The degradation of our Forest Service into the US Forest Fire Service is so blatant to those of us that have been here awhile that I cannot resist again writing a letter about what I have seen over the years compared to today.
A series of fires decades ago when the Forest Service lit fire to several historic mountain lookouts is causing part of the problem now as well as the decision to let old trails used to access fires become impassable. The fire in the Lost Horse drainage is an example. In the Forest Service I knew, if you said that a fire was in too rugged of an area and refused to go address the problem you would have been looking for a new job the next day. The place where the fire started is no more rugged today than it was 50 years ago. I had a brother that hiked with a small crew to a similar fire in that area late at night so they could get on the fire before it woke up with the heat of the day. I am sure there have been several fires in that area that were snuffed out by a small crew of firefighters without the help of one expensive helicopter or an extremely expensive borate plane. Sure it would have taken some hard work and sweat carrying water from springs, lakes and creeks and mixing it with the duff to put smoldering fires out. But they did it and seldom were injured and we never heard of one getting lost.
From what the Forest Service has told the media, rocks are a real problem in fighting fire. I personally have never seen a rock burn. The more rocks you have and the bigger they are the less likely you will have a raging forest fire. Sure they are time consuming to put out but a ten member crew hitting the fire when it is a “spot” fire is certainly less expensive and much more effective than paying 70 people to observe the fire and decide where to fight it when it becomes a raging fire and endangers houses and ranches and lives and animals later.
As the media has disclosed, without connecting the dots, in recent years several evacuations have occurred and people have had to leave their property and find places for their animals because the Forest Service has a new policy of not putting fires out immediately. When they burnt down Ward Mountain Lookout they caused a huge gap in what could be observed that was extremely evident in the Sawtooth fire and this fire in the Lost Horse. The lack of a lookout on Ward Mountain created a situation where, because the Forest Service was burning off some trees and animals in the Magruder, no one could see the fire from the lightning strike on the mountain until an observant citizen in the Sula or Conner area saw fire through the smoke. It had then developed for several hours and, of course, the Forest Service said it was too rugged to access to put out. So they sent in water drops and borate drops which are never effective in stopping fires without crews on site.
So we have 70 people watching the Lost Horse fire and no one on the fire, according to the reports. If 70 people would have been at the fire the next day it would have been out. Even now when they say the fire is just burning in spots they are “observing,” they are saying they are waiting for the winds out of the west to drive it into the Camas and Lost Horse drainages. Doing so will likely cause the same destruction and evacuations that the Kootenai Creek fire caused a few years ago. That fire only involved two snags at one point but instead of hiking up and putting those fires out they had a similar number of “observers.” Later the wind came, as it always does, and the fire became an inferno, costing ranchers and the public fear for their property and animals and families.
The old way of taking care of the fire situation was much less expensive and effective. It required men and women to be in top physical shape and prepared at a moment’s notice to hike to very remote and rugged areas even during the night if necessary. Many times crews were able to control the fires in the early hours of the day when the fire is laying down. I even know of a situation where the firefighters ringed the fire before daylight and had to stoke the fire with wood to keep warm until daylight so they could deal the death blow to it.
The Forest Service was originally charged with the stewardship of protecting the natural resources, timber, animals, historic areas and lives. It seems they have degraded into a “Service”, since there is nothing considered a natural resource anymore and trees cause fires and fires cost money, the end goal of which is to see a black earth with all the trees and grass and bushes and birds and animals destroyed or left homeless because then it can’t cost them any money for years, if not decades. And the argument that fire brings on more natural growth is laughable. I have seen places that have burnt grow trees back like dog hair!
A recent article refers to the Magruder Ranger District and a lookout on Hells Half Acre Peak. A photo is published of an international group going to the lookout to learn how to “protect” resources. The photo shows the surrounding area all brown and burned. (If you want to see ugly go through the Magruder Corridor.) It seems like the only thing they have “protected” is the lookout. I certainly would not be comfortable working on a lookout when I knew that when I called a fire in nothing happened but you got to watch the forest and animals burn. I would feel guilty and if those attending those meetings could only understand how the old system worked before we had the Bitterroot faces of the mountains in our valley covered with sterilized earth and the Magruder burning to the ground, they would probably burst out laughing. I know I would. What do they think the Forest Service is protecting?
Dallas D. Erickson