Wallow Fire 311,000 Acres, Zero Containment, Command Disarray

Two thousand five hundred firefighters are battling the Wallow Fire, less than half the number you might expect for a fire of this magnitude. When you under man an incident of this size you are acceding to the will of the fire and asking more from the personnel on the ground than they can safely deliver. Granted not a lot can be done against gale force winds but when you have only ordered up eight (8) bulldozers for a 300,000 acre fire burning for more than a week it suggests something is wrong.

I was talking with a retired Cal Fire Captain days ago about this fire and we were discussing the eventual perimeter. I was thinking this would run to the high desert and he contended they were probably building dozer “freeways” upwind somewhere to halt the progress at that point! Of course you are right I said. Of course, of course.

At that time we assumed there were dozers en route, we were wrong. Eight bulldozers over 600 square miles is a joke. It’s not like there are demands on fire resources throughout the region, this IS the big show. They could have used eight bulldozers in Nutrioso and still been short by a few. There can be no dozer containment lines of substance over 300,000 acres with the equivalent of a dozer strike team.

I got word last night from a friend in Arizona that was listening to the fire briefing on local TV. The incident commander apparently stated to the crowd that he was not up to speed on what is happening on the left flank. Apparently one or more of the three Indian reservations with local jurisdiction are doing there own thing on that flank. If true this is nothing short of amazing. Such an admission is bad for firefighter safety and morale in general.

You cannot fight a battle when you don’t know who you command. This is dangerous as well as a disservice to the forest and inhabitants therein.

Evacuated residents of Alpine and Nutrioso are not being told what has happened to their properties. There is no reason for this. Why put residents through this kind of stress when there are command personnel (div. sups.) on the ground in both communities. I have commenters with local interests asking on my blog if anyone knows the status of their home or the homes of their parents of friends. Come on, someone with a map and a radio do some damage assessment and give the folks a break.

I want to be clear, my criticisms are not pointed at the firefighters on the ground or in the air.

Here are some maps and images. Not much news is coming out of the incident base so I will continue to cover this fire through webcams, satellites and hearsay.

Update: In fairness to the Incident Commander (I’m trying) he was assigned to the fire with his team on June 5. The fire is split up between numerous teams and it is possible he was not brought up to speed on the entire fire. Even so as IC he should be up to speed in full before addressing the community. On this we should all agree.

Bill at Wildland Fire asks and answers the question, “Where are the VLAT’s? (very. large. air. tankers.)


Image, Google Earth


GeoMac

Winds S/SW 22 mph in Eagar.

14 Comments

  • Jeannajeanna says:

    I have a room open in Phoenix that could be used by a displaced person or couple, who do I contact to help?

  • lauren says:

    Maggie, thank you so much for the info, that’s pretty close to our neck of the woods, we’re just over on 2064.  And thank you to Mike, I found your site a few days ago and have been checking in daily.  And if there are any of the firefighters from up there reading this, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

  • Maggie says:

    Hi, everyone – I just heard from my Alpine contact; here is what they’ve told us.  I realize this is secondhand, but it appears fairly reliable…given that we can’t seem to get much information from any other source, I am passing it on with the caveat that it is not solidly verifiable… but it comes from an Alpine resident in the area.  To those of you who are residents, they live off County Road 2267, south of 180 and east of Alpine proper/the divide.  This past Saturday, the fire came over the small mountain just to the south, a crowning fire.  The local fire chief was on site, radioed it in and shortly afterwards about 9 trucks and crews, and 2 helis were there on it.  The fire got within 1/4 mile of their home, and even closer to another that the crews worked hard to save and appears will be okay. Then, either that day or the following, a burning ember lit behind their well pump house. The nearby trees went up quickly, but fire crews knocked it down and they think the pump house might be fine.  If I had to guess, I’m sure there are countless incidents of firefighters pulling off amazing feats like these in an effort to save everything they could. God bless them!

    So, our contact on the ground reports that many/the majority of the firefighters have cleared out of town and headed to other areas of active fire.  Some crews do remain in town to handle any hotspots/flare ups.

    The north side of the Escudillas have had fire, but the majority of the burn was on the ground and hasn’t majorly affected the trees, so forest view is retained in that area to the north.  The contact says there is no damage they are aware of in the town itself (remember, though, I can’t fully verify this).  The power has been off for a couple of days, and Navapache reports it may be up to 3 weeks before it’s restored. Obviously, no word yet on when residents will be allowed to return (especially since there is no reported containment yet/highways closed/no power).

    Mike – I feel like I’ve hijacked your blog!  But – I thought the residents might want to hear some potentially good news…    6.8.11, 8:30 p.m. 

    • Anonymous says:

      Maggie, your comments are valuable and much appreciated. Thank you so much and please continue posting when you get info. My traffic explosion indicates people want the kind of news you bring.

    • Alpine Guy says:

      Maggie,

      Good information — and great news! Sounds like the Alpine resident you spoke to lives in my neighborhood. I received similar information from someone I know who serves on the Alpine Fire Department. From all indications, Alpine may be dodging a bullet right now. I realize it’s not over, but so far, so good. The local volunteer fire department in Alpine does a tremendous job. I would also like to thank all of the other firefighters who have helped to protect the area. Also, once again, great job Mike! This blog has been a tremendous resource to all of us.

  • raveneye says:

    Maggie, as in my first post, I agree on the PIO issue. Information is lacking. I appreciate the job you are doing to fill the gap with your last post and yes the InciWeb posting only once a day is not adequate. This is a carryover from the old BIFC daily situation report. It really is incumbent on each jurisdiction to have more timely updates.This fire is big enough for sectors having their own incident teams. The overall coordination is more of a resource allocation role. We also don’t know the resources available. Keep up the good work. This one has a long way to go yet. If I was in the Reserve area I’d be making plans right now.

    • Wallowfiresurvivor says:

       How is Apache Sitgreaves getting away with the once daily post on inciweb?  The media seems to be focusing on the human interest side, and I wish they would ask some tough questions. One PIO on twitter only tweets pictures of smoke and announcements to the media that they’re meeting somewhere.  Meanwhile, people in Alpine and Nutri are going on a week w/ no information on their homes, is that what Greer and RV people have to look forward to?

      • Anonymous says:

        Greer was overrun last night. I added a new post with a link to Greer’s Facebook page. Firefighters and those who stayed did a great job and saved quite a bit of the town it seems.

  • Maggie says:

    Raveneye – yes, hearsay can have a very deleterious effect, and it wastes precious time when command personnel have to take additional time to counteract/convince/do damage control on misinformation. But – the cure to that situation is to prevent it in the first place, by keeping the public informed - even if it’s just shreds of information. The PIO(s) have been nowhere to be found for the ten days of this fire. Isn’t that one of the reasons the FS has public information officers, particularly during incidents? The thousands of evacuated/displaced citizens affected are desperate for information.  I just called the Fire Information line listed on InciWeb – and it’s a recording of someone reading, verbatim, the text printed right below the info line number, on InciWeb.  That’s only helpful (and minimally, given the amount of info on the website) to those who don’t have access to the internet… Still, there is an astounding dearth of information available – knowledge that USFS has, and the public – after multiple days! – does not.  Further, it seems to me InciWeb Wallow updates (other than evac notices and orders) have been very delayed in posting.

    My contact on the ground in Alpine has gone silent today, so I can’t offer any additional solid info to anyone and for that I apologize.  As far as my Alpine friends know as of 5p.m. tonight, their home is still standing.  They did hear that command would discuss tonight which and where the reported 11 structures lost were in the North Wallow area - but I also see that since there is now a full evac called for all of Eagar and Springerville, that the public meeting for tonight has been cancelled, drat!.  I did find the slightest of add’l info on the Southwest Coordination Center website, part of the interagency incident support website; the link won’t post here, but if you google ”SWCC intelligence”, choose the first website, then under the sord “Situation” and “Wildland Fire”, click on ”morning intelligence report” and you’ll see more of the info below in the next paragraph. From the 6.8.11 a.m. intel briefing, it notes that there are now, as of today, 4 incident management teams assigned, one on each directional flank (N-S-E-W); three Type I teams and one Type II.  This report splits the burn into North and South portions, and gives a little more description on the number and types of structures lost (e.g., 4 commercial structures on South portion).  Let’s hope they can coordinate well enough to at least assign a PIO who will start “PIO’ing”.  Good grief!Kudos to the firefighters and support staff, ground and air, who are no doubt working their butts off.  Prayers to the residents, who are waiting to hear of their communities’ fate. And hope, for incident command, that they quickly reach optimum coordination, so that the Wallow can be fought smarter, not just harder. Learn from the last ten day’s mistakes, and adjust. Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into any worse of a “lessons learned” incident than it is already.

  • raveneye says:

    Kevin, cool your jets. You have NO idea what the truth is. I’m not embarrassed and I am a member of the “firefighting  community.” Your sense of outrage ads fuel to the fire.

  • kevin badger says:

    this is totally unacceptable.  if the incident managment team or incident commander is not competent to handle the task at hand, they need to be relieved of their duties, be placed on suspension from responding to any more wildland fires and retrain at whatever levels in order for competent decisions to be made on the scene. 

    this is a major embarrassment to the firefighting community. 

  • Alpine Guy says:

    Mike,

    Your analysis of the Wallow situation is both informative — and maddening. I don’t know anything about wildfire tactics, but from your assessment, it sounds like the incident management is very poor. Those of us who live in the affected area will pay a very high price for any bad decisions in this case.

  • raveneye says:

    Thanks fo the updates. I would generally agree with your assessment on management but I would be careful with the relay of “hearsay.” There is a lot of frustration out there and it can get carried away sometimes. As a former overhead team Plans Chief I have had to counter many cases of miss-information. On the other hand I agree that the residents deserve better info on the status of residences and property. This fire is the type that is very hard to get an overall view of info-wise. I have been on the ground in that area and many times thought about this eventuality. Again thanks for the updates. 

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Mike Morales

Retired Cal Fire/CDF Fire Captain

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