Wednesday, March 26, 2008

St. Mary's Wilderness Fire ~Day Two~

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Welcome to those coming over from the Hiking Upward website…

Local Newspaper coverage 28 March 2008

NewsVirginian out of Waynesboro

NewsLeader out of Staunton

Most recent post to RightsideVA...


Took a ride over to St. Mary’s Wilderness to check on the status of the fire after reading the following article in the NewsVirginian newspaper out of Waynesboro, VA.



The fire has flared up a bit with 15-18kt winds blowing out of the Southwest and little chance of rain in the forecast. Since this fire is in the “Wilderness” section of the park the firefighters are limited in their tactics available to fight the fire as described in the NewsVirginian article:




"Adding to the difficulty is the fact that you can’t use mechanized equipment inside of a wilderness area to fight a fire, it has to all be done by hand," he said.







This is the turnoff road that heads back towards the dirt road and parking area at the trailhead of the St. Mary's Trail...












I proceeded down the road leading to the parking area at the trailhead of the St. Mary’s trail and found that the road and section of the park has been closed at this time. The fire seems to have started in the Little Spy Mountain area and is spreading North towards the St. Mary’s Trail. Had the opportunity to talk with a member of the “Augusta Hot Shots” who advised me that the fire has moved close to the St. Mary’s trail and it appears in the photos that I took it is now in that area.












With this area being closed I decided to take a ride up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to view the fire there but the Parkway has been closed north of Rt. 56 at this time. I was advised that St. Mary’s Wilderness and trail will very much likely be closed thru the weekend and into next week. Information on the area and fire status can be found at the Glenwood \ Pedlar Ranger District site here. Status of the fire has not been added to the active fire list yet but should appear soon.





Without being able to hike the Wilderness area I decided to head over the Parkway and into Montebello for a hike up to Spy Rock Mountain. This is not part of the above mentioned Little Spy Mountain but is located off of the Appalachian Trail and a nice hike. With the holiday week there were several groups headed to Spy Rock and the trail was busy… It was interesting to see the above sign at the Montebello Fish Hatchery with a "Moderate" warning but the soil is wet at this time...








I hope to try again next week to get to the actual fire zone and get some photos and info to post…

The NewsVirginian Newspaper has added the following Slide-show of the fire to their website...

8 comments:

bobby said...

Could some of our democrat "eviromentalist" friends explain the logic behind not allowing mechanized firefighting equip. in a wilderness area?

RightsideVA said...

It would not be wise to claim that the democrat party has made the evironmentalism a major part of their platform but by far more Webb\Kaine\Democrats bumper stickers on the hybrids speeding down 81...

There is little logic in preventing dozers into the fire zone to fight the fire effectivly but that is the system they have set up to protect the "Pristine" environment now burning.

If we must limit intrusive actions such as use of dozers should we restrict all fire fighting? Let the fire burn itself out as nature would allow it.

But what happens if we lose a firefighter in the battle because the support is not there? They now have to hike in with heavy packs of equipment and quick exit is not always possible.

What happens then?

Anonymous said...

To the writer,

As a forester and a wildland firefighter, you need to stay away from the operations of the incident. Accountability is a cornerstone of safety. Windshifts, falling debris, snags (dead standing trees), and fire behavior can be unpredictable even more so if you do not have protective equipment to mitigate any of the potential hazards mentioned.

As far as my opinion in letting the forest burn, it is a vicious cycle of cause and effect. Unfortunately the poor silvicultural practices of the past- e.g. high-grading timber ("taking the best-leaving the rest") have left our forests over stocked with too many sprouts and old smaller sized trees. Secondly, with the build up of houses next to wilderness areas and forested areas the dangers of fire damaging homes and potentially harming people is now something we as firefighters must contend with. With too many people living in these senstive areas fire ecology is overshadowed by human life and property. Finally, my opinion is that Smokey Bear was too successful as a campaign- we need fire to restore our forests to the health and productivity of the past, however, with too many people living around these fire prone areas, that idealogy becomes very difficult.

As far as the wilderness goes the federal land falls under the Wilderness Act of 1964 -

Be safe

joe said...

From reports I have read about this fire, it sounds as though the fire management team is making wise decisions and addressing firefighter safety, protection of private property surrounding St. Mary's, and respecting the intent of the Wilderness Act all at the same time.

The News Virginian reported that "because the St. Mary’s Wilderness Area terrain is so dangerous, firefighters will not go in aggressively and risk lives." The article goes on to explain that bulldozers and other mechanized equipment are being used along the boundaries of the wilderness area to create fire control lines and to reinforce existing barriers to fire spread. One such barrier is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which provides an excellent escape route for firefighters in the event that a wind shift or spot fire causes unsafe conditions. Private property often provides the same advantage because of the proliferation of roads.

Considering that the management of wilderness areas includes reintroduction of fire into the ecosystem, the private property will probably be the highest priority to protect (next to life safety).

Allowing fire in the wilderness means that some trees in the wilderness area may be killed by the fire and much of the landscape left temporarily black. But while this may appear ugly to some, it is a very natural occurrence. The remaining live trees will take advantage of the decreased competition for light, water and nutrients, causing them to grow strong and healthy. The newly killed trees will become home for all sorts of little forest critters. And the blackened areas will likely sprout new green grasses and wildflowers within weeks or even days of the fire passing. Some species of plants and trees may only be able to reproduce once the heat of the fire releases their seeds. After the fire is declared "out" and the trails re-opened to hikers, I just might go have a look myself to see the new life emerging.

And while this wilderness management is a high priority for the Forest Service, the fact remains that they are expending quite an effort to ensure that the property of individuals in the area is not damaged. The fire management no doubt recognizes that those individuals likely have very different management objectives for their own forests, not to mention their houses, pets, and families. Those don't do too well when burned.

It sounds to me as thought the strategy and tactics chosen by the incident management team are very appropriate for the situation.

joe
VT forestry '02

Smokey said...

Why cant they make an exception of using dozers in this case to make it safer for all???

joe said...

I guess if you make an exception for this case, it opens the door for all other fires in wilderness areas. Across the U.S. each summer there are probably hundreds of fires in wilderness areas.

Besides, looking at the topo maps of the area, the steep slopes may prevent the use of dozers safely. I don't remember the exact numbers, but I think dozers can safely and effectively construct fireline uphill on slopes up to 50% and downhill up to 70%. Sidehill is somewhere in the middle, maybe 60%. That's %, not degrees. A 45 degree slope is 100%. You know, rise over run from algebra. I never have worked much with dozers and my memory isn't great, so the numbers may even be lower. Regardless, in steep country handlines are the only way to go if existing barriers can't be used. So in many wilderness areas, the issue of using equipment is more about chainsaws than dozers. And in that case I'm all for the exception to the rules. Chainsaws are way better than crosscut "misery whips."

I once saw a dozer line accidentally cut in a wilderness area near Wytheville (the operator claimed to not know he had entered a wilderness area). If effectively stopped that part of the fire, but then we had to go in after the fire was mopped up and use hand tools to make the dozer line disappear. It was quite a bit of hard work, but now there is no evidence to the naked eye that the dozer was ever there. And we were all in college anyway and glad to have the work on a rainy day. If we couldn't fight fire that day, we might as well get paid to rehabilitate the damage done by fighting it the week before!

RightsideVA said...

Anonymous at 7:57...

I agree and all of my visits to the area have been outside the closed areas and never going into closed sections. I did find a firefighter walking down the railroad tracks towards the fire area so I gave him a ride in the truck to help out and some water and had the opportunity to talk a bit. Good man and was glad to help out anyway I could...

I have hiked the St. Mary's area for awhile, and like much of the forest along Blue Ridge Parkway, there is an incredible amount of deadwood and fuel on the ground. I hiked up after the Kennedy Ridge fire a few years back to see the damage and watch the fast recovery by the forest itself. I hope to get to St. Mary's soon but only after it is properly opened to the public to watch that recovery also...

Thanks for your comments and information as well as your efforts in this area...

Steve Kijak
RightsideVA

RightsideVA said...

Joe...

Thanks for your comments also and there are some very steep areas within the wilderness. The hike down Mine Bank trail from the Blue Ridge is a nice hike and I can see how dozer would have trouble there. Came along two Black Bear cubs a few months back there and have always liked that hike.

Select and smart tactics I am sure is what will be used here to fight the fire. It is unfortunate the damage that has occured but it will be interesting to watch the recovery process...