Friday, June 5, 2015

Fire Without Borders

Date of Visit: May 29, 2015 
Type of event: Field tour
Topic: Managing Forest Fire Hazards
Organization: Oregon State University / Forestry Extension
Location: Estacada, Oregon
Host: Glen Ahrens / Oregon State University / Forestry Extension
International Fellows: Stuty Maskey (Nepal), Sarita Lama (Nepal), Miguel Sanchez (Bolivia), Robert Mijol (Malaysia)
WFI Staff: Shadia Duery / International Fellowship Manager, and Rick Zenn / Senior Fellow

This field trip focused on learning about the behavior of the 36-Pit fire as told by those who experienced it, including details on fuel conditions, topography, weather, and the suppression effort. Discuss management implications with respect to fire resistance, fire resiliency, and fire safety.

Last September an unprecedented forest fire burned on Oregon's NW side, Pit 36 Fire. Over 5,500 acres of forest on Federal and private land burned down over 9 days. Low relative humidity, high temperatures, high East winds, and steep topography created the perfect conditions for a forest fire of large magnitude to spread fast.  Usually wind conditions slow down during night hours, but in this case they did not, allowing for the fire to grow overnight. The fire was human caused by a target shooting spark.

Forest fires are monitored with satellite imaging to declared them out, and this one has not been declared out yet, waiting upon a satellite image coming in the fall.

Lessons learned: 
  • The different stakeholders that were involved fighting the fire stated that working in collaboration was key in controlling the fire, and that it strengthen their relationship for future endeavors they might have to tackle together. 
  • Communication was one of the important parts of fighting a forest fire, among organizations working together and to the public. The creation of a centralized communication unit was very useful during this fire.
  • Forest owners that applied any fuel reduction strategy in their forest land experienced less damage in their forests.
Related links:

International Fellow's Reflections:

Sarita Lama from Nepal - Project / Understanding Forest Management Practices in the Pacific NW
An uncontrolled forest fire lasted nine days during last September, burning down around 5,500 acres of forestland at 36-pit of Mt. Hood National Forest and nearby forests. The elevation, vegetation type and structure, temperature, and relative humidity were the strong pointers that propelled the burning severity. However, the two important lessons learned from that area.
  • A huge forest fire can be effectively manage and controlled only if there is active and timely communication, coordination and help to and from the agencies. 
  • Management units that were thinned or clear cut though without prescribed burning found the burn severity reduced. 

Stuty Maskey from Nepal - Project / Use of Collaborative Governance to Manage Natural Resources
By the end of the tour, it was clear that one key lesson learned from this 36-Pit Fire disaster was the importance of effective communication between stakeholders. Strengthening relationships amongst agencies, building trust between agencies and communities, increasing communication between adjacent land-owners are crucial components of disaster mitigation and management. It is important to use tools such as media (conventional as well as social media), carefully to transmit clear messages so that speculation and rumors that can cause unnecessary anxiety can be suppressed. 
From fire-control perspective, the 36-Pit Fire was difficult also because of the steep slopes where the fire had spread. Since Nepal’s topography is largely steep high mountains, the visit was relevant to understand mitigation measures as well as post fire burn-area rehabilitation techniques. Recommendations such as aerial seeding of native grasses as quick short-term rehabilitation plan were useful tips although may be a bit expensive option for Nepal.

Miguel Sanchez from Bolivia - Project /  Forest Nurseries
Fire was and will be a component of nature. The damage caused by a fire forest is invaluable for the landowners and the public lands. The main conditions to spread a forest fire are high winds, low humidity, steep topography and high temperatures. 
To be better prepared to fight forest fires a plan has to be in place before fire season. Develop early fire alert tools and communication systems to inform the public during fire. Avoid doubling duties among stakeholders by having clear tasks for each one before fire season.
Joining efforts among stakeholders makes possible to recover the burnt areas. Ashes contain minerals that can be used as fertilized by new seedlings.

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