Small Town News


The Forest Service responds to fires

The Adams County Record of Council, Idaho

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Someone recently told me that the Forest Service did not respond quickly to the Wesley Fire northwest of New Meadows last summer, that they put no "boots on the ground" and no planes in the air until 7:00 PM (smoke was reported at 7: 27 AM), and that this was typical of their "let it burn" policy.

Reading the minute-byminute call log from the Payette National Forest Dispatch Center from the day the Wesley Fire started (Sept. 9, 2012), it becomes very apparent that the slow response claim is way off base. Horse Mountain lookout reported smoke at 7:27 AM. At 7:37 flames were seen. By 8:14 firefighters were en route to the fire. By 8:32 the Forest Service had an airplane over the fire. At 8:38 the fire covered 10 acres, and Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) were requested to drop retardant.

Over the next couple hours, the log shows a scramble to get teams and aircraft from around the region. Within two hours the fire was being attacked with helicopters and air tankers. An additional Air Attack aircraft, and a higher level Incident Management team was ordered. At 11:15 there were 8 smokejumpers on the fire, followed by additional ground-base firefighters. It took a while to get ground crews into this roadless area.

By 11:08 there were so many airplanes on the fire that the Incident Commander recommended a

Temporary Flight Restriction due to "all the metal in the air." Within the first few hours after the fire was initially reported, Payette Forest Supervisor Keith Lannom flew over the fire to see it for himself.

Payette National Forest Public Affairs Officer

Brian Harris had this to say:

"Once a wildfire has escaped initial attack, we must rely on bringing in firefighting resources from around the region. Sometimes they are close and can respond very quickly, but sometimes they are a fair distance away and it takes several hours to reach the incident. We do have a limited number of firefighters and firefighting resources. Once our firefighting resources are strained by other incidents in the area, we do feel the stress of not having enough resources on hand as quickly as we would like. The bottom line is that we use all of firefighting resources as quickly as we can safely place them on a wildfire event. If an incident commander orders a 20-person hand crew, we immediately dispatch that hand crew to the incident if we have them available. There is no delay, and there is no second-guessing! If we have the resources on hand, we put them on the fire! If we don't have the resources, we order them!"

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Original Publication Date: January 2, 2014

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