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Feds on high alert for July 4th wildfires

Forest Service, BLM to step up enforcement of fireworks ban

A June, 2011 wildfire in Keystone Gulch burned within a few hundred feet of vacation homes and full-time residences at the Colorado resort. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal land managers will step up enforcement of a personal fireworks ban in the West (covering Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming) and increase patrols and enforcement.

Orders from the top also say that land managers must coordinate across the West to reduce the rist of new fires and to prepare for an efficient response if they do start. And, as a no-brainer, the memo prohibits any prescribed burns while dangerous wildfire conditions prevail.

“As we continue our aggressive response to wildfires across the West, we must continue to do all we can to support our firefighters, first responders, and their families,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “Protecting human life and ensuring public safety is and will remain our top priority, and these measures will help us minimize the risks of new wildfires on America’s public lands.

“As our country celebrates its independence, the aggressive wildland fire fight continues,” said Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said. “I want to thank the thousands of brave men and women on the front lines who are battling these fires under extremely difficult conditions, and protecting homes, communities, and cultural and economic resources.

The prohibition on new prescribed fires covers the Rocky Mountains, the eastern Great Basin, and Southwest. Prescribed burns in any other areas require state approval.

As the Preparedness Levels rise, more federal and state employees become available for fire mobilization if needed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, in partnerships with states and local agencies, have developed a cohesive strategy to respond to the increase in wildfires in recent years by focusing on:

  • Restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes. Through forest and rangeland restoration activities such as mechanical thinning and controlled burns, officials can make forests and rangelands healthier and less susceptible to catastrophic fire.
  • Creating fire-adapted communities. The Forest Service, the Department of the Interior and their partners are working with communities to reduce fire hazards around houses to make them more resistant to wildfire threats.
  • Responding to Wildfires. This element considers the full spectrum of fire management activities and recognizes the differences in missions among local, state, tribal and Federal agencies.

On average, the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior bureaus respond to about 16,500 wildfires per year that occur on land under their jurisdiction and assist state and local agencies in responding to a significant number of the approximately 60,000 wildfires per year that occur on land under their jurisdiction.

Federal firefighters, aircraft, and ground equipment are strategically assigned to parts of the country as the fire season shifts across the nation. Firefighting experts will continuously monitor conditions and move these assets as necessary to be best positioned and increase initial response capabilities.

Federal land managers are also helping communities prepare for wildfire.Federal partnerships with state, tribal and local agencies strengthen preparedness programs Firewise and Ready Set Go! that help families and communities prepare for and survive wildfire.

You can also visit FEMA’s Ready.gov to learn more about steps you and your family can take now to be prepared for an emergency.

The full text of the joint memorandum is below:

Memorandum

To:   Chief, U.S. Forest Service
Director, Bureau of Land Management
Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs
Director, National Park Service
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation

From: Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar

Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack

As we continue our aggressive response to wildfires in the West, the President has made clear that we must do all we can to protect human life and ensure the safety of communities that are affected.

To fulfill this commitment, the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, the Department of the Interior, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are deploying incident command teams, crews, engines, helicopters, tankers, and other resources through the National Interagency Fire Center to support local, state, and tribal partners in our coordinated response to wildfires.

As we maintain an aggressive posture in our response to wildfires, it is important to recognize the dangers that this year’s wildfire season poses. Periods of critical fire weather have already produced extreme, erratic fire behavior on several fires. Insect infestation, diseased trees, dense vegetation, and dry conditions in the western United States are expected to continue to exacerbate the weather conditions and create challenges for our firefighters through the summer. Recognizing the severity of current fire activity, resource commitments, and predicted conditions, the National Multi-Agency Coordinating group (NMAC) at the National Interagency Fire Center has raised our national Preparedness Level from Preparedness Level 3 (PL3) to Preparedness Level 4 (PL4).

Given the challenges that this wildfire season poses, we believe that additional measures are warranted to reduce the risks of new wildfires, ensure the highest possible level of coordination among Federal land management agencies, and enhance safety for firefighters and communities. We therefore are implementing the following measures, which will remain in effect until NMAC determines that we may assume national PL3 or below:

Review procedures and take any additional appropriate measures to ensure that the safety of firefighters and the public continue to be the highest priority at every level of the decision-making process during fire suppression.

  • Do not initiate new prescribed fires in geographic areas at PL 4 or PL 5. In all other geographic areas, to initiate a new prescribed fire the implementing Agency or Bureau must receive approval by their respective leadership at the Regional or State level.

In light of the current wildfire situation, we must further heighten our vigilance around the Fourth of July holiday. The following measures will remain in place until July 8, 2012:

  • Local managers must ensure that personal use of fireworks will not be allowed on public lands managed by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Any exception to the prohibition on personal use of fireworks must receive approval from the agency’s leadership at the state or bureau level. Commercial, professional, and municipal fireworks displays may proceed with approval of the local manager after consultation and coordination with appropriate local authorities. On public lands managed by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture in all other states, any use of fireworks must comply with any applicable policy of the land management unit, state, tribe, or local government.
  • Local managers are to coordinate with other interagency partners to determine whether any additional fire restrictions or closures are appropriate for the Fourth of July holiday.
  • Local managers are to heighten law enforcement and fire prevention patrols in critical areas of concern to ensure that all applicable restrictions are enforced.

No directive in this memorandum limits your authority to adopt and enforce more restrictive measures if you find that they are warranted or if they have been or may be established by state, local, or tribal authorities where the public land unit is located.

Finally, as we confront this challenging wildfire season, it is important that we do all we can to support our firefighters, first responders, and their families. The thousands of men and women who are responding to wildfires are working under difficult and dangerous conditions to protect communities and resources for our Nation. We must honor their service, continue to provide them the resources they need, and guard their safety.

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