The Forest Service says that it has pretty much contained the Green Ridge Fire. When the Antiplanner reported on the fire last Tuesday (August 6), it had burned 550 acres, and officials said they expected to have it contained by the end of August 7. In fact, it took at least four more days and a total cost of close to $5 million.
This map shows the status of the fire on Wednesday, August 7. Notice that the Forest Service was building a fire line (black line) well south of the actual fire front (red line). Click image for a larger view.
On the night of August 8, a strong wind whipped up the fire and sent fire brands that created spot fires as much as a mile away from the main fire, increasing the area burned to 950 acres. But on the evening of Friday, August 9, firefighters were helped by a rain storm that didn’t last long but was quite heavy. Rain fell again the afternoon of August 10. Despite the rain and Forest Service assurances that “lower temperatures and higher relative humidities are helping firefighting efforts,” the number of acres burned climbed to 1,150 by Saturday morning.
Last Monday, August 5, air tankers repeatedly dropped retardant along a line closely following the red line shown on the above map. But why drop so much retardant when the final fire line was going to be well south of this line? (This photo was also shown in last Tuesday’s post; click image for a larger view.)
As I write, the Forest Service says the final acres burned are 1,510. But several hundred of these acres are back burns, fires lit by firefighters in order to deprive the natural fire of fuel. Considering the rain, I have to wonder if these back fires were really necessary.
On the evening of August 8, we could see large fires spreading south from the original fire. It was actually somewhat disturbing to see individual trees go up in flames shooting hundreds of feet high. Later, I had to wonder whether this was wildfire or back burning.
By the evening August 9, the rain and cooler temperatures had pretty much ended the wildfire (though there is always the possibility of it erupting again when the weather gets hot, as it is predicted to do this week). Yet the “final” map, dated August 11, shows 356 more acres burned. Everything from the fire edge on the August 9 map (red line) to the control line on the August 11 map (black line) is a back fire.
Fire status on Friday, August 11. The difference in acres burned between this and the previous map is almost certainly all back fires deliberately lit by the Forest Service. Click image for a larger view.
I don’t want to second-guess the firefighters, who worked hard and earned their pay. But I do have some questions about fire policy.
For example, what was the purpose of all those tanker drops if the Forest Service was going to burn everything south of the retardant line anyway? Did the Forest Service really need to back burn so many acres when the rain pretty much cooled the fire off, leaving the remainder to a mop-up operation? Ultimately, how would a private landowner or state fire protection district that didn’t have an unlimited fire budget have dealt with this fire?
Despite Forest Service claims that “residences were threatened,” the only residences within 10 miles of the fire were both upwind and downhill, making the threat very low. So ultimately, all they were protecting was the trees, and it is possible that their back fires killed as many trees as their suppression efforts saved.
A firefighter I once knew told me that the Forest Service attacks fires by dumping money on them until it rains, and then the rain puts the fire out. That’s certainly what happened here.