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Wildfires

Firemen in Wildfire - USA-Focus.org

“I’ll be a personal guide to them, I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take, …” (Isaiah 42 – The Message translation of the Bible)

FOUNDING FATHERS’ PERSPECTIVE

“… as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered … institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.” (Thomas Jefferson)

FACTS

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” (John Adams)

◊ In the past 25 years, the annual number of large wildfires has almost doubled, and the length of fire season has increased 40%.
Union of Concerned Scientists. “Western Wildfires and Climate Change”

◊ Wildfires are getting larger and causing more damage: currently costing over $3 billion per year, which is triple the cost of 25 years ago.
Headwaters Economics. 6/13. “The rising cost of wildfire protection”

◊ 85-90% of the wildfires are caused by human beings, but 20% or less of these are due to arson. The majority of wildfires result from careless actions like untended campfires, burning debris, cigarettes, and heat/sparks from machinery.
National Park Service Fire and Aviation Management. “Wildfire Causes” 

◊ Sensationalized media reporting of wildfires inaccurately shapes public opinion about them, ignoring the real story of wildland fires and the fire history and recovery rates of different ecological systems. Media stories emphasize hype and hysteria, and the scientific facts about the fire usually go unreported.
National Park Service Fire and Aviation Management. “Reporting the blazes”
Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology, 9/2007. Ingalsbee, Timothy. “A Reporter’s Guide to Wildland Fire”

◊ Suppressing wildfires that don’t threaten structures rather than controlling them and allowing them to burn up accumulated undergrowth, has been an accepted practice for over 100 years. However, it increases the accumulation of forest fuel, so that when fires DO break out in those areas, they become much worse.

◊ This counter-productive policy continues because Congress gives far more funding to the US Forest Service to do fire suppression (the way that doesn’t work), than it gives them to do fire prevention (the way that DOES work).
Vox Energy and Environment, 9/17/15. Plumer, Brad. “There’s a better way to tame large forest fires – so why don’t we do it?”

◊ A variety of fire prevention methods are needed. Fire prevention methods that work in forests (thinning trees) do NOT work in chaparral areas like California. Thinning chaparral removes fire resistant native plants, encourages the growth of non-native flammable grasses, and makes areas MORE prone to large fires.
Live Science, 1/14/13. Oskin, Becky. “Fighting Fires – You’re doing it wrong”

◊ An amendment to a current fire-funding law (S.508) was proposed in the Senate by John McCain. It would greatly increase the funding for wildfire prevention, which is considered the best way to reduce wildfires. The bill has been stalled in Congress since February 2015.
Congress.Gov. “Flame Act Amendment of 2015”
Men’s Journal, 6/16/15. Krogh, Ryan. “How America is wasting money and lives to fight wildfires”

SUMMARY
The current trend of hotter, drier weather, combined with growing population density in high-risk fire areas, has created more potential situations for wildfires. A handful of common sense steps could greatly reduce fire risk. The most proven methods for reducing large wildfires (thinning forests, saving fire-resistant native plants in chaparral areas, and controlled burns) are not widely practiced because the federal government continues to primarily fund suppression rather than prevention.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION

Increased housing development in high-risk fire areas necessitates tighter fire laws. For example, creating much wider fire breaks around structures, and planting those fire breaks with fire-resistant native plants rather than grasses. Fire prevention strategies need to be adapted to match the eco-system of the areas being protected. Maintaining, rather than removing chaparral would be a step in the right direction. The risks of controlled burns need to be put into perspective with the much greater risks of allowing decades of extra forest fuel to accumulate. The McCain Senate bill S.508 needs to be approved so that the US Forest Service will be able to fund more fire prevention. The federal government should begin a nationwide dialogue with the media: educating them about fire science, and communicating to them their responsibility in providing factual, rather than sensationalized reporting.

Brief #11A – July 26, 2016

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