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Forrest Fires - Preparedness, Planning and Reacting
The News - Disaster Preparedness
May 01, 2012
Forrest Fire
Obviously they can happen anywhere there is a forest and the occurrence of a forest fire is always a question of "when", not "if". What we must consider is whether or not the location you either live year-round or have chosen as a retreat location is susceptible to such, and most importantly, what is the statistical likelihood of a forest fire breaking out where you either are or plan on being and how you should react to such a probability.

There exists that demographically insignificant lot of us who long ago chose the "homesteader lifestyle" and moved from suburban or semi-rural locales to "very rural" deep into the mountains. There are those who drive through the wonders of mountainous areas and openly express such thoughts as " I wish we were living here" while they whiz by a seemingly unchanging landscape. In the case of the latter group, many of those are good folks who have yearned to be free of the cities and the rat-race that living in such environs entails and just haven't been able to cross that psychological hurdle that year after year has kept them from just pulling up stakes, saying "to hell with this" and leaving. Sometimes they do, but for the most part they never will.  This piece is for those who already have and for those who are about to. [Mayflower Trading]

My wife and I are sort of a nicely blended synthesis of Guns and Ammo, Mother Earth News and the old American Survival Guide-types who turned our backs in this failing civilization and headed deep into the Northern Rockies almost twenty years ago after watching our formerly beloved state of Colorado become overrun with two-legged creatures of all types, both great and small. Being "natives" back then, a bit of a rarity except for the young, it was hard to believe what happened to that place. Newcomers and those relatively so, as well as those mired in the cities and who rarely left such thought and still think that the place is  wonderful do so because they have no memories of the how it was in the past to make such a judgment. Needless to say, you cannot add millions of people to anywhere and have it retain its former character. So off we went, searching for a place and towing a passel of young children along with us.

In this short piece I'm not going to go into the property parameters we established before we went "dirt hunting", as those should be rightly discussed in another article, but I will mention that the one item we did not put on that list was "incidence of forest fire", nor did we consider to any significant degree how susceptible the particular piece of property we finally bought was to such an event. Fire is in the back of your mind, sometimes way back, but without a real wake-up call or three, it doesn't really enter the equation when it should, and that's before you buy your dirt. That, my friends, is a big mistake.

I already argued that if there is a forest there will be a fire at some point. Some areas are more prone than others, and our place up "No Tellum' Creek" happens to be situated right where fire happens on an all too regular basis. In fact come August and September of almost every single year we are treated to some sort of fire event. There are big ones and little ones, and some that are so amazing that the jaw drops when you see the dang things unfold. How about these examples as cases in point! Back in 2000, a horrible fire year in these parts, there was a fire run on one fire in Central Idaho that had a 28,000 acre run in just about five hours. Now if it was out in the grasslands or such you might think "No big deal", but this was in extremely mountainous terrain and burning through thick stands of Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine. That day in late July of 2000 was when I witnessed my first significant "Pyrocumulus Cloud" as it rose to about 35,000 feet, and the precipitation which fell from it that landed at our place was composed of burned pieces of trees that were twice the size of an old Silver Dollar. Even though there was no "rain" from that cloud, on weather radar it showed up as "green" blob with a patch or two of "yellow" in it to give you an idea of what the literal hell was going on underneath it.

Last year a fire burning not too far off made a 17,000 acre run in three and a half hours through the same sort of timber, and we were treated to the same sort of cloud. From a distance they appear like a standard-looking thunderhead but underneath you are witness to a black, boiling mass carrying the ashed remains of everything alive or dead that had been in its path. And guess what? If you don't get out ahead of time, you aren't getting out. Both of these fires ran for miles in the worst of terrain in a matter of very short hours, faster than a man can run in such a place. Keep that in mind if you either live in such a place or plan on breaking free and buying off in the hinterlands somewhere. As the saying goes, "The best laid plans..."

Forrest Fire

Photo of the East Fork of Bitterroot River with a couple of Elk taking refuge from the Highway 93 Bridge in Sula, Montana during August of 2000

There is no way, short of building a concrete bunker underground, that you can construct anything to be totally fireproof. Earlier today I was reading a story out of Colorado where a fellow of significant financial means had built his place up in the mountains out of concrete, steel and stone, had water tanks that held a combined total of almost 30,000 gallons, and when a wildfire hit his place this past March 26th it was totally consumed within a matter of short minutes. He had removed 56 large trees amongst other preparations when the place was built, and regardless, all was lost. As far as I can tell he made one mistake, a wooden deck. It lit up and the windows next to the deck were apparently compromised quickly, and with the winds that were blowing along with those generated by the fire itself,  that was that for that. He escaped by getting into his truck and driving it right through the garage door because the power was out and at that point the electric door opener was just a little bit on the useless side.

So, what does a "Bug Out Bag" have to do with any of this? Nothing and everything at the same time. In most cases when we think of a Bug Out Bag it is for an almost TEOTWAKI-TYPE scenario, but as we have all been witness to over the last several years there seem to be little "Armageddons" happening all over the place all the time. Hell, you simply have to be ready to go at any moment, and a fire, if you've ever been in or near one, is as close to Armageddon as you ever want to get. At times there can be less notice of a forest fire than if a tornado is coming. That fire event this past March in Colorado went from a measly five acres to over four thousand acres in about three hours, darn near seven square miles. Think about that for a moment. There you are minding your own dang business doing whatever and there is no Weather Channel around that say's, "Scattered forest fires this afternoon with a probability ratio of whatever in this area". All of a sudden and without much warning all literal hell breaks loose. Even though that particular fire was from a "controlled burn" done a week before that was being "monitored", in most cases around here fires are cause by lightning. The normal scenario is that come fire season a lightning bolt may have struck a week or so back and engaged in what we call a "thousand hour burn" in a tree that really isn't emitting any smoke at all. It's just sort of smoldering. Then all of a sudden with the right wind at just the right angle and at just the right temperature, the darn thing takes off. The next thing you know all hell is breaking loose. That's what happens all the time and that Forest Service "Smokey the Bear" mantra of, "Only you can prevent forest fires" is just that - propaganda. Humans cause their fair share, but we don't hold a candle to a dry thunderstorm.

I've gone into areas after the fires have passed, including many of the big ones. The areas look like the photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oft times the fire can be so intense that the heat mineralizes the soil and nothing grows back for over a decade, and sometimes even longer. In all probability you are going to come back to absolutely nothing but the charred remains of all the efforts of your life as well as charred everything as far as the eye can see. I've seen gravel islands in rivers such as in the Bitterroot shown in the photo above, covered in river willow, dogwood, serviceberry and fir trees that were, in spite of being as full of water as those plants could possibly be, simply incinerated.

So back to the bag, and in this case I mean BAGS plural. Sure, you have the old Bug Out Bag, but how about a bag or suitcase(s) of stuff that matters to the heart. About mid-July here, we get out three cases or so of some "Barricade" fire-gel we purchased a few years back that you spray on your structures before the fire reaches them, and then you evacuate, assuming there is adequate time. Barricade is good stuff and can withstand up to or a bit over 3000 degrees or so for about 24 hours, but remember that "Best laid plans..." argument I made above. There are no certainties, only hopes. The other thing we do the very same day that we pre-position the Barricade is to move the three small and medium-sized suitcases that have all the photos of the family and the important papers that we need to begin to resurrect our life once the fire is over, right next to the front door. The Bug Out Bags are always in the trucks anyway, so after applying the Barricade, all we have to do is toss those other bags into the bed and leave for a "safe zone" a few miles off. Those minutes you waste trying to grab stuff that should have been ready to go well ahead of time may be those minutes that are the difference between life and death, so get with the program now. The last thing you need is a personal cluster foxtrot when all hell is breaking loose, so have all those personal papers and photos cased up and ready to go in an instant. Period.

Your life may well depend on it!

Please Visit Mayflower Trading Company - A pilgrimage to resource efficiency

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