent call for change from re active wildfire suppression to pro active ecological fire management. Indeed, we have to do something - radically different - in order to relearn how to live safely and sustainably with wildland fire in a warming world.

#10

Made it through it. The facts part of the story are well told, kinda making up for
some of the author’s indulgences. Still, the conclusions are not something we
didn’t already know. And we don’t have the time or space to hear how I think
the door has been shut already on the pro active ecological conclusion, lofty as
it is.
Now Norman MacClean, he could write a story.

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#11

The Ranch Fire of the Mendocino Complex burned largely in the Mendocino National Forest and Snow Mountain Wilderness Area–far away from homes or communities.

Far away from homes or Communities? What? I think the “Real Science” forgot the facts. There were thousands of homes in danger all along the Hwy 20 corridor around the lake. Let them burn for ethical ecological reasons? I think not! You just can’t look at the Wilderness Areas and right them off because fire would be good for them. People live around them and have for a long long time.

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#12

Far away from homes or Communities? What? I think the “Real Science” forgot the facts. There were thousands of homes in danger all along the Hwy 20 corridor around the lake.

It’s true there are houses along the Highway 20 corridor, but this had little bearing on how we chose to fight the fire in the Wilderness - the firefighting along the south flank of the fire was a whole different operation from the what was going on on the north flank.
The report isn’t saying we shouldn’t have fought the fire on the south side, it is saying WE KNEW it was highly unlikely we could keep the fire out of the wilderness, there were good reasons to let that end of the fire burn (including firefighter safety), and the fire burned the wilderness anyway, almost killing some firefighters.

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#13

Well, maybe the tree huggers believe the old FS Batt Chief story. How does a USFS Batt Chief put out a Kitchen Fire, He backfires the living room.
Now all you guys wearing green don’t get mad. I didnt think this one up.

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#14

I like the quote.

Although not much to do with tree huggers. More to do with life vs death.

#15

Not to get in a war over words, the bullet point clearly states that this fire was far away from homes and communities. I think it does so to make their point that was not fact. I clearly dislike a group like FUSEE showing up and stating they know more than anyone else and write a report to justify their findings. After the fact! If these guys have all of the answers to all of our problems, then why aren’t they working for the agencies making the decisions. It is easy to sit back and criticize the efforts of those that are trying to do their best with the information they have at the time, while the fire is chewing up the country!

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#16

Follow the money and see where their major funding comes from and you will have an answer as to their objective.

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#17

Their blog has a bunch of posts of a more to-their-point style.

https://www.fusee.org/blog/
https://www.fusee.org/burn-my-shorts/

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#18

Where does their major funding come from? I’m not a point where I can go looking for that at the moment.

#19

It comes from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation

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#20

Fusee has been around a long time. I first met their director Tim Ingalsbee at a fire conference in 1998, and have followed their work since then. They’ve had a few different funders over the years, but it’s always been a real shoestring operation, nobody there makes a living at it.
They’re not a ‘single-issue’ kind of group, so I wouldn’t let the fact they are getting money from Dicaprio fool you into thinking this is all about climate change.
What we’ve been doing for the last 100 years doesn’t work anymore. The Fusee guys and gals are not outsiders, they are some of our more opinionated peers. They are prone to rant, but I’m glad they’re willing to hold down the radical end of the conversation.
Did you know Fusee was blacklisted from the old WLF website? One of the Abs hated them, would take down any post that mentioned their work…

#21

Yes, I agree that there needs to be changes within the realm of wildland fire. What I don’t agree with their so-called methods of affecting that change. WE are not the bad guys in this dialog but their continued diatribe, which is nothing more than arm chair quarterbacking. Not suggesting that they should be our cheerleaders but don’t claim to be pro firefighters and rip us to shreds in their reports on what they view we do wrong. As an example, haven’t seen anything from them about changes in building codes or people needing provide solid defensible space, just that we shouldn’t place dozer lines, the use of retardant is bad, and just let everything burn. When they start looking and addressing the necessary changes, then perhaps I will be more willing to cut them some slack but until they look at those non-suppression related items, all they are doing is bashing us and the work we perform

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