Working with our partners, we have been prioritizing successfully and putting out a large number of fires. Our priority is always life, property and natural resources. Sometimes that means that fires in wilderness areas may grow. Despite all the challenges, we are still maintaining a better than 95 percent success rate stopping fire on initial attack.
The circumstances under which a fire occurs determine the appropriate agency firefighting response. The spectrum of firefighting response can vary from Wildland Fire Use (WFU) to aggressive suppression using every available firefighting asset. For most fires, the appropriate response falls somewhere between these two extremes. For any fire where the goal is suppression, suppression tactics are chosen based upon factors including safety, potential impacts to communities and natural resources, cost efficiency, and likelihood of success. Of course, every fire is different and conditions can change rapidly. Due to these variations, tactics will differ from fire to fire, and can change from day to day or even hour to hour on the same fire, depending on changes in weather, terrain, and vegetation.
Essentially, WFU is managing fire to let it play its natural role in the environment. Firefighters assigned to WFU fires monitor the fires to ensure that resource objectives are being met and actively manage the fire by using common suppression tactics to ensure that the fire does not spread outside of the predetermined geographic area. Some see WFU as a “Let it Burn” policy. WFU fires are not fires that the Forest Service simply “let burn.” WFU fires are actively managed for natural resource benefits by firefighters on the ground. These benefits include the restoration and maintenance of healthy forests, rangelands, and wetlands.
Statewide fire activity and air quality conditions have generally improved since July 9 when I decided to not continue WFU or Prescribed Fire in the Region. Rather than require local units to wait until the preparedness level (PL) has been reduced to PL-III, I have decided to again consider approval of WFU and Prescribed Fire on a case-by-case basis. In addition to incident specific information, firefighting resource availability, air quality conditions, and expected and projected fuel and weather conditions will be key in my consideration to approve WFU or Prescribed Fire and should be carefully addressed in any Forest proposal.
While many of the tactics and decisions are extremely important, nothing is more important than the safety of the public our firefighters and flight crews. As we press forward through this long fire season, it will continue to be challenging, but we in the Forest Service will meet our mission for wildland fire suppression.
I'd also like to express my heartfelt sympathy to the families, friends, and coworkers of the brave firefighters we have so tragically lost. Their dedication to this mission and valor will long live on in the hearts and minds of not only their colleagues throughout the wildland fire community but by those communities they chose to serve and protect.
Additionally, we should not forget the men and women in the field that are doing the dirty arduous work of firefighting. They and their families deserve our respect and appreciation for their sacrifices and the risks they take for us all.
Finally, I want to thank the citizens of those communities that have patiently endured the burden of smoke and our presence for over two months. You have pitched in to help where you could and we appreciate it. I commit to you that we will continue to do everything possible to bring this fire season to closure.