Friday, August 12, 2016

Wallowa-Whitman National Forest plans ahead for Rail Fire management strategy

Baker City, Ore. – As the Rail Fire continues to burn through thick forests of dead standing and down lodgepole and ponderosa pine, the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is preparing a longer duration full suppression strategy, which will allow fire managers more options and decision space for containing this fire.

The Rail Fire, which was reported on July 31, has been at 10% containment for several days and has grown to 12,196 acres. The Northwest Incident Management Team #12 (NWIMT#12) has been in command of the fire since Aug.1, and will transition with another Type 2 Incident Management Team on Monday. The incoming Incident Management Team will take command of the fire on Tuesday morning and will continue to use full suppression tactics.

The fire is burning in bug-killed lodgepole and ponderosa pine stands with dead and down debris. During initial attack, weather conditions and terrain allowed firefighters to use direct suppression (working right at the edge of the active fire). However, as the fire has grown, it has burned into steep terrain and hazardous overhead conditions with many snags and down trees. Because of this, fire managers have shifted the strategy to a more indirect approach (lines developed away from the active fire edge to create a “box” around the fire) due to concerns for firefighter safety. The steep terrain is also unsuitable for using mechanized equipment, like dozers or feller bunchers, for direct suppression tactics.

Consequently, the Wallowa-Whitman, with input from NWIMT #12, has chosen a full suppression strategy that will require using mechanized equipment to build indirect line (using ridges, existing fuel breaks and favorable terrain). Firefighters will conduct burn out operations if the fire gets close enough to the lines to warrant action. The objective of the burn out operations is to further secure containment lines by eliminating fuels between the fire and those lines. This strategy takes longer to contain a fire, however the benefit is that the strategy provides fire managers better opportunities for successfully containing the fire, a safer environment for firefighting crews, and more time to evaluate the situation and determine whether or not action is necessary. Fire crews will only burn if weather conditions are favorable and the fire is getting close to the containment lines. Potentially, this strategy could also result in less resource damage and less acres burned if the fire does not spread to the containment lines.

Currently, the team has direct line on the east side of the fire, a mixture of direct and indirect line on the north side of the fire, and indirect line on the west and south sides of the fire. The team anticipates the containment lines should be complete in the next 2-3 days. Crew members have also been successful in protecting private lands and other values at risk. The fire remains active within the fire perimeter and local residents should expect smoke off-and-on for the next few weeks, depending on wind direction and inversions.

The Incident Management Team will host a Public Information Forum Conference Call Saturday at 5 p.m. to share information regarding the current fire activity and long-term suppression strategy. The public is encouraged to submit questions via email to the team, which will be addressed after the conference call.  To submit questions before or after the Call, log on to The Conference Line number is: 1-888-844-9904; Access Code: 2651088#.

The latest fire information can be found by visiting one of the locations below:
  • ·         Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Homepage:
  • ·         Blue Mountain Fire Information Blog:
  • ·         Blue Mountains Interagency Dispatch Center: 
  • ·         Follow us on Facebook at U.S. Forest Service- Wallowa-Whitman National Forest or on Twitter at @WallowaWhitman

Forest officials would like to remind everyone to be safe and careful when recreating or using the national forest.  The Wallowa-Whitman continues to be in Phase A of the Public Use Restrictions (PURs, which also includes the Seasonal Campfire Restrictions) and the fire danger rating remains at HIGH.  The Industrial Fire Precaution Level (IFPL) for the Whitman Zone is at Level II.

The fire danger adjective and IFPL are used as indicators to consider when implementing phased restrictions. PURS are phased in collectively, as conditions warrant, and may differ from Forest to Forest. Phase A of PURS is implemented when fire danger is MODERATE to HIGH and IFPLs are either at II or III.

More information on the PURs can be found on the forest website.

The Wallowa-Whitman has two broad IFPL zones- the Wallowa zone (national forest lands north and east of I-84) and the Whitman zone (national forest lands south and west of I-84). The IFPLs are adjusted based on weather trends (wetting and drying trends) that are monitored daily. IFPLs are designed to follow the trends and are adjusted if a zone moves from one level to another for a duration of three days or longer. Projected trends are also taken into consideration for determining the appropriate IFPL. Because of this, the IFPL changes frequently, allowing operators more opportunities to work when the weather is wet, but allowing forest managers to shut those operations down quickly if necessary when the weather dries out.

Operators are reminded to monitor the IFPLs frequently by calling the phone number on their permit, visiting the Blue Mountain Interagency Dispatch center website or by calling the local ranger station.  


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