Here is a link to an High Country News piece by John Maclean.
The headline is a bit overwrought in my opinion. But perhaps that’s the job of headline writers. In recent phone calls around the country, I’m also hearing about forest fires and homes elsewhere than in the west..
Here are some excerpts:
We need to encourage firefighters to exercise more caution, even when homes are at stake. Let the fires that are riskiest for firefighters burn. And assure the firefighters that the nation will have their backs when the inevitable complaints pour in.
Before I retired, there was a massive effort led by Chief Tidwell called the Safety Journey. Part of it was directed specifically at exactly that.. helping people become comfortable with saying “no” to unsafe conditions. Perhaps these efforts did not work and are not working. But it doesn’t sound like a policy question. The policy is not to endanger yourself.
Later, Maclean says:
Every firefighter like her who just says “No” needs support from the fire community and the public.
That was the point of the Safety Journey. If that’s not happening, I bet someone is studying why not. It would be good to hear from them.
Even with everything we hurl at the flames, Western states keep setting new records for homes lost and acreage burned. The federal government alone, not counting the state governments and other entities, has spent more than $3 billion per year on this war, on average since 2002, according to the Congressional Research Service. The U.S. Forest Service has tilted its budget toward preparedness and suppression, and the president’s 2014 budget calls for a 27 percent increase in the firefighting funding.
Meanwhile, budgets for fuels reduction — fire prevention — are cut, robbing the future to pay for the present. In the 2014 budget, for instance, fuels-reduction programs take a 37 percent hit, down to $201 million. The funding shift also reduces support for campground services, research projects, trail maintenance and other worthy — and popular — endeavors.
The prescribed burning and forest-thinning projects that fit within the budget are often stymied by environmental activists and locals complaining about smoke. Or severe fire risk interferes, as the prescribed-burning season grows ever shorter. Government agencies cannot catch up to the problem: There isn’t enough money or political will.
Even though safety practices have improved, each year between eight and 30 wildland firefighters are killed in the war (download one report here and another here covering a longer period.) It might not sound like a large number, but it takes a terrible toll in the families and the close-knit firefighting community. No one would be surprised if the toll rises. And regardless of the numbers, there’s a principle of homeowners taking responsibility.
It’s great that many homeowners are trying to make their homes more fire-resistant, but we need to tell them, we can no longer commit to saving their homes if their efforts fall short. They chose to live out there, and they — and their insurance companies — must accept the consequences.
I just read this piece in the Denver Post the Black Forest Fire this morning.
“Black Forest fire insurance claims nearing $300 million.” So at least in Colorado, folks are pretty aware of the consequences of fires burning.
At the end, he talks about letting his cabin burn. Once again, a cabin is not a subdivision. It seems like in many of these stories that are in the press, and op-eds, places like the Black Forest or Waldo Canyon are conflated with cabins or parcels deep in the woods.
If you are curious about the firefighter deaths statistics, here’s the paragraph in the report Macclean cites that describes the reasons for the fatalities:
Deaths on the Fire Ground
The breakdown of causes of fatal injuries on the fire ground is shown in Figure C. Thirty firefighters were killed in 20 fire department vehicle crashes during fire suppression activities, including 24 in 16 aircraft crashes. Nineteen of those 24 victims were contractors (mostly pilots) working for state and federal land management agencies. The others were employees of state and federal land management agencies.
Overexertion, stress and related medical issues accounted for the next largest proportion of deaths. Sudden cardiac death accounted for 25 of these 26 fatalities; one firefighter died of heat troke.
The third largest proportion of deaths during fire suppression activities occurred when firefighters were caught or trapped by fire progress (25 deaths). Seventeen of them died as a result of burns; eight died of asphyxiation.
Eleven firefighters were struck by objects — five by a tree or snag, three by vehicles, one by a rock, one by a section of an exploding storage tank and one by a rope that snapped while he was trying to tow a stuck apparatus at a wildfire.
Seven firefighters were electrocuted – five came into contact with downed power lines and two were struck by lightning.
Two firefighters fell from cliffs and two fell from apparatus during fire ground operations.