Sick

I did it.  I read the report.  And, now I feel sick.  I smell my own sweat in my stress reaction. I will share some of what I read.  And, some of what I heard at the Town Hall meeting last night. 
But first, I must say that there are those who are already saying we mountain residents should buck up.  We chose to live in a fire zone so what are we whining about.  I have actually seen comments such as these.  To that I say, when it’s an act of God, a fire is still devastating – and yes, we live here knowing this is a possibility.  We, like many of our neighbors had a “defensible space” around our home.  And, ironically, we received a grant from the Forest Service to preform this work.  They approved the thinning and marked trees that needed to go.  We also had a metal roof, fire resistant decking and metal siding on 1/3 of our house.  This fire was not an act of God.  It was an act of human error – and bureaucracy at it’s finest.   So yes, we are a little mad. 
I must remember, it’s always the ignorant that spout off at the mouth and are critical of a victim’s response.  We are all familiar with the “blame the rape victim” reaction.  “Well, she shouldn’t have been wearing such a short skirt and walking the streets by herself…”  These morons are to be expected.  When they turn up in our government, it is a little more disturbing. 
I will hit some of the “highlights” of the Prescribed Fire Review (ordered by the Governor’s office) dated April 13th, 2012 with some editorial comments in italics:
There were record snowfalls in February – and then an abrupt pattern shift resulted in the driest and one of the warmest months of March on record.  All snowfall gains were depleted.  The weather pattern supported a high frequency of wind events, exacerbating the drying of fuels along the Front Range.  Sounds like a good time to stage a “controlled burn”, dontcha think?
March 23rd marked the beginning of changing atmospheric conditions that became more conducive to support large fire activity…  A new record temp was hit in Denver on the 22ndof 76 degrees.   Perfect…
A Fire Weather Watch was issued on March 24th for the 26th.  The Incident Command Officer patrolled the area on foot and ATV seeing no heat within the 200 feet of the perimeter. 
Even with the Fire Weather Watch predicted, they decided that no patrol was necessary on the 25th  Yet, the findings in the report state: “No patrol operations occurred on Sunday 3/25.  The burn was unstaffed.  Leaving the burn unstaffed on the third day following ignition is not consistent with burn plan requirements.   The plan states: “The fire will be directly patrolled and monitored for a minimum of 3 days following the initial burn, and then until significant moisture is received of the fire is declared out.”   Why would they choose to not follow protocol?  Why did they ignore the Fire Weather Watch?  Well, Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest…
On Sunday the 25th at 526am, the NWS Forecast reported: “Fire weather watch in effect from Monday morning through Monday evening with strong winds and low relative humidity… “
Then at 1215pm on the 25th, the NWS upgraded the Fire Weather Watch to a Red Flag Warning. 
Aren’t they glad they stayed home? 
On Monday the 26th, the NWS issued a “Red Flag Warning with 60mph gusts of wind.” 
At 10am on the 26th, the Incident Commander and 2 firemen arrive in a pickup truck at the scene for patrol.  Had to sleep in, couldn’t get there earlier, I guess…
At 11am, conditions begin changing at the site – winds increasing.  At 1230, crew on the site notice “embers” being blown. 
At 1pm, they discover small spot fires outside the perimeter.  They order another fire engine – but no firefighters.  (hmmmm, don’t worry fella’s, we got this!)  They notice an increase in smoke and at 140pm, and discover a new spot fire outside the perimeter of the “controlled burn”. 
Within 15 minutes, the spot has grown to 1.5 acres and was “growing fast”.  Additional resources are called in and arrive at 2pm.  By 230 it has grown to 7 acres and is declared “an escaped fire”…
Predicted meteorological conditions were consistent with historic fire events across Colorado. 
Lessons learned (it SERIOUSLY says these things….):
  • Chunks of charred material in the black can reignite on a hot windy day when exposed to ember wash.  Hmmmm, this is big news for our “experts” who have years and years of forest fire experience…
  • Recognize that an area that gave a problem during blacklineing could be a problem area during subsequent ignitions or mop up
  • Pay closer attention to the weather. 
  • Residual heat sources can be an escape threat during high winds
  • Patrol and monitoring needs to be more responsive and adaptive to changing conditions
  • Portable weather stations are a great source of site-specific weather info.  Make sure they are properly maintained (The wind direction sensor was malfunctioning since March 19th…)

 

I will only briefly mention some other breakdowns in the “perfect storm”, including the failure in the Reverse 911 system which called people across the country to evacuate, yet didn’t call most of us who had Littleton or Morrison addresses (every home that burned had a Littleton address)…  Or the breakdown of communication between the fire departments on scene…. Or the reports of citizens being told “not to call every time you see smoke” (as reported in the Denver Post).  Or worse still, the tragically poignant recording of Ann Appel (who died in the fire) being assured by a 911 operator that crews were on the scene, she hanging up sounding relieved… And, there were many transcripts with calls such as this. 
Last night at the Town Hall meeting, Mike King (on behalf of the Governor) discussed yet another breakdown – the chain of command of the Forest Service has no single line of authority – and thusly no single chain of accountability.  The Colorado State Forest service is a division of Colorado State University, and is managed by two different departments.  A perfect storm of bureaucracy at work…
During the open Q&A session, Mike King also shared this illuminating insight with a small group of concerned citizens, “the person in charge of the burn is dealing with a terminally ill family member” and “his head really isn’t in the game.”
To quote my husband on his blog:

“First of all, I would like to offer my deepest sympathy. I can imagine how distracting and heart wrenching that must be. I can imagine that because I just lost nearly everything I owned and almost lost my wife in that fire. So, I can guess at how that could impact someone’s judgment. In my case, I have had to ask people to cover for me on days when I cannot think straight because I am aware that I am not functioning at full capacity. That is because, it does not matter how I feel about it or what my intentions are, if I do not perform, I am ultimately responsible.”

A perfect storm of human error destroyed our homes and killed three people.  King closed by saying, “We can’t make it better.  We can’t make it right.  But we understand what you are going through….” 
Really?

8 Comments
  • David Lazaroff
    Posted at 16:32h, 19 April Reply

    Ripped from our chest we see our hearts spoiling in the hands of persons that do not respect the magnitude of the actions they undertake. We call this human error. Truly it is ignorance as old as time itself. People, focusing on their intended outcome, an unmanifest future, ignoring that which is plainly present. This is the sin of the human condition, to ignore that which we have learned to understand.

    Nature does not care. Give a warm wind a smoldering ember and it will birth a leaping flame without regard to the forester that hoped it would not cross the line he imagines to be “safe”.

    We live in risk and trust, together. We take risks to experience greater beauties. We trust that together our gains out-pace our losses. So, we comfort those who experience loss, knowing they share our own risk and we are inseparable from each other in our human condition. Each of us faces a time to receive the comfort of others as well as a time to give comfort.

    There is a current of love in which we are all carried. We call this current “time”. Our risk, our errors, and our losses are bubbles in the foam of this ocean of love to which we belong together.

    Your loss is my loss. Your joy is my joy. Kristen, I am here for you.

  • Anne Firor
    Posted at 17:24h, 19 April Reply

    David(above comment), you said that beautifully. We are all one. Kristin, I, too, feel your pain for the loss of your home and treasures and the disruption in your flow of life. Please, let us help in some way. Susan has my number.

  • David Cottrell
    Posted at 17:29h, 19 April Reply

    My wife, you rock. Thank your for your clarity. You make me proud.

  • Sara Nowlin
    Posted at 21:39h, 19 April Reply

    Brilliantly said! David’s comment too! Sounds like they are in need of some training in responsibility. I don’t know how you didn’t hit anyone in that meeting. I don’t know if I could have restrained myself.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 21:43h, 19 April Reply

      Thanks Sara! Did you see my shout out to you in yesterday’s post?

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