1. #1
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    Default Backfires and Burnouts: Questions for the Wildland Guys

    I'm on a small VFD in Oklahoma. We do quite a bit of wildland, but certainly not on the level of the federal guys or you folks out west. Think more along the lines of grass fires and woods (not forest) fires.

    We had a spectacular ice storm about 15 months ago, and the deadfall from that is going to be plagueing us for years.

    Already this season we'd had fires move into the woods that are nearly impossible to walk through, much less cut a line through with our standard equipment, which is leafblowers, rakes, shovels and a hoseline if it will reach from the truck. The fact is that we're getting into more and more situations where it's just unrealistic to put crews into the woods.

    Here's the question.....what your standards or policies on setting backfires or burnouts? Techniques, staffing, communication, whatever.

    Our only official policy is that backfires and burnouts are performed only if all crews are accounted for and after consultation with command. I'd like something a little more substantial to work with.

    Any advice welcome!
    Bryan Beall
    Silver City, Oklahoma USA

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    From the federal side of things, you need a lot of experience before you think of doing any burn outs or back fires. At the least you should have S290, Ignition Ops, crew boss or engine boss and should have lots of experience with fire behavior and prescribed burns. There is alot more that goes into it other than just lighting it on fire and hoping you can hold it.
    "Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all"

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    Default No Go

    Proper training and experience is the only way you should be implmenting this. With that training and experience you will be able to build these protocols. It may seem like a great idea to burn off in the start, but you may be doing greater harm than good. Ram has the right advice. It may be grass and woods, but the first home you accidentally burn down may very well be your last in your career. There is great personal liability involved with your actions.
    "The probability of someone watching you is proportional to the stupidity of your action."

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    Good points, and I understand the concerns. I'm a career firefighter in Tulsa, and the thought of the guys at the VFD even considering some of the stuff we do at work on structure fires makes me cringe. So I understand where you're coming from.

    That being said, we do very limited controlled burns at the VFD for landowners fairly often. Max of maybe 5 acres, always under favorable conditions. We always do it on our terms, have up-to-date weather forecasts, and have plently of manpower and equipment. Very controlled. Our control burns are very boring, because we're very, very cautious.

    Our training is not up to par with federal wildland guys. All of our people have basic wildland training offered by the state fire service school. We do in-house refreshers once a year, and a mini refresher "refresher" just before the season kicks off. Backfires and burnouts are only performed with experienced personnel.

    Now, all that's fine and good, but on a REAL fire, the variables are extensive and the risks are much higher.

    I won't say always or never, but I'm mostly concerned with fires away (far away) from structures with good natural or man-made barriers, such as creeks, roads, etc.

    Can anyone offer SOG's or point to a source for this type of material? Is Ignition Ops a class or course offered through the Forest Service?
    Bryan Beall
    Silver City, Oklahoma USA

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    S-234, Ignition Operations is offered by the usfs, and is actually required by the fs t be a single resource boss (eg engine boss, crew boss, etc). Generally burnouts are smaller scale operations, used to remove unburned fuel between the line and the fire during direct (or near-direct) and parallel attack when there is not a huge distance between the line and the fire. They are usually considered to be a single resource boss decision. On crews, "bringing fire with you" is fairly common as it helps you "keep one foot in the black."

    Larger scale burnout/backfire operations used with indirect attack are much more complicated. You need to light them when the conditions are just right. If burning conditions are to favorable, you might lose it, if they are too unfavorable, you will have re-burn potential and not stop the main fire. They can also be used to do things like change the direction of the main fire. For this, orders come from the operations section chief (OSC), with the plan having to be approved by the IC. Usually, the OSC will work with the planning section, the incident meteorologist (IMET)(if assigned) and the Fire Behavior Analyst (FBAN). On smaller (eg initial attack) incidents, it will be an IC/ops decision, probably with a firing boss in charge of the actual burn operation. Because of their experience and skill level, usually hotshot crews are the preferred resource for these operations.

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