Special Meeting
March 17, 2017

The Okanogan County Board of Commissioners met in special session on March 17, 2017, with Commissioner Jim DeTro, Commissioner Andy Hover, and Laleña Johns, Clerk of the Board present.

Commissioners convened the board at 10:45 am. Commissioner Branch was not able to attend.

Special Meeting-DNR Fire Advisory Committee Gary Berndt
Kevin Bowling, Maurice Goodall, Perry Huston

Mr. Berndt provided DNR summary report. Attached.

Mr. Berndt said he has a note book full of issues he is considering presenting at another meeting, but would like to hear the issues the commissioners would like to express. All the incident commanders are meeting in Vancouver this year and he has some general information to present a gentle thrashing on them on what happens when the teams leave an incident. He will go down that list he prepared for them. He will read one he received from an employee specifically who had to save his home, that if he had actually done what he was trained to do he would have lost everything. Mr. Berndt said they need to understand the trauma they cause people so he will read the concern at the meeting. If there are more concerns the board heard like that he would like to capture a generic form of it so managers, deputies, etc from type I and type II teams can realize the impacts. This meeting includes only region 6 teams. Mr. Berndt explained they must empathize with the local community. Goldmark previously directed him to build a list of cattlemen who were willing to be landowner representatives in areas and DNR would pay them so that local knowledge is included during an incident. Commissioner Hover stated he has groups in the Methow when Twisp river fire started, that those in charge on the ground treated the resident as though they didn’t know anything. They looked at the residents as though they had everything under control. The biggest complaint he heard was structure protection and the fact if DNR crews were just sitting there watching the fire come at structures then stating they could not do structure protection and that is the number one complaint he heard. The crews were not even trying to protect the structures from afar. The wildfire crews should be trained in both wildland and structure protection. Commissioner DeTro explained they should be able to spray water on any structure. Mr. Berndt replied they are not trained to deal with propane bottles or gas cans if those should explode. How does DNR build a seamless fire system that addresses both structure and wildland fires.

Mr. Berndt stated it his hope to help create seamless and create partnerships.
Revive world communities for forest health by signing an agreement with Forest Service such as a good neighbor agreement which allows the DNR to do work on federal land, with first priority to build buffer communities. The DNR Lands Commissioner is asking legislators for 25 million dollars to do this. Mr. Berndt doesn’t know how that will go. The commissioner is talking about things that Goldmark didn’t want to talk about. .

Commissioner DeTro asked if he would articulate to her if we try to fix things why is everyone so reluctant to use the VLAT Tanker plane. The most sophisticated air tanker in the world is the VLAT and it is in our back yard with everyone else in the world clambering for it and it’s the only one certified to drop retardant at night but we cannot use it and he wants to know who is blocking its use. Mr. Berndt asked where that hits a wall. Commissioner DeTro stated dispatch. Someone in Wenatchee who wants the Jump base out of here won’t utilize it and he puts road blocks up against using smoke jumpers and there is someone higher up than he is that is not allowing the use of the tanker. Commissioner DeTro has the voice transmission of those who are not utilizing the smoke jumpers from 2014. Commissioner explained several other calls where the smoke jumpers were dispatched to areas that they had no business going to such as a five thousand acre hells canyon fire only to come back to find the fire out of control elsewhere where they could have made a difference. There is an MOU in place with the jump base that allows the first call a 24 hour cycle at no cost. Commissioner DeTro said that kind of stuff to him is useful information. Mr. Berndt stated moving forward he will look at the agreements to find out if they are standing agreements annual agreements etc… Jerry Day understands the agreements so would be good to review them.

Commissioner Hover stated what will worry him is that when everyone puts their stock in forest health then they say they will let the fires run through the place and not call the smoke jumpers in at all to control those burns. He said we have to have the understanding that will need quick response in order for the fire to be controlled. The wind will blow it up in a matter of seconds and could blow a fire right into the town.

Mr. Berndt explained he has asked many questions and in a couple weeks repellars will be brought in from Wenatchee it could be 50 60 league fire fighters in the area. Commissioner DeTro said in the old days when they dispatched themselves they had guys in the air in seven minutes, now they are still calling around thinking about it and they cannot even start the airplane until they get a fax from dispatch and that could take as much as time as 1 hour 45 minutes. Why are they not dispatching within our local area? His suggestion in his white paper was anytime there is a fire on Okanogan national forest put them in the air whether they fight the fire or not, you can sit there as a person of communication to utilize the $1600 per hour; let them sit there an hour to communicate to the ground on the status and if not needed after the ground units get there then send the jumpers back. It is worth it.

Mr. Berndt said we also need to work on the federal ground use patterns to protect each other. 200,000 acres of the 2014 fire was due to back burning that got out of control. Commissioner DeTro said when the fire started in 2015 Joneses, Jerry Shultz, Burt Sasse and Mr. Ayers had property in the line of fire and they jumped on their cats to make a fire line and within 16 hours there was a four blade wide swath made to protect and when they got done the fire opts chief said they needed to burn it out. Commissioner DeTro fought that over a four day period so that would not happen and on the third day Jerry Shultz was introduced to the division and he stood there and told Jerry he wouldn’t back burn. But, by 5:00 pm they torched it and the fire burned so hot and fast they had to evacuate Pine Creek, Riverside, North Omak, Crumbacher etc… 17 miles away after the guy gave his word he would not back burn but then he did and the fire almost burned the towns down. Later when he saw Commissioner DeTro again he said oh that was water under the bridge. Commissioner DeTro could not believe it.

Mr. Goodall explained the relationship between the teams and the landowners does not exist. DNR needs to figure out how to give the educated people access to talk to the fire fighters and come up with something in order to transmit the information. Dispatch a team to Okanogan County to first talk with EM as they have the information to bridge that gap. The team leaders often do not even acknowledge our local emergency manager or the knowledge they can provide.

Mr. Huston said for some reason, fire officials come up with a monolithic process that by the time that is set up a million acres have burned. We should just go in and put the fire out. It isn’t rocket science!! In 2014 had the dispatch sent the assets in we would not have had the fire that blew up in 2014. If you have assets and an incident identified send in the guys. Modern society seems to indicate we agonize over it before doing anything about it. The bottom line we go in, not just stand around talking about it. Mr. Bowling stated there were several helicopters and airplanes sitting at the airport not being dispatched on numerous occasions. Commissioner DeTro stated he didn’t see any rotors turning at the airport, they were just sitting there. There is no excuse for not launching them even at 13:00 hours.

Some proficiency has been gained, stated Mr. Goodall, but not enough. Mr. Huston said there are systemic issues that need to be taken out. Mr. Berndt replied it is hard for him to imagine that will change. Mr. Berndt said everything is initial attack now, except for smoke jumpers. Commissioner Hover replied we are in the top five fire areas and jumpers are one of the best ways to fight a fire and are a regional asset. Commissioner DeTro replied that Jason Kaiken would not allow his FS staff to even talk to him about it as Mr. Kaiken had threatened to fire them if they did. Mr. Berndt stated he could not speak to the USFS.

Mr. Berndt provided a paper on what exactly they do. The things from the Overview of the Wildland Fire Advisory Committee were discussed. Attached. The result of an entire years work was articulated on a white paper summary report. Attached.

Mr. Bowling said we have had many mobe fires and currently they are not trained for that. It will be difficult to have volunteers to go through all the training only to sit there.

Mr. Berndt discussed private property issues with fire protection. Mr. Bowling left to attend another meeting at 11:50 a.m.