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Report: Fire Lines Created By Dozers Were Ineffective in Carr Fire

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Dozer lines attempted to save a large cluster of clear-cut timber plantations but failed to stop the fire.  (Courtesy of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology)

A new report by a firefighting group contends that the fire lines created by bulldozers have become increasingly ineffective in stopping the spread of wildfires.

The report focused on the 2018 Carr Fire in Redding, which killed eight people, including three firefighters and a bulldozer operator. Another driver suffered severe injuries.

The dozer lines used in the firefighting effort were supposed to contain the massive wildfire. But the report by firefighter advocacy group Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology (FUSEE) found that most of these lines didn’t do the job.

Dozer lines are cleared areas bulldozed around the perimeter of wildfires. They're designed to create firebreaks and help contain wildland blazes.

The report said that strong winds pushed flames beyond the threshold, or lines were carved into the wrong areas. It added that these lines are sometimes not only ineffective but also dangerous, and that bulldozer operators often risk their lives in futile attempts to stop wildfires.


FUSEE executive director and former firefighter Timothy Ingalsbee said fire officials need to consider safer, more effective options.

“[We] really need to change our strategy from this reactive, warlike assault on fires and concentrate on where it really matters,” he said.

Ingalsbee said fire officials need to focus their resources on residential communities while letting distant forests burn, since wildfire is part of the West’s natural ecology.

Lines that were plowed right to the lakeshore are now dumping sediment into the water. Note that the lake level was very low when this image was taken in fall 2018. (Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology)

He said wildfire preparedness could go a long way.

“Long before you get the first whiff of smoke, you need to harden the home and reduce its ignitability,” Ingalsbee said. “You also prepare the community with infrastructure: emergency communications, evacuation routes, community fire or smoke shelters. Get that set up way ahead of the fire.”

In the report, Ingalsbee wrote that dozer lines are ineffective because of today’s landscape of overgrown forests, rampant droughts and extreme weather events. He said they are essentially linear clear-cuts that fragment forest habitats, damage Native American artifacts and create “ghost roads” for illegal off-road vehicles.

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