Canyon Fire and Suppression Tactics

For this post, I’ve chosen three optional videos. The first two followed the story of the 1994 Canyon fire and the third was an instructional video on minimum impacts suppression tactics. These videos give both recounts of events that have led to changes and a guide on actions to use to limit impacts when doing suppression tactics.

Within the Canyon fire videos, smoke jumpers and hotshots relive the fire events that let to the Canyon fire in Colorado. The first section sets the scene with the conditions of a rather mild ground fire event atop Storm King Mountain. The fire was likely started by lightning strike. This ground fire was slow going along steep terrain that made it difficult to traverse and even harder to scout for the fire’s progression. It starts with Blanco’s team, but they quickly need help and call on the smoke jumpers and Oregonian team. Unease begins to kick in. These concerns are not passed on, and knowledge of the far slope is limited. The second video recounts the blowup and escape.

The minimum impact suppression tactics video defines how to safely and responsibly fight fire in wilderness areas without causing damage. These impacts can be in vegetation destruction from campsites or water pollution from improper waste disposal. They follow the leave no trace policy.

The Canyon fire videos demonstrate the importance of everybody having a voice when they retell about the unease many felt long before things went south. This hopefully led to better communication between crews and workers along with increased protection of firefighters. The suppression video, on the other hand, demonstrated the methods used to reduce impact to wilderness areas. These areas are zoned in a way to limit human impact and fires do not remove the need to protect these areas. These ideals for the wilderness are based around the European ideals of the untouched wild and Leopold’s ideas. Guiding these limiting impact regulations is the clean water act. This act was put in place to reduce pollutants in waterways and guides many forest management operations.

All the videos demonstrate the reason why a policy is in place. Whether it is via a chilly retelling of a tragedy or the why’s of the regulations, it is put in place to create a better world for people and the ecosystem.


Week 1: Chief Greeley in 1920 and fire policy

In Greeley’s article, he talks about surface burning and its impacts on forest production. Specifically, he mentions the impacts on young growth in the forests and how frequent fires will inhibit growth. He recognizes that the use of fire on slash piles limits fuel accumulation and reduces larger fire risk in mature forests, but ultimately decides says that surface fires cannot reasonably be used in productive forests with young trees.

This is an older idea that we are moving away from in modern fire management methods. In PBS news video they bring this up with the idea of using prescribed burning and how it was once a commonly used tool by indigenous communities. They bring up how modern systems in the southeast started using these methods after the recognition of its impact on the ecosystem and discuss how it has improved game habitat and timber production.

Similarly, Hessburg talks about the impacts of fire suppression and how it has altered the structure and composition of our forests. He brings up the point about too many trees for the land to support and how this is a result of the efforts, like Greeley’s, to remove fire from forests as a means to protect them.

Looking at these three viewpoints it is easy to see where they may be coming from. For Greeley, he had dealt with many fires from man made sources like railroads and had seen large fire like the Big Blowup. The Forest Service was still young and trying to protect the public’s forests, so it made sense that Greeley wanted to see the removal of what he saw as a destructive force.

Both speakers on the other hand, have been witness to the current climate changes and shifts to higher severity fires due to large fuels loads on landscapes. They have seen these impacts along with the public, and opinion has started to shift with new research into how fire serves as a ecosystem process. Further change has come from the Forest Service with this recognition of fire deprivation from frequent fire dependent systems, as seen in the Observer article. They mention the use of “light burning” of forests. This was something that had been supported by Pinchot in his day, but only really gained traction in the southeast until recent times.

Given the motives and information before these individuals, it is understandable how they might have come to the different policy and management methods. Greeley still recognized the potential of light burning but could not see it use in forests with the risk it posed to forests and people. That is still a sentiment felt today, but the winds are shifting as the science does.


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