TUOLUMNE COUNTY – Fighting the Rim Fire has been a costly effort, but the communities, infrastructure and natural resources saved have proven the success of the joint leadership team directing the effort, said Southern Area Blue Team Incident Commander Mike Wilkins.
“The cost of the fire is huge,” said Wilkins. “We’ve spent a significant amount of money,
but saved far more values at risk than we spent. We regret we’ve lost some structures and that resources have been impacted, but we’re feeling good about how we’ve impacted the local economy.”
The Blue Team joined with Cal Fire, the Stanislaus National Forest, Yosemite National Park and local fire departments to tackle the complex fire, which began August 17 near Buck Meadows.
Nancy Koerperich, who represents Cal Fire at the Rim Fire, called the firefighting effort “one big family,” which managed to work out any differences and meld their missions.
“I believe that if we had broken up and let Cal Fire run state issues, the Park run Park issues and the Forest Service run Forest issues, we’d have been far less successful, and the fire would have been far bigger,” said Koerperich.
Among the successes of the unified command team:
– Bulldozers and handcrews built and improved fire lines, deployed water hoses, and started backfires to successfully stop the fire from reaching thousands of homes in Pine Mountain Lake, Tuolumne City and other towns on the fire’s western flank.
– On the eastern flank, the Hetch Hetchy reservoir continued to deliver drinking water to 2.6 million people in the San Francisco-Bay area, despite the fire burning up to its southern shore.
– The eastward spread of the fire into Yosemite National Park was halted by the construction of a containment line in advance of the flaming front, which was then strengthened with extensive burn-out operations before the arrival of the fire.
– Firefighters laid sprinklers and cleared brush to successfully protect two groves of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park.
– Firefighting efforts helped spare hundreds of millions of dollars of power lines, power poles and electrical substations on the western side of the fire.
Another group given credit for the successes achieved in battling the Rim Fire is the Southwest Interface Team (SWIFT).
SWIFT is a group comprised of county, state, federal and other external partners, working collaboratively to create Firewise, fire adaptive communities by conducting fuel treatments such as fuel breaks.
Just days after the Rim Fire swept through the community of Pine Mountain Lakes and other small communities near Yosemite National Park, evacuated residents returned to find their homes still standing.
“The fuel breaks played a critical role in reducing the intensity of the fire in the Pine Mountain Lake community, their purpose was to reduce fuel loads and the work done the past five to seven years made the difference,” said SWIFT coordinator Allen Johnson.
Maps developed by SWIFT were integral to the incident management team’s ability to identify locations of fuel reduction treatments and existing fire breaks. The Southern Area Incident Management Team managing the Rim Fire incorporated this information into their pre-planning efforts for establishing fire and contingency lines.
“If every community completed this work it would protect more homes and make firefighting efforts less complex,” said Incident Commander Mike Wilkins.
Fire isn’t new to SWIFT; they encourage using all possible resources to mitigate wild land fire by using wild land fire prevention and protection strategies to these areas populated with primary and secondary residences.
Since its induction fourteen years ago, there have been seven major wildfire incidents, including the Rim Fire:
Pilot Fire – 1999
Hunter Fire – 2000
Creek Fire – 2001
Tuolumne Fire – 2004
Don Pedro Fire – 2007
Telegraph Fire of 2008
Rim Fire 2013
Since 1999, SWIFT has worked with partners and landowners to promote Firewise communities by accomplishing:
• 5,000 acres of prescribed burns
• 25 miles of road corridor treatments
• 8,800 mechanical mastication treatments
• 54 miles of shaded fuel break
• 79 miles of fuel breaks
The six wildfires prior to the Rim Fire burned more than 61,000 acres within or directly adjacent to the SWIFT area, resulted in a firefighter fatality, and burned over 40 homes.
It is the goal of SWIFT to continue to work to protect the local communities, the lives and property, and the natural resources through aggressive fire prevention and preparedness efforts.
The group is comprised of: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Eldorado Hills Resource Area; California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection; US Forest Service – Groveland Ranger District, Staniuslaus National Forest; Cal-Fire – Tuolumne/Calaveras Ranger Unit, Madera/Mariposa/Merced Ranger Unit; Mariposa County Fire Department; Hetch Hetchy Water & Power; City and County of San Francisco; Yosemite Foothills Fire Safety Council; Mariposa County Fire Safe Council; California Department of Corrections; Central Sierra Resource Conservation District; Yosemite National Park and Pine Mountain Lakes Association.
The success of SWIFT should serve as a great example for communities across the nation on making their communities defensible.
(compiled from postings on inciweb.org)