EOTW #4: The 2013 Rim Fire – WUI, Social Media, and Fire Supression

The Rim Fire started August 17, 2013 in the Stanislaus National Forest by a hunter who had started an illegal fire that got out of control. The fire burned more than 257,000 acres, and is currently the fourth largest wildfire in California history. It burned 11 homes, 3 commercial buildings, and 98 outbuildings. Hot temperatures, severe drought, and a long-term program of fire suppression in California helped fuel this enormous, intense wildfire event. These types of wildfires are becoming more frequent in the western US. A consensus appears to be emerging between scientists and wildfire experts that these wildfires are becoming more intense because of several things: climate change fueling drought and higher temperatures, leading to drier conditions; encroachment of urban areas into wildlands (the Wildland-Urban-Interface – WUI – is expanding); and a years-long policy of fire suppression (particularly because of the expanding WUI and landowners wanting protection from fires). Fire suppression and recent climate swings have resulted in a lot of overgrowth in the forests in the region.

There were a few issues surrounding this event that are worth exploring because they are relevant to other disaster events. One of the issues involved the spreading of false rumors over social media: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/27/rim-fire-california-social-media-avoid

Decades of fire suppression and lack of funding for forest management has created regions that are overgrown, fueling faster spread of fires: https://www.livescience.com/39408-how-rim-fire-grew-big.html

For this EOTW, read the two articles linked above and answer the following questions:

1) Why did the fire grow extremely rapidly in the Stanislaus National Forest, but in  Yosemite National Park the fire did not grow or spread nearly as fast?

2) Do a quick search on google and find another disaster event that involved social media – briefly describe whether social media was a good source of information or was involved in spreading fear through untrue reporting.

 

15 thoughts on “EOTW #4: The 2013 Rim Fire – WUI, Social Media, and Fire Supression”

  1. 1) Why did the fire grow extremely rapidly in the Stanislaus National Forest, but in Yosemite National Park the fire did not grow or spread nearly as fast?

    Previous fire suppression attempts and “human caused-changes” such as logging and grazing, resulted in the rapid spread of the Rim Fire into Stanislaus National Forest. The fire’s path speed through the forest because years of logging and replanting left the area densely overgrown. The abundance of dry wood-debris in the undergrowth provided abundant fuel for the fire, which feed into its rapid growth.
    The fire’s speed slowed when it reached Yosemite National Park because the National Park service has a different approach to wildfire suppression. Rather than actively thinning trees or doing regular controlled bans, the National Park Service allows naturally started wildfires to burn themselves out. By allowing low-intensity fires to continue burning until completion, dry forest undergrowth is cleared. This lack of undergrowth meant that the wildfire would not have adequate fuel to rapidly spread and grow.

    2) Do a quick search on google and find another disaster event that involved social media – briefly describe whether social media was a good source of information or was involved in spreading fear through untrue reporting.

    In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, a category 1 hurricane that made landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey on October 29, 2012, an Instagram hashtag with time-marked geotags surfaced. The “ #Sandy ” movement gave Red Cross volunteers and rescuers real-time data and provided a direct channel to learn the needs of storm victims. In this particular case, the social media was a good source of information that helped provide aid after a natural disaster.

  2. 1) The biggest problem with the Stanislaus National Forest was there were many years of fire exclusion. A lot of people do not understand that controlled burns are necessary to keep the overgrowth down. If you get too much overgrowth you have a fire hazard. Controlled burns are good for the ecosystem and in preventing forest fires. At Yosemite National Park they do controlled “Prescribed” burns. The park uses fire ecology and monitoring to reduce the risk of wildfires.

    2)I can recall after hurricane Harvey, there were both good and bad!
    Major news outlets and reporters were sending out updates which helped inform the public. I think when you might have limited cell service, but can get tweets sent to your phone (via text message) this is a good way to stay informed.

    Now, the bad side… After Harvey, postings went out across facebook and twitter for restoration/ clean-up type jobs. Many scams came out of this all across the country. I had to investigate a story that involved a social media posting that wanted you to pay for a job. (Why someone would pay for a job boggles my mind, but people were desperate for work.)

    A local scam here- people would meet at a walmart parking lot and someone would drive them to TN for a job that would leave for Texas and Florida for Hurricane cleanup. After they paid and were dropped off, no one ever showed up.

    I discovered scam artist were posting ads in Knoxville,TN, and Fayetteville, NC. Both ads stated the crew left from a designated spot in the city and they were charging $80 a person to drive them there. The driver would pick up people in Fayetteville, collect the money, and drive them to Knoxville. Then the driver would pick people up from a location a few miles from the drop point and drive them to Fayetteville.

    Unfortunately, too many people fell for this scam and contacted our news desk about all the people that paid to get there and were left stranded.

    It was very sad to see how people take advantage of others in desperate times. I calculated these people were making about $1400 roundtrip. I Also learned the person driving rented a van to drive the people to the location.

    1. wow – I had not heard of that. Terrible! I can see though in the wake of a disaster there are people who are desperate and others who are predatory…what a shame.

  3. 1) The main reason that the fire spreading so quickly through the Stanislaus National Forrest is the way they approached fire suppression. They approached it with the idea that the less big trees available to burn, the less severe the fire will be. Rather, this enabled the fire to rapidly grow due to the dense overgrowth as a result from prolonged logging and grazing. The excessive logging caused dry-wood debris to become interbedded within much of the forrest floor, which also accelerated the growth of the flames. On the other hand, Yosemite approaches fire suppression on a more natural level, allowing naturally started forest fires to burn out, simply controlling the extent of the fire. Allowing a fire to naturally extinguish results in the destruction of dry-wood debris on the forrest floor, depriving the fire of one of it’s main sources of fuel. This is the reason for the slower spreading rate of the fire once it reached Yosemite.

    2) When Hurricane Matthew was on track to graze up the east coast of Florida in 2016, twitter was used as a means of spreading information. This worked effectively, for an image of the (gigantic) storm went viral and prompted people to look into the path and potential of the storm, allowing them to make a well-informed decision on what actions needed to be executed to prepare for the storm.

  4. 1) Why did the fire grow extremely rapidly in the Stanislaus National Forest, but in Yosemite National Park the fire did not grow or spread nearly as fast?

    In the Stanislaus National Forest, fires are not allowed to persist naturally, nor do they mitigate via controlled burns. thus, any fire that is introduced has much fuel to allow it to intensify and quickly become uncontrolled. however when
    the fire got to Yosemite National Park the fire slowed due to the parks approach to wildfire mitigation. Rather than The park service does not suppress fires started naturally (i.e, lightning strikes) leading to the wildfires safely burning themselves out and naturally cleansing the forest floor of access dead debris or fuel for a forest fire. this naturally gives the fire only green material and made the fire much easier to contain.

    2) Do a quick search on google and find another disaster event that involved social media – briefly describe whether social media was a good source of information or was involved in spreading fear through untrue reporting.

    2. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey people reported themselves safe via Facebook Safety Check, SnapChat created the Harvey Snapchat Story with over 300,000 posts submitted. i think its interesting that snapchats mapping system also shows hot-spots where many people posted images of distress, and extreme flooding and devastation from at a given time. residents also used Facebook and twitter to post images of community members in need of assistance. while open Data like the Houston / Harris county flood gauges helped to alert residents of flooding in real time. FEMA also filtered through Social Media to quickly distribute relief where most needed. Overall Social Media is a tool that has proven to be an asset during relief efforts as well as a warning platform, I have seen it be a hotbed for fraud in time of desperation however. especially during the Hurricane recovery when carpenters were too busy, people took deposits from residents with no intention of doing said work. and they get there leads from Social media as well. so in closing i guess its a double edged sward, however if there is any benefit to using a technology we cant discount the benefits over a few bad apples.

  5. 1) Why did the fire grow extremely rapidly in the Stanislaus National Forest, but in Yosemite National Park the fire did not grow or spread nearly as fast?

    Reduced funding to preventative firefighting efforts caused the fire to race through Stanislaus National Forest, but slow down in Yosemite. To prevent wildfire, forests need to be thinned and undergo controlled burns to prevent a wildfire from starting and running out of control. However, due to the reduced funding for these forest management tasks, the wildfire spread to almost ~200 square miles in just 2 days. However Yosemite has had numerous properly managed wildfires in the years prior to the 2013 Rim Fire, which allowed for the fire to slow down as it reached the park to due the properly managed forest that had already been burned in recent years.

    2) Do a quick search on google and find another disaster event that involved social media – briefly describe whether social media was a good source of information or was involved in spreading fear through untrue reporting.

    http://time.com/4921961/hurricane-harvey-twitter-facebook-social-media/

    During 2017’s Hurricane Harvey natural disaster, Houston was struck with wind and heavy rain that flooded the city. During the event, people used hashtags like #sosharvey to get help from others on social media. One resident named Martiza Willis posted “I have 2 children with me and tge [sic] water is swallowing us up. Please send help.”
    With 911 dispatchers overwhelmed, her friends and followers came to the rescue and she was safe within an hour of her initial call for help. I believe social media can be very good at communicating information in times of disaster, but I also understand how it can spread false information and cause confusion.

  6. The reason that the two parks experienced such differing levels of devastation was due to the different forestry management practices that each park used. Stanislaus Nat’l Forest had had budget cuts and didn’t use very many controlled burns to get rid of fallen wood. Yosemite was more able to use prescribed burns to reduce the impact of the fire as it reached the region.

    I read an article about how the USGS uses Twitter to track earthquakes, starting with the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. In this case, earthquake researchers are using the data after the fact to determine the extent of the earthquake, even in regions where they don’t have sensors. It’s not like researchers can get exact scientific data, but for uses such as the Mercalli scale, this kind of information is perfect.

  7. 1) Why did the fire grow extremely rapidly in the Stanislaus National Forest, but in Yosemite National Park the fire did not grow or spread nearly as fast?

    The fires sizes had to do with the different manmade causes. Due to the lack of seasonal burns/fire suppression to keep the area low on natural fuels for a wildfire along with grazing and replanting were the cause of the rapid spread of the Stanislaus national forest. The Yosemite National park had several past managed fires happen in the area so there wasn’t as much fuel to make the fire grow fast.

    2) Do a quick search on google and find another disaster event that involved social media – briefly describe whether social media was a good source of information or was involved in spreading fear through untrue reporting.

    Website: http://time.com/4921961/hurricane-harvey-twitter-facebook-social-media/

    I found this website about Hurricane Harvey and how the victims in Texas were posting on social media for help instead of just calling 911. The website goes into detail how the local police had to do a press conference about how people should not use media to get help but use 911. After all, that’s what it is there for.

  8. 1) Why did the fire grow extremely rapidly in the Stanislaus National Forest, but in Yosemite National Park the fire did not grow or spread nearly as fast?

    The Rim Fire reached the size that it did because of different manmade causes. Decades of fire suppression and other human caused changes, such as grazing and replanting, were behind the rapid spread of the fire. The U.S. Forest Service usually prefers to thin trees or have controlled burns instead of letting forest fires run wild. But, reduced funding has hindered their ability to do so. In Yosemite, there was less underbrush and fewer small tress to fuel the fire because the National Parks Service lets naturally sparked fires burn.

    2) Do a quick search on google and find another disaster event that involved social media – briefly describe whether social media was a good source of information or was involved in spreading fear through untrue reporting.

    I found an article about social media and Hurricane Harvey. For this event victims turned to Twitter and Facebook for help as floodwater rose. Even though they were advised to call 911 dispatchers, most victims were asking for help because 911 dispatchers weren’t responding due to the high volume of crises they were responding to. One lady asked for help on facebook and received it within an hour. I think that in this case social media was a good thing because the community was working together to help each other and keep each other safe.

  9. EOTW 4

    1) Why did the fire grow extremely rapidly in the Stanislaus National Forest, but in Yosemite National Park the fire did not grow or spread nearly as fast?

    Yosemite had primarily was saved from fire because of rain and an increase in humidity. Specifically, there were two groves of sequoia trees and one oak grove. These areas experienced high humidity and light rain. Humidity is a primary factor when estimating how fast a fire will spread. In the Stanislaus National Forest the fuel load was very heavy. The type of fuel load was atypical for the area before intervention by man. This area was also drought stricken. The area was loaded with ground duff and slash piles. These are terms used by wild land firefighters to describe undergrowth and piles of dead branches and logs. These could include those left by logging efforts. Another consideration is that some invasive species of insects prey upon trees and kill them. When the forest is introduced to foreign insects they can die. Grazing animals also affect the rate of spread for wild land fires. Depending on the animal, the plants can be eaten down low. This will foster a high rate of fire spread. Forests have a natural means of renewing its self. When man intervenes in any way, this disrupts the forest’s natural healing and growth. The entire ecosystem is poorly effected. With high fuel load, drought, fuel type and remote location this area burned quickly. Due to the high heat and fuel type on the ground, the trees were not spread. The entire landscape will be altered forever. Erosion and increased effects of climate change will potentiate these disasters in this area.

    2) Do a quick search on google and find another disaster event that involved social media – briefly describe whether social media was a good source of information or was involved in spreading fear through untrue reporting.

    http://949whom.com/maine-fake-news-facebook-page-goes-viral/
    In this example, a person was able to fool the public in a certain area of a winter storm. A lie was perpetrated that the storm would be severe and be highly damaging. Albeit difficult, facebook and other social media web sites should have a verification process that identifies one’s true self or organization. Misrepresentation of a person or organization by a fake account is intentionally malicious. The sky is the limit with how much damage this could do. People should also not believe everything what they read on the internet, especially social media.

    http://wildfiretoday.com/2017/07/01/drone-operator-arrested-for-interfering-with-firefighting-aircraft/

    In this era, being “facebook famous” is something that many people long for. The general public gives great attention to those who post interesting pictures or videos. This encourages illegal drone use at wild land fires. Free speech is important to protect and to use regularly. What is even more important is to protect the lives of those on the fire line. Giving attention to drone pilots that obtain video illegally potentiates the problem.

  10. 1) Why did the fire grow extremely rapidly in the Stanislaus National Forest, but in Yosemite National Park the fire did not grow or spread nearly as fast?

    Stanislaus National Forest’s “Rim Fire” spread rapidly due to favorable wildfire conditions created by humans. Fire suppression over the past few decades combined with using National Forest land as a “grazing and replanting” area allowed a dense forest to develop. In Groveland, birthplace of the Rim Fire, eight projects were planned to mitigate and reduce wildfire risk. Unfortunately, preventative firefighting faced budget cuts in recent years so projects were unable to transpire, compounding the risk of a devastating fire occurring. Yosemite National Park experienced slower burn rates and less damage because the Park Service permits naturally sparked fires to burn. As a result, Yosemite possesses fewer small trees and less underbrush than Stanislaus National Forest.

    2) Do a quick search on google and find another disaster event that involved social media – briefly describe whether social media was a good source of information or was involved in spreading fear through untrue reporting.

    The Boston Bombing, albeit not a natural catastrophe, was undoubtedly a disaster. For days after the bombing social media sites such as Reddit scoured the internet for evidence in an attempt to identify suspects. Each potential suspect had their own thread, using screenshots of their face as thumbnails. In the threads, conversation unfolded, with possible evidence being shared. One example of evidence was a person’s sagging backpack, surely that was a sign of something heavy, possibly a bomb, being carried. Thousands participated in attempts to name and locate suspects. No crowd sourced investigations led to identifying the proper suspects, instead, innocent people received death threats and were harassed. In this instance, social media was a source of fear pandering.

    References
    Lee, D. (2013, April 19). Boston bombing: How internet detectives got it very wrong. Retrieved from BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-22214511

    1. that is an interesting case to bring up – definitely a tricky situation there because I think the perpetrators were caught largely as a result of public/private camera and video sharing?

  11. 1) Why did the fire grow extremely rapidly in the Stanislaus National Forest, but in Yosemite National Park the fire did not grow or spread nearly as fast?
    Today, we are seeing a number of fires far worse than in the past. The reason for this is because of droughts and the United States past history fighting wildfires. In the past, wildland firefighters would suppress the fire as fast as possible. This quick suppression led to a lot of dead debris on the ground over the years which makes fires today burn faster and hotter. Stanislaus national forests fire grew rapidly for this same reason. To counter this dead debris on the ground many departments throughout the country preform controlled burns. This is one thing Yosemite National Park did to not allow the fire to grow or spread as fast.

    2) Do a quick search on google and find another disaster event that involved social media – briefly describe whether social media was a good source of information or was involved in spreading fear through untrue reporting.
    Social media can be a blessing, but it can also hinder responses to disaster with an overflow of inaccurate information. “Studies show that outdated, inaccurate or false information has been disseminated via social media forums during disasters, the report said. In some cases, the location of the hazard or threat was inaccurately reported, or, in the case of the Japanese tsunami, some requests for help were retweeted repeatedly even after victims are rescued” (Lipowicz, 2011). Social media can both hinder and help officials when a disaster strikes. As we saw social media during the Japanese tsunami hindered response efforts. Another example would be the recent tsunami warning in Alaska. I first found out about this through an emergency management website I follow on social media. This avenue warning and informing the public can reach millions in just minutes. There is still a lot to learn as to how we can responsibility use or limit social media during disasters.

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