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Memo To: California and Australia Re: Fuel Modification

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

“Driving through Victoria, it’s just like driving through coastal California. … With the same heat, the same winds and dry fuels, California always has the potential to burn like that,” 

-Kevin Olson, chief of California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

Chief Olson, head of California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said southeastern Australia faces some of the same fire problems because of similar climates and topography as California.

(Source: Associated Press)

While that may be so, it all boils down, or um burns down, to sensible vegetation management. As long as uber-powerful state commissions like the California Coastal Commission and governmental entities in Australia ban people from clearing brush the problem won’t go away.

So what is the problem?

It’s the fuel, stupid!

Excerpt from Chief Scott Franklin’s exclusive SINS OF COMMISSION interview.

A method to reduce flame lengths, reduce down wind spotting, and reduce emissions while meeting fuel reduction requirements, was found by crushing chaparral and allowing it to cure for several days prior to burning. Crushing and burning has proven to be a highly successful tool in managing vegetation at the urban wild land interface.

-Scott Franklin, Fire Captain and Vegetation Management Officer, County of Los Angeles Fire Department (ret)

In California, most western U.S states, and Australia, the problem is two fold: 1) influx of residents into intermediate areas we call Urban Interface Areas and government prohibition on sensible vegitation Management.

Political pressure forced the Victorian Government to curtail back burning during winter months and eliminated the clearing of buffer areas between forests on the grounds that it is harming the environment and destroying wildlife habitat. 

Basic forestry management procedures that would have limited the amount of fuel available and limited the speed at which these fires would have traveled were stopped.

(Source: Christian Science Monitor  Global News Blog)

Meanwhile, on our side of the pond-

The [California] fires, fought at a huge cost to taxpayers, failed to translate into any meaningful reforms at the state or federal level despite efforts in Sacramento and Washington.

(Source: LA Times Bettina Boxall)

 As wildfire fire fighting costs in California spiral upwards, driven by one of the worst wildfire seasons in the state’s history, our government still waffles.

‘I don’t think you can take money from suppression to do fuels treatment,’ Rey said. ‘Suppression money is what saves lives and homes, so that’s not going to be a very popular posture.’

-Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey

Popular isn’t the issue. Fuel modification is, and I for one. don’t know why everyone is dancing around the issue.  In fiscal 2008, half of the $1.4 billion that the U.S. Forest Service spent nationally on wildfire suppression was spent in California alone. State fire expenditures topped $1 billion.

Modification of fuel saves lives while suppression, although highly visible, is ruining the environment. ( see  CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION - Time for a New Urban Wildland Fire Strategy? - Part 1 and 2 ) back in December’s SINS OF COMMISSION Archives.

The reason why recent fires in Australia are so bad, is the same reason last year’s firestorm almost blew down to the Pacific here in L.A - Prohibitions on brush clearance in large areas. Argueably, there are many factors to consider, but the truth is that the astonishing increase in the intensity of catastrophic wildfires cannot all be blamed on global warming.  Here’s why -

The fires, fought at a huge cost to taxpayers, failed to translate into any meaningful reforms at the state or federal level despite efforts in Sacramento and Washington.

(Source: LA Times Bettina Boxall)

Let us not let recent rains and snow covered mountains lull us into a false sense of security. Another fire season is on the way sure as shootin’. But this time there are new techniques we can implement. So why not implement them? 

Wildfire fire fighting costs in California spiral upwards, driven by one of the worst wildfire seasons in the state’s history.

Deer Lost

Deer Lost ABove Malibu - Photo Alan Simmons

Feeling burnt? 

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SINS OF COMMISSION - Time for a New Urban Wildland Fire Strategy? - Part 1

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

News investigations still continue into the cause of Southland wildfires that ravaged more than 41,000 acres. Authorities say they haven’t determined how two weekend wildfires began in Southern California.

(Source: San Francisco Chronicle)

How the fires began is not the point.

Fires start a number of ways, some natural, some not, but, SINS OF COMMISSION has discovered, large-scale urban fire control in the interface regions surrounding urban areas is possible. It all boils down to how to better manage the vegetation in the fuel beds, the large unbroken, usually protected, brush covered hills that surround LA, and extend down to the sea…That’s the point.

I interviewed Scott Franklin, former Fire Captain and Vegetation Management Officer with the County of Los Angeles Fire Department, and author of, “Urban-Wildland Fire Defense Strategy, Precision Prescribed Fire: The Los Angeles County Approach”.

In his exclusive SINS OF COMMISSION interview in July, 2008 - 4 months before the catastrophic Porter Ranch/Sesnon Fires in Los Angeles fires, Mr. Franklin predicted the next firestorm would reach the sea. His prediction almost came true .

 ”…there are critical conditions at the urban-wild land interface range [where homes meet the brush]”

-Scott Franklin, Fire Captain and Vegetation Management Officer, County of Los Angeles Fire Department (ret)

Mature, dense, and continuous chaparral brush fields on steep slopes found in Southern California represent one of the most hazardous fuel situations in the United States. Chaparral grows in an unbroken sea of dense vegetation creating a fuel-rich path which spreads fire rapidly. Chaparral shrubs burn hot and produce tall flames. From the flames come burning embers which can ignite homes and plants. All these factors results in a setting where aggressive defensible space clearing requirements are necessary.

  (Source: State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF)

California Department of Forestry and Fire) 

Chief Franklin offers a solution, and spoke about a technique to manage chaparral fuels in urban interface regions that have been promoted by the County of Los Angeles Fire Department.  He is not suggesting we apply this technique to areas outside major population centers, a concern expressed by Naturalist Rick Halsey in a recently published LA TIMES article.  Mr. Franklin suggests,

A method to reduce flame lengths, reduce down wind spotting, and reduce emissions while meeting fuel reduction requirements, was found by crushing chaparral and allowing it to cure for several days prior to burning. Crushing and burning has proven to be a highly successful tool in managing vegetation at the urban wild land interface.

-Scott Franklin, Fire Captain and Vegetation Management Officer, County of Los Angeles Fire Department (ret)



 
 
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