A couple more fire articles – costs and solutions

One is an Associated Press overview of the firefighting cost issue.  It’s not research, but it is the way the problem is viewed by many people.  Here is why they say costs are going up:

The U.S. is seeing more and bigger wildfires, and the wildfire season is getting longer. The reasons are hotter, drier weather and a buildup of dead and dying trees because of past fire-suppression practices, said Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates firefighting nationwide.

The old practice of putting out all fires led to overgrown forests, some with huge tracts of trees that died at about the same time, leaving them prone to large, hot, fast-moving blazes, researchers say.

Some climate and forestry experts say global warming is a factor in the increasing number of fires because it’s contributing to the hot, dry weather.

Jones said another development driving up costs is the increasing number of homes being built in or near forests, a number that the Forest Service estimates is about 43 million homes. Keeping fires away from people, houses, power lines and other infrastructure is more complicated and costly than firefighting in the wilds.

I noticed the absence of “not enough thinning” or “serial litigants.”  Although there’s allusions to both in the last paragraph on legislative solutions (even though they’re not described as a cause):

But one also calls on the Forest Service to manage its woodlands more actively, including thinning dense stands of trees and removing dead trees in an effort to reduce fires. Some argue that pushing management practices is unnecessary and ineffective.

The other features Stephen Pyne discussing what “let it burn” means today in Arizona.  The title:  “Nature is clearing more forest than people can. That may be a good thing.”

It’s complicated, but the gist is this: When lightning-caused fires do not threaten homes, let them burn. That’s an overgeneralization for an approach that takes many factors into consideration such as burn scares from previous fires, weather, drought, fuel, resources, firefighter safety and nearby communities.

Firefighters are frequently “going to managed wildfire, or a box and burn strategy,” Pyne said. Roads, trails and other barriers serve as fire lines. Those lines are the box. The burn clears brush within them. Each box cleared is less likely to be part of a giant fire in the future.

“You’re not just walking away and letting it go,” Pyne said.  The strategy is not new — it has quietly been going on for years, said Zabinski.  “It’s happening quietly all around, but more so the last few years,” she said, because the recent years have brought some drought relief.

The strategy is not without risks because “nature’s complicated. People make mistakes. Things happen,” Pyne said. But without it, “we’ll be playing Whac-A-Mole into the indefinite future. And we’re not going to win.”

 

10 Comments

  1. It would seem prudent for fire managers to read the writing on the wall, and change the tactics now in use, be it “let it burn” or “big box”.
    Public perception is taking a pretty obvious U turn. Since there has been so many blaming it on climate change on the left, while the right blames the larger fires on the lack of management, the solution will have to include both. Since politicians have rallied around fixing fire funding, with a split between needing more spending and where the funding should come from.
    With the most recent disaster in California, with more to be added to the death toll an almost guarantee, there will be a heightened awareness that will most definitely lead to questions of what the real problems are. What will come out are there is an increased fuel loading from previous fire suppression, but more important is that not aggressively suppressing wildfires can have a deadly and very destructive consequence.
    Just think if the federal government aggressively fought wildfires, probably cutting expenses in half. We would have a billion dollars to fund prescribed burns or as previously put – The right fire in the right place.

    • “Since there has been so many blaming it on climate change on the left, while the right blames the larger fires on the lack of management, the solution will have to include both.” INDEED!

      Here is a perfect example of how homes are not meeting fire safety laws. This home is currently about a half mile from the Nuns Fire

      https://www.google.com/maps/@38.4620005,-122.6057034,71m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

      There are two options that could come into play. I do think that a third-party system of fuels work could be a partial solution to make sure homes are fire-safe. There are ways of making such a system corruption-proof. Or, if a private landowner signs a release, then their home would not have to meet the fire safety laws, and CalFire would not be defending their home, under any circumstances. Of course, their insurance company would also have to be notified of the decision to waive their fire protection, in favor of shade trees and ‘nature’. I just think that firefighters should not be risking their lives to save a home that doesn’t meet the fire safety laws. Especially a fancy mansion, nestled in the midst of highly-flammable forests (note the digger pines with the orange-ish needles)

  2. Again, we see no mention of human-caused firestorms resulting in the huge wildfire costs. (See Rim Fire, King Fire and Soberanes Fire)

    “Keeping fires away from people, houses, power lines and other infrastructure is more complicated and costly than firefighting in the wilds.” Well, what OTHER OPTIONS do we have?!?!?!? This is an argument with no other solution. We keep seeing the same old whining about what people do with their own lands, and blaming them for what happens on Forest Service lands. Does anyone REALLY think that we can reduce costs by letting fires burn? Turning $6000 lightning fires into ultra-costly firestorms is just not a rational idea.

  3. There were homes lost on the Chetco Bar Fire that had been “adequately” cleared to meet WUI grant requirements. Apparently the annual east wind events didn’t understand the obligation to not burn the “fire safe” homes.
    Of course had there been aggressive suppression for 40 days prior to the east wind event, there likely would still be 26 structures and 25,000 acres of private land still unburnt….. or maybe just aggressive fire suppression for 10 days following the July 12 discovery of the 1/4 acre lightning fire.

    • Yep, and the teams’ General Managers are more than happy to keep spending budget money by lighting it on fire and throwing it down a hole, because they don’t agree on solutions. Some people are supporting the idea of continuing this practice, solely because of partisan politics, on both sides.

      Yep, let’s make gridlock GREAT again!!!

      GO, TEAM, GO!!!!!

    • Actually, some of us “quarterbacks” have been trying to change the tactics thru political channels and on the ground for 15 years, as this failed change in tactics has taken hold. I finally refused to do Federal fires, even though I was very well compensated, because of the blatant waste of money and excessive amounts of additional acreage burnt thru “control” measures after weeks of prep work miles from the actual fire. .
      Figuring out what will happen now is like going to a Globe Trotters game and trying to figure out who will win, yet here we are with people still betting on the host team for a win.

  4. I find it hard to agree with any of Jones assessments. Just sounds like a bunch of excuses for burning up our forests. I am beginning to think that it might be better to just let it burn then continue with the fire “suppression'” tactics the FS currently uses.
    Of course it would be best to really try and put the fires out and put this accumulated biomass to work for us, like intelligent humans.
    We need some real change, not more money for fighting fires, but more funds for real forests stewards.

  5. Working in Northern California last week, it is amazing to see the WUI infernos waiting to happen with the lack of defensible space around homes, and, in many cases, around CalFire stations, rural fire stations, and Forest Service offices and work centers. Those latter four should be setting the example, and they are not. Many homes in some rural areas have driveways that are firetraps as well. the amount of fire that has occurred along Hat Creek in northern California since I last drove through there about 10 years ago is sobering.

  6. There is no doubt that there is more that needs done by landowners. There is also no doubt that the tactic of letting a wildfire burn has got to stop. Agencies need to have money for prescribed burning instead of using wildfire to accomplish acreage, then finding out that Mother Nature is going to throw a curve after the fire is too large to stop.

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