BLM Responds to Season’s First Significant Fires

The Black Fire is burning in the Highland Ridge Wilderness near the Great Basin National Park. (Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management)

The Black Fire is burning in the Highland Ridge Wilderness near the Great Basin National Park. (Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management)

The Bureau of Land Management responded to three fires in recent weeks, the first fires of significance size this fire season, Tye Peterson said.

The Eight Mile Fire was 50 percent contained as of press day, burning 5,700 acres in the South Pahroc Wilderness, about 10 miles east of Alamo with assistance from the Forest Service and National Park Service.

The Black Fire is burning 900 acres in the Highland Ridge Wilderness, approximately three miles southeast of Great Basin National Park. The Unaweep Wildland Fire Module (WFM) of Colorado is assisting the BLM.

The North Creek Fire is fully contained and burned 1,536 acres in the Antelope range, located 60 miles northeast of Ely.

For the Eight Mile Fire, the BLM is monitoring the fire and allowing it to burn within its perimeter to help with the natural ecosystem.

“We’re using a contain and confine strategy,” Ely District Fire Management Officer Tye Petersen said. “It’s burning in the wilderness, so the wilderness management plans actually want fire to be introduced into the natural ecosystem and let fire resume its natural role. As it comes out of the wilderness, we’re herding it and stopping it so it doesn’t damage any resources.”

The Black Fire, which is burning at higher elevations, is also being monitored and allowed to burn to help with the natural ecosystem of the area.

“This is a great area for fire to be allowed to play its natural role in the ecosystem,” Petersen said. “…The WFM is a really highly trained small team of fire fighters who are up there to manage the fire. They put in check lines where they need to be, they monitor the fire effects and make sure it’s not getting too hot, that it’s burning in the right areas and not getting out of control.”

The BLM didn’t use a containment strategy during the North Creek Fire, instead working to full suppress the fire.

“We used full suppression tactics based on several factors,” Petersen said. “It was multi-jurisdictional. There was BLM public land and there was private land, so that gears us toward a full suppression strategy. Also, with the attention to sage grouse habitat, it was a priority to protect the sage grouse habitat and stop the fire before it hit that habitat.”

The strategy was successful, and only .6 acres of sage grouse habitat burned during the fire, Petersen said.

Petersen said the peak of the fire season usually comes between July 4 and the end of August. But the BLM isn’t expecting too harsh of a fire season in 2013.

“For this early in the season, our thousand hour fuels, which are the heavy trees, the pinyon junipers and timber, is extremely dry,” Ely District Engine Captain Jake Rosevear said. “We’re really watching that. The trees are consuming all the way. The fine fuels are dried and cured and ready to burn. The sage brush is wet, but it is taking.”

An average fire season sees about 225 fires and 85,000 acres burned, Petersen said.

Safety

With the tragedy in Arizona, where 19 fire fighters were killed while fighting a wildfire, the BLM lowered its flag to half-staff.

“We’re all sad,” Rosevear said. “It really brings this home when you do the same career as the and they all died like that. It touched us as a district.”

The flag will remain at half-staff for 19 days in honor of the fire fighters who died.

“We decided to fly that for 19 days as a way to remember those firefighters and as a way for everyone to remember it’s a very dangerous business,” Petersen said. “But if we do everything we can to promote safety and manage risk, we can do it in a safe fashion.”

Since the tragedy in Arizona, fire fighter safety has been a national focus. But safety has been a focus for a long time for the BLM.

“We’re a safety oriented culture,” Petersen said. “That is our number one priority. We train not just on a year-to-year basis, but it’s ongoing. We have six minutes for safety every day where one topic is discussed.”

There are also daily safety projects, including identifying potential risks and taking actions to mitigate those. And, studying the past can help the BLM be better prepared for the future and to prevent accidents from happening.

“We are looking at past accidents and incidents so we don’t repeat them,” Petersen said. “That’s what we see when people are getting hurt or killed. It’s not in different ways, we’re repeating those accidents.”

© 2013 The Ely Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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