‘Confine and contain’ — huh?

Print Article

As a former park ranger of 20-plus years with several hundred fires under my belt, my alarm bells were going off when I heard about a lightening-caused fire midway between the iconic, century-old Sperry Chalet and Lake McDonald Lodge. While I’m a supporter of such natural fires where appropriate, everything about this fire shouted for “immediate, 100 percent suppression.”

First, there was the potential threat to not one, but two, irreplaceable park structures. Second, the fire was reported to be burning in old growth forests that hadn’t burned since the 1700s — not something to be sacrificed lightly. Third, in our current extreme fire conditions, this fire could be one wind shift away from closing Going-to-the-Sun Road. And finally, it was clear that the closure or loss of these facilities, coupled with the closure of the Sun Road, would cause a major economic hit to Northwest Montana, where Glacier Park brought in $250 million in 2016.

Initially, the Sprague Fire was just 35 acres, and despite steep, hazardous terrain, there’s a substantial likelihood it could have been suppressed with a modest ground crew supported by even one helicopter brought to bear early on. Unfortunately, the decision was made, presumably by GNP Superintendent Jeff Mow in coordination with Natural Resources Program Manager Mark Biel, and initial Incident Commander Jim Edgren, to adopt a “confine and contain” strategy using terrain, natural fuel breaks, and sprinklers to shape/modify fire behavior.

So, how did “confine and contain” work for the park? Take a look at the chronology:

• 8/10 – Fire at 35 acres.

• 8/16 – Fire grows to 100 acres.

• 8/18 – 200 acres.

• 8/19 – 500 acres. Mount Brown Lookout wrapped with protective material, but not Sperry Chalet.

• 8/30 – 1575 acres.

• 8/31 – Lake McDonald Lodge closes early, cancelling 2,200 existing reservations; new Incident Commander Diane Hutton expresses crews’ confidence they can suppress a fire at Sperry Chalet; fire explodes to 4,646 acres and Sperry Chalet burns.

• 9/1 – Photos show the chalet ablaze with only token areas covered by protective wrap, and none on the roof.

• 9/4 – 9403 acres.

Fire Information Officer Diane Sine offered the following “spin”:

“…logistically, it is difficult to wrap a building the size of the chalet. Each roll of the fire-resistant material weighs about 100 pounds, and the crew couldn’t get to the top of the two-story building.”

Of course in the real world, none of this “spin” passes the straight face test. In the 2003 Robert Fire, numerous buildings were wrapped — some of them quite large. It just takes longer. And if there was no problem with hauling rolls of 100-pound wrap to Mount Brown on 8/19, why had virtually nothing been done at Sperry 12 days later? Finally, “no way to get to the top of the two-story chalet” — Please! How about a quick run on 8/20 to the GNP maintenance sheds or Costco for three or four heavy-duty ladders?

The inconvenient truth is that park management and initial incident command dropped the ball from day one when they chose not to actively suppress a 35-acre fire in a demonstrably dangerous location. Now it’s time for Park Superintendent Mow and other decision makers to do the professional, responsible, and honorable thing — Resign.

Peck is a resident of Columbia Falls.

Print Article

Read More Letters to the Editor

Opposed to transfer of federal lands

February 13, 2018 at 5:00 am | Daily Inter Lake The Montana Chapter of The Wildlife Society is strongly opposed to the transfer of Montana’s federal lands to the state, county, private corporations, or individuals. The transfer is likely to hind...

Comments

Read More

Letter published on Feb. 13, 2018

February 13, 2018 at 5:00 am | Daily Inter Lake Return Downen to FEC board Ratepayers in the Flathead Valley have been fortunate to have Jay Downen representing us on the board of directors of the Flathead Electric Co-op. Downen is now up for ano...

Comments

Read More

Letters published Feb. 11, 2018

February 11, 2018 at 5:00 am | Daily Inter Lake The wall is the wrong priority Our Congress, in its own financial self-interest, pushed through the big tax cut for our poor, overworked, underpaid millionaires and billionaires, at the cost of cutt...

Comments

Read More

Democracy under attack by the GOP

February 11, 2018 at 5:00 am | Daily Inter Lake “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” This quotation from Luke 12 does much to address one of ...

Comments

Read More

Contact Us

(406) 755-7000
727 East Idaho
Kalispell, MT 59901

©2018 Daily Inter Lake Terms of Use Privacy Policy
X
X