Fighting Western wildfires: Does Forest Service have enough air power? (+video): Christian Science Monitor

Here’s the link.
Here’s an excerpt:

However, notes Mr. Gabbert, the large tankers play a critical role in the initial attack on fires. “If we had more tankers, we could avoid the tens of millions of dollars spent when small fires don’t get put out and they turn into mega-fires,” he says.

A complex mix of changing weather patterns and human behavior means that the need for a more robust air-tanker response is not a temporary or merely seasonal spike, says William Sommers, a 30-year US Forest Service veteran who also served as its director of Forest Fire and Atmospheric Sciences Research.

Tactical aircraft can be used to help protect particular resources at risk, he notes, adding via e-mail, however, that “the current fleet of aging aircraft is woefully inadequate in the face of increased climate- and fuels-driven fire regimes being experienced in many places around the globe – including the interior West of the US.”

The current severe fire situation is just another instance in a building trend driven by large-scale climate change, fuel buildup from years of fire suppressions, and drought, as well as increased home-building in previously wild areas, he notes.

“The only question from year to year is what particular area is going to be hardest hit and when will that occur,” he adds.

Dominik Kulakowski, assistant professor of geography and biology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., says that while resources may be adequate for fighting fires during more moderate climatic conditions, “they are insufficient for fighting fires during droughts that are as extreme as those we have been seeing in recent years.”

More tankers and other resources would certainly be helpful for fighting fires, but given the enormous area of forests in the Western US that could potentially burn, he says, “we should be thinking not only about how to extinguish fires after they start, but also how to address the underlying climatic conditions that are making these mega-fires possible.”

Lamont Norman, wildfire risk expert at Pitney Bowes Software, points out that this year is bringing the issue home because there is a significant additional wildfire risk caused by a large number of dead pine trees.

Western foresters are managing over 41 million acres of dead trees caused by the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation, he notes, adding via e-mail, “one of the reasons for this infestation is that years of wildfire suppression has caused growth of dense tree stands with weaker trees that cannot fight off the beetle.”

“The massive tree kill and dead tree density has turned Western wildfires into potential big fire events that can burn for weeks.”

Note from Sharon: I wonder why they picked these folks to interview for this piece. Why would you ask a professor from Worcester about western firefighting tactics? A software expert?

Leave a Comment