Leaders Failing to Prevent/Mitigate Fires

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Charley
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Leaders Failing to Prevent/Mitigate Fires

Post by Charley » September 11th, 2020, 1:47 pm

TLDR
Local elected leaders and land managers did not do enough to prevent and mitigate loss of life, loss of habitat, and loss of communities. In spite of ample warning, these leaders failed to act preventively over Labor Day weekend. Proven preventive measures were all put in place after the fires began (Forest and park closures) or inconsistently (de-powering electrical lines).


1. Local media reported the fire risks of the windstorm as early as the morning of Sunday the 6th, and local forecasters must have been predicting it earlier on Labor Day weekend.

Local weather expert Cliff Mass posted the following at 4am on Sunday, the 6th:
Extreme Wildfire Potential for Western Oregon and Washington
https://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2020/09/ ... stern.html

The Oregonian reports on wildfire risk and PGE's decision to depower lines proactively on Sunday, the 6th:
https://www.oregonlive.com/news/2020/09 ... -home.html

2. Unfortunately, Forest closures didn't go into effect until 6pm on Tuesday the 8th, 24 hours after the beginning of high winds that fanned multiple new fires and spread existing fires. Closures of forested parks in Portland didn't even happen until Thursday, the 10th, after the meteorological danger had completely passed. Earlier Forest closures might have prevented fires by preventing human-caused ignitions, and might have saved lives by removing people from the areas at risk.

Mt Hood NF closure:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DO ... 800560.pdf

BLM closure:
The local BLM office issued a less extensive closure itself on Tuesday.
https://www.blm.gov/press-release/burea ... -fire-risk

Portland City closure:
https://www.kgw.com/article/news/local/ ... locations.

The text of this order specifically justifies its necessity due to the risk posed by high winds and dry weather, but on Thursday when it was released, the average wind speed was 6.6mph (down from gusts of 50mph on Tuesday) and relative humidity was up to average of 47%, from Tuesday's average of 17%, low of 11%! That is, the dangerous conditions present on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, when the parks were open, had completely ended by Thursday when the City finally closed the parks. I think continued closure makes sense, because the parks are abnormally empty due to the horrendous air quality, and it seems reasonable mitigate the possibility of arson inspired by the large fires. But why didn't the city close the parks when there was a clear meteorological danger?

3. Some of the fires were human-caused:
https://www.opb.org/article/2020/09/09/ ... er%20Road.

https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7174/

The possibility of recreational activities causing fires is well documented, and reducing that source of ignition might have prevented some of the fires. For instance a recreational vehicle “pulling a jeep” caused the Spangler Fire. The Riverside Fire's name begs the question- did the fire start in the Riverside Campground? I know it's a bummer to have to leave your Labor Day camping trip a day early, but is this risk really worth it?

Land managers do sometimes enact temporary, preventive closures due to fire risk. For example, I remember the Mt Pisgah Arboretum was closed in the summer years ago. Was this kind of preventive measure considered in City parks or on the Mt Hood NF? Why was it not enacted?

4. While PGE shutoff power lines preventively over the currently fire-free US 26 corridor, downed power lines in the Santiam canyon area, operated by Pacific Power, caused numerous fires.
https://www.opb.org/article/2020/09/10/ ... tiam-fire/
PP is on record saying that de-powering those lines would have made existing evacuation and fire-fighting more difficult, but is it really necessary to sacrifice the community of Detroit in order to fight the then-small Beachie Creek Fire to protect the community of Detroit? One fire command station literally had a downed power line start a fire at the command station. Is that really preferable to a known-in-advance power outage?

Conclusion:
I'm not a professional fire-fighter, power company manager, land manager or elected official. I don't have the technical, legal, and scientific expertise to know what informed their decision to wait until these fires were completely out of control to take the actions they did. I'm not an expert, but I am a citizen, and in a democracy I do think we should be asking these kinds of questions. At the very least, given the increasing accuracy of weather forecasting, I think we should push our leaders to aggressively prevent and mitigate these fires when the dangers are so clearly predicted. I would hope that a professional investigation might reveal missed opportunities to improve our response.

This event was not a surprise, but it sure seems like local leaders were out on vacation when our communities needed their leadership most.

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kepPNW
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Re: Leaders Failing to Prevent/Mitigate Fires

Post by kepPNW » September 11th, 2020, 2:30 pm

Not to fan the flames, but simply to help document the full timeline, GPNF didn't have a campfire ban in place until 9/9...

https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DO ... 801776.pdf

I actually wrote to them on 9/7 asking why. They now say Big Hollow started 9/8 from (admittedly) unknown cause(s). :(
Karl
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Charley
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Re: Leaders Failing to Prevent/Mitigate Fires

Post by Charley » September 11th, 2020, 2:45 pm

kepPNW wrote:
September 11th, 2020, 2:30 pm
Not to fan the flames, but simply to help document the full timeline, GPNF didn't have a campfire ban in place until 9/9...

https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DO ... 801776.pdf

I actually wrote to them on 9/7 asking why. They now say Big Hollow started 9/8 from (admittedly) unknown cause(s). :(
Yeah, I don't get it either.

I know the Covid epidemic is tough for government bodies to deal with, and I know our valuable public servants are doing their best. . . but can't we do better?

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Charley
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Re: Leaders Failing to Prevent/Mitigate Fires

Post by Charley » September 11th, 2020, 2:49 pm

And, as to the charge of "armchair quarterbacking" (from a different website)-

I am currently stuck inside my leaky old house while my asthmatic wife experiences respiratory difficulty, literally breathing in the incinerated forests and communities of the Cascades, and I'm concerned about multiple friends who are evacuated from their homes down valley. If you'd like to call that "armchair quarterbacking" you are radically overestimating the distance from myself to these very events.

This is no comfy armchair, and the subject involves far more consequences than a football game. It is our lives and the lives of our communities. If the state is to be responsive to the citizen, the citizen must speak out. It makes no more sense to wait to talk about this very salient subject than it does to only talk about gun control long after a shooting.

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retired jerry
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Re: Leaders Failing to Prevent/Mitigate Fires

Post by retired jerry » September 11th, 2020, 3:06 pm

I didn't do a good survey, but I saw a lot of "no fires" signs before Labor Day - campgrounds, trailheads. I can't remember any places fires were allowed.

One problem is the conditions were so bad - dry, hot, windy

Those were the same conditions that were present for the Eagle Creek fire that was so bad

With global warming it keeps getting worse

I can see why it's politically hard to turn off power proactively. You will definitely hear armchair quarterbacking. As happened in California.

But yeah, they should definitely review this afterwards and ask what they could do different in the future to reduce the risk

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Re: Leaders Failing to Prevent/Mitigate Fires

Post by adamschneider » September 11th, 2020, 3:18 pm

I'm not sure keeping people out of the forests would have done much to prevent THIS catastrophe. Two of the biggest fires — Lionshead & Beachie Creek — were already burning, having been started by lightning a few weeks ago. Then, downed power lines made the Santiam Canyon fires worse, and may have started some of the others. (The cause of the Holiday Farm fire is still unknown. The Riverside and Lincoln City fires are suspected to be human-caused, but that includes everything from power lines to cigarettes to campfires to arson, and basically means "it wasn't lightning.")

For now, if you want to point fingers, ask why more power lines weren't de-energized. PGE did the right thing near Mt. Hood, and no fires started up there. I wonder how many of their neutered lines went down in the windstorm.

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retired jerry
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Re: Leaders Failing to Prevent/Mitigate Fires

Post by retired jerry » September 11th, 2020, 3:37 pm

driving through Rhododendron two days after Labor Day, the traffic light was out, no power

I don't know if it was turned off before the winds

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kepPNW
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Re: Leaders Failing to Prevent/Mitigate Fires

Post by kepPNW » September 11th, 2020, 3:42 pm

retired jerry wrote:
September 11th, 2020, 3:06 pm
I didn't do a good survey, but I saw a lot of "no fires" signs before Labor Day - campgrounds, trailheads. I can't remember any places fires were allowed.
Lots of campfires burning, and firewood for sale, across the GPNF over Labor Day weekend. Which is why I sought out whether or not they were currently banned and when I found that not to be the case I wrote to ask them why they were still being allowed. The air was already rather unhealthy to breath. (On 9/4, I could only barely see the volcano from Goat Mountain, just nine miles away!)
Karl
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Charley
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Re: Leaders Failing to Prevent/Mitigate Fires

Post by Charley » September 11th, 2020, 3:59 pm

adamschneider wrote:
September 11th, 2020, 3:18 pm
For now, if you want to point fingers, ask why more power lines weren't de-energized. PGE did the right thing near Mt. Hood, and no fires started up there. I wonder how many of their neutered lines went down in the windstorm.
Yes, and I did! The OPB article mentioned the difficulty of power cuts in an area with an active fire fighting effort. . . but if the downed lines caused more fires, doesn't it seem like that still made the situation worse?

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walrus
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Re: Leaders Failing to Prevent/Mitigate Fires

Post by walrus » September 11th, 2020, 6:41 pm

retired jerry wrote:
September 11th, 2020, 3:37 pm
driving through Rhododendron two days after Labor Day, the traffic light was out, no power

I don't know if it was turned off before the winds
They cut power on Monday night.

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