Letter: Officials give information on Rough Fire

The following letter was signed by Dean Gould, Forest Supervisor of Sierra National Forest; Kevin Elliott Forest Supervisor of Giant Sequoia National Monument/Sequoia National Forest; and Woody Smeck Superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

The Rough Fire: The fire that continually defied suppression efforts.

We want to recognize the residents of east-side communities who lived with smoke from the Rough Fire for many weeks and we thank you for your patience while numerous valiant efforts to contain the fire were made.

Photo courtesy Inciweb

Photo courtesy Inciweb

We also understand that smoke affects one of the primary attractions of the east-side, which is the broad spectrum of recreational opportunities that people from throughout the world come to experience.

However we must dispute several sentiments shared with various east-side media outlets that suggest that this fire was a managed-lightning fire for resource benefit.

In particular, we must refute the idea that our firefighters did not do enough or that we, as land managers, underestimated this fire in initial attack and over the following weeks.

Allow us to share with you of the nature of the fire response.

When lightning ignited seven fires on the Sierra National Forest on July 31st, firefighters quickly contained all but one and fire managers suspected that one was going to be a problem.

Kings Canyon Drainage is known for its stunning beauty because of its dramatic steep cliffs that draw visitors from the world to enjoy this stunning scenery. It is also documented as the largest unbroken vertical rise in North America.

To a firefighter, it’s a no man’s land: steep, technical terrain that has been known for injuring firefighters over the years. It’s so steep that “rollouts” (burning material that gets loosened, rolls down the steep slope, and runs back up the hill) are a constant concern for fire crews. In fact, it is exactly how the fire progressed down the canyon. Aircraft and firefighters themselves can sometimes push the rollouts on these cliffs.

These conditions make it impossible to establish an anchor point for a firefighter to start a containment line. It’s not terrain that firefighters can safely engage a fire.

Add the fourth year of a drought. Add that this was ground zero for the worst die off of trees seen in the southern Sierra. Earlier this year, the U.S. Forest Service reported that 12 million trees had died in the southern Sierra Nevada, with areas along the Kings Canyon River Drainage hardest hit. Driving along the river drainage, you will see areas with up to 60% tree mortality. This area had missed several fire cycles, meaning there was a thick bed of dried fuels mixed with dead trees. Add continuous days of 100 degree (or more) temperatures.

Firefighters think about weather, fuel, and topography when trying to access fire behavior. The Rough Fire presented the worst of all three.

When fire managers added this all up, they knew they had a challenging fire to deal with. Never for a moment, and contrary to rumors, did fire managers ever consider anything but full suppression.

The problem was how. It was assessed by crews on the ground and by air, they reported the terrain too steep and that direct attack was not an option for safety reasons.

Aircraft cannot do it alone. Helicopters and tankers can slow the fire’s growth and reduce its intensity, but firefighters need to construct the containment line to stop the fire’s growth.

Once the fire became established, crew after crew of firefighters reported that they had never seen fire behavior like they were witnessing. It crossed dozer lines, roads, and rivers with incredible ease.

Firefighters found themselves working to defend Cedar Grove, Hume Lake, Grant Grove Village and Wilsonia, Balch Camp, communities near Wishon, the PG&E Power Plant, and Dunlap.

As the Rough Fire approached the sequoia groves of Giant Sequoia National Monument and in Kings Canyon National Park, firefighters worked to get the best fire effects possible. Giant sequoias are fire-adapted and germinate with the heat surge from the fire than opens the cones in the tree and releases the seeds to the nutrient-rich ash bed below—the catch was ensuring that this fire wasn’t too intense even for the sequoias.

Some of these communities experienced air that ranged from unhealthy to hazardous. Grant Grove Village and Wilsonia were evacuated first for smoke and remained evacuated for fire.

Numerous crews, including those on initial attack, made every effort they could to contain this fire. Many crews have been away from loved ones for most of the summer responding to fires throughout the west, many of which have also grown larger than historically seen and displaying unprecedented fire behavior. We are particularly grateful that, to date, our firefighters will make it home to their families and loved ones. One injury, in particular, reminded us how complex this terrain is; with the rescue being conducted by a roped-in technical rescue team.

So, we thank you for your patience and we recognize that you too have been affected by this fire. We also hope you will also take a moment to be grateful to all the dedicated men and women who worked tirelessly this summer to protect our communities and our infrastructure.

Signed:

Dean Gould
Forest Supervisor of Sierra National Forest

Kevin Elliott
Forest Supervisor of Giant Sequoia National Monument/Sequoia National Forest

Woody Smeck
Superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

 

 

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11 Comments
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Sierra Lady
Sierra Lady
6 years ago

Excellent letter that explains everything about the Rough Fire which some may not have been aware of. I hope it gets published in all our local papers. John Eastman needs to read this as well as the woman who wrote a letter to the editor of the local papers complaining… Read more »

joetheplumber
joetheplumber
6 years ago

I am very thankful for the rough firefighters. What eludes me is the lack of leadership among the FOREST SUPERVISOR to have ANY outreach to our residents or to provide realistic timeframes to put the fire out. This fire should have been out WAY before it was. We don’t want… Read more »

Alice Chan
Alice Chan
6 years ago
Reply to  joetheplumber

Joe, did you actually read this letter? You say “this fire should have been out WAY before it was” and that you want facts. Well, this letter gives you facts and tells you why. You seem to be picking and choosing what you want to believe, instead of making an… Read more »

Don Davis
Don Davis
6 years ago
Reply to  joetheplumber

Joe, do you have any experience in fighting these types of fires? I have 40 years of experience, and no I do not know it all. I have also hiked in this terrain, if you can call it hiking. A lot of factors go into a fire of this magnitude,… Read more »

Jim Huston
Jim Huston
6 years ago
Reply to  joetheplumber

Joe, I can understand you frustrations of not knowing all the tactical decisions made on the Rough Fire by being on the sidelines. However, I can tell you every effort was made and there was early tactical decisions made. I can tell you this because my crew fought the Rough… Read more »

Jo Paranick
Jo Paranick
6 years ago

For myself and many folks of the “east side”, never did we blame the brave, hardworking fire crews! We just question the “land mgt” about WHEN the crews acted.

Roger Rilling
Roger Rilling
6 years ago

I would hope that the writers of the letter and editorial will have
the courtesy to respond.

Dennis Mattinson
Dennis Mattinson
6 years ago

As a weather forecaster and EPA met Station Director, I am deeply aware of how far this drought has taken us. To fight such a fire under the worst possible conditions and be successful, only shows the greatness of these fire fighting crews. I give up most thanks to all… Read more »

Eastside Resident
Eastside Resident
6 years ago

I am incredibly thankful for the dedication of the fire crews on the Rough Fire. Thank you!

MJA
MJA
6 years ago

Thanks! =

John
John
6 years ago

Good read thanks for the info

ya’ll be safe