Lassen federal park officials criticized on fire planning

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 8:01 am

MINERAL – A lightning fire, which escaped from Lassen Volcanic National Park to burn more than 28,000 acres of federal and private lands, taught park and other fire officials the importance of planning for a worst-case scenario and working with a trained interagency team as well as the public.

In a report on last summer's Reading fire, a team of reviewers found fault with the planning, management and coordination of handling the fire, as well as the way information about it was made available to the public.

The reviewers include National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service officials. They recommended that park officials collaborate with other agencies, neighboring communities and the public to ensure greater public safety.

Other recommendations include greater recognition of the changing conditions affecting fire behavior and adjusting fire management to them, according to the report released last week requested by Chris Lehnertz, the Park Service's Pacific West regional director.

Since the early 1990s, Lassen Park officials have been using natural and prescribed fires to improve wildlife habitat and reduce the fuels that have built up over nearly a century of fire suppression.

They have successfully burned 15,000 acres of the park in the last 12 years, the report states.

When lightning sparked the Reading fire July 23, park managers saw it as an opportunity to advance a variety of natural resource goals, according to the review.

They planned to hold the fire at the main park highway, preventing it from spreading to the Lassen National Forest and private lands around the community of Old Station.

But the fire jumped the highway Aug. 6, spreading rapidly to the northwest and threatening Old Station. By the time it was contained Aug. 22, the Reading fire had cost $17 million.

While park officials were confident they could manage the fire within the area they defined, they should have planned for a larger, more complex scenario, according to the report.

"Little consideration was given to what if it did not stay within the planning area," the report states.

The reviewers also took Lassen Park to task for delaying information released to the media, local communities and businesses.

"Mixed fire messaging" led to confusion and hampered overall communications. Improved communication would have "enhanced relationships with communities, the media, and elected officials," the reviews said.


The full report on the blaze is available at documents/Reading_Fire_ Review.pdf

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