New Fire Report Puts Blame On Slash Piles

A conflicting account of the role unburned slash piles played during the Angora fire arose online last week.

On Monday, Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE), an Oregon-based nonprofit organization, posted a report on its Web site and entitled "Firebombs in the Forest: Slashpiles Fueled Angora Fire Destruction."

The latter site is a "liberal community of online activists," according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The report questions several findings detailed in the U.S. Forest Service's assessment of the Angora fire, focusing on the behavior of hundreds of wood piles from incomplete fuels treatments in Forest Service Unit 20 near Lookout Point Circle.

"The biggest cluster of destroyed homes was located next to the fuels reduction unit that had untreated slash piles left over from thinning operations completed nearly three years ago," according to the FUSEE report.

"The intense heat from the flaming slash piles lofted large burning embers that were carried by the wind and fell into the residential zone, igniting and destroying homes."

This stands in direct opposition to the forest service's account of the behavior of the burn piles, relayed in a recently released assessment.

Forest Service officials have said embers from burning homes spread throughout neighborhoods, causing much of the structural damage occurring during the blaze.

The FUSEE report also contends: "All of the fuel in the handpiles would have been located at a greater height and would have burned just as this fuel burned in adjacent untreated stands. The greater height of the fuel would have allowed embers to be lofted higher and transported downwind to a greater distance."

While acknowledging the Forest Service faces significant limitations to the rapid removal of burn piles, including air quality regulations, the FUSEE report said the agency makes an "illegitimate excuse" when it claims slash piles need to dry for at least a year before they can be properly burned.

The report states piles can be burned "in just a couple months."

Some piles can be burned quickly, according to Kathy Murphy, U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region fuels operation officer and one of three authors of the forest service assessment, but given the diameter of the logs in the piles on unit 20, they would have taken at least a year to dry.

"(Piles) can be ready for burning in a couple months if it were just limbs and was done in the early season," Murphy said on Thursday.

Murphy also disputed concerns raised in the FUSEE report about the way the Forest Service accounts for completed fuel treatments.

She claims the piles in unit 20 were 10 feet by 10 feet.

Up to 3,000 acres of unburned slash piles remain in the Lake Tahoe Basin.