Friday, June 3, 2016

Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests gear up for 2016 fire season

Preparation for the 2016 fire season on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests began in the late fall with an After Action Review of the 2015 fire season.

Shortly after the first of the year, fire staff begin preparations by meeting with personnel to discuss resource needs, additional equipment, staffing levels, and new tools available. Forest Service firefighters are highly trained and complete all required courses before fire season begins.

A variety of forest personnel participate in incident management teams in the Northern Rockies Geographic Area. Incident team members met in March to discuss the seasonal outlook, safety, public information, logistics, operations, plan, and aviation.

Fire positions on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests are fully staffed this year. Fifty-one people have been hired in leadership positions, many of these folks have been on forest but have been promoted. There are currently a total of 238 fire personnel on board, and 197 of that total are primary firefighters.

Interagency Fire Guard School was June 6-10 at Camp Lutherhaven in Coeur d’ Alene. There, 180 rookies learned everything from fire behavior, size-up to initial attack, Standards of Survival, hand line construction, mop up principles, to wilderness fire suppression, and more.

Line Officers: All District Ranger positions are currently filled on both Forests. Line Officer qualification standards are met. Contingency plans are in place to insure fully qualified Line Officers managing all wildland fire, wildland fire use, and prescribed fire operations. 

Fire Leadership: Deputy Forest Supervisor Ralph Rau is leaving the forests in mid-June to fill the Fire and Aviation Director position at the Regional Office in Missoula.

Rau’s support in his new position will be invaluable to the forests. Bob Lippincott is the Fire Staff Officer and Kevin Chaffee is the new Deputy Fire Staff Officer.

Dispatch Program: The Grangeville Interagency Dispatch Center workforce is fully staffed. Idaho Department of Lands will be a primary partner, with additional support contributed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Clearwater Potlatch Timber Protection Association (CPTPA), and the Nez Perce Tribe.

Aviation Leadership: All aviation positions are currently filled.

Aviation Resources: Fixed-wing operations shut down at the Idaho County Airport June 3. Seventy-five working days is set for the project, which will last tentatively into October, during which fixed-wing aircraft will not be able to use the county facility; however, helicopter traffic will be able to continue.

For the duration, fixed-wing Forest Service firefighting aircraft—including smokejumper and SEATs (single engine air tanker)—will be dispersed between the Cottonwood and Lewiston airports.

There will be two SEATS and a Retardant Base at the Lewiston Airport. Grangeville Air Center currently has 29 smoke jumpers but will continuously staff a load at the Cottonwood Airport for initial attack during airport construction.

One helicopter will be based at Musselshell Work Center near Pierce (with 10 people) and one helicopter based at Grangeville Air Center (with 10 people). 

Additional Aviation Resources: Neighbors on the Payette NF, Wallowa-Whitman NF and IDL will have all of their aircraft in place and available under the Snake-Salmon Local Operating Plan. The zone will also continue to support the Umatilla NF under a standing agreement.

Current Conditions: As of June 1, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests have had approximately eight prescribed fires at a total of 320 acres, and two wildfires for a total of 0.2 acres. Prescribed burning is being accomplished on several districts with no issue. 

Expected Conditions: According to the National Interagency Fire Center Predictive Services, normal significant wildland fire potential is expected for the Northern Rockies Geographic Area for the outlook period of June, July, and August through September, 2016.

May featured a very warm start to the month. However, with the onset of the wet pattern temperatures during the latter third of the month fell to well below normal.

Springs rains across the region were above normal for most areas. High elevation locations along the Divide picked up one to three feet of additional snow fall during the last week of May. 

Historically transitions out of El NiƱo conditions in late spring-early summer tend to be wetter-than-normal. Current trends and the latest models indicate above normal precipitation will continue for early summer.

Longer range data for the second half of the summer, mid-July to early September, shows near average precipitation expected.

There is general agreement that temperatures should be average to slightly above average over the next four months. 

A robust green-up is currently occurring across the Northern Rockies. Fuels in most locations are now much wetter than average. An extended green-up period is likely.

As a result, there is a chance that some areas across the western half of the region could see below normal significant fire potential this season.

That said, a normal start to the fire season is expected. The development of large fires may be delayed due to the longer time that it will take for fuels to become critically dry.

Two new tools for the public

“Wildfires Near Me” at: is a full-featured web app that brings information to the users when they need it.

The app can notify users when a fire is within a certain distance of the places they care about as well as notify them about specific fires when they change is size and complexity. 

Notifications can be sent to the user’s email or mobile phone via text and they can determine the type and frequency of the messages they receive. 

Regarding the Enterprise Geospatial Portal (EGP): The public side is accessed by anyone and without a password by navigating to or clicking the “Wildfire Maps” button in the National Fire Situational Awareness box.

It’s a great tool for the public to use to find incident information and incidents near them and holds a limited amount of incident information including location, size, latest perimeter map, containment, and hot spots (MODIS).

It also has a link to the daily Incident Management Situation Report (Sit report).

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