Seeking Coverage of All-of-the-Above “Living with Fire” Strategies

With or without figuring out what proportion of climate change is caused by which aspect of human activity (CO2, land use changes, particulates and so on), destructive wildfires (forest, shrub, grass)  are happening today, and likely to increase into the future.  Each area of the US is different, though, Minnesota is not New Hampshire and Florida is not New Mexico.  So each area has to find its own way.  Still, there are discussions we can have in common.

As we’ve talked about before in our discussion of fire “worseness”, we don’t really have to calibrate how much worse fires are than they used to be to simply say “wildfires can be damaging to people, infrastructure, watersheds, and wildlife, yet fire is part of our landscapes. How can we jointly best deal with it.?”

Below are some problems and some possible solutions that folks have identified, and who is responsible for discovering and implementing the solutions:

(1) Worse fire weather, longer fire seasons, long-term fuels build-up: better suppression technology, more bucks for suppression, better models of fire behavior, (fire suppression organizations, fuels specialists, technology development folks and fire scientists)

  • mechanical fuel treatments, prescribed burning and wildland fire use are all part of changing fire behavior such that suppression can be easier.* For people to be comfortable with PB and WFU requires confidence in suppression if things go awry, which tracks back to improving suppression.

(2) More people living in fire prone areas – better access for evacuation, better warning systems, better planning of subdivisions, plus upgrades to existing ones.  (County planning and zoning, emergency services, Firewise, CWPPs, insurance companies, technology developers for fire proofing homes and other infrastructure, homeowners)

(3) More human-caused ignitions- (education, law enforcement).

(4) Human-caused climate change (energy companies, industry, land use, agriculture, individual behavior….)

Please feel free to add any other problems, solutions, and who can develop and implement solutions. One thing that I’ve noticed from watching the press over the last year is that much time is spent on mechanical fuel treatments and climate change, and how relatively little time is spent on the other topics. Sometimes the experts quoted don’t have on-the-ground experience with any of the solutions.

I’ve also noticed that the idea that “people should just not move to places with wildland fire” seems to have been a bit changed by fires hitting towns like Santa Rosa, Malibu and Paradise.  One of the reasons it appears that people move to the shrublands of southern California is a lack of affordable housing closer to the center of town. If population increases, and you don’t densify existing areas, people have to go somewhere.  It may be wooded areas, it may be shrubby areas, or even grassy areas. Many people don’t want to live in a dense environment and many cities can’t just decide to densify without substantial pushback.

When I think about “Living With Fire” this way, and the press coverage, I generally think of two things. First, how much is occupied by the relatively tiny discussion over mechanical fuel treatment (not helped by Presidential tweets)? How much of this is an artifact of previous debates and discussion about public lands? How much of this is fitting a complex problem into a good guy-bad guy narrative? Most of the more complex stories I’ve read have been in local papers.

The second thing I’ve noticed is how few articles I’ve seen on what people are doing to work on better suppression technologies, emergency communications, planning and zoning, and so on.  So I am going to try to highlight examples I’ve found in the next few postsand I encourage you to send me links to ones you’ve found, or post in the comments below. I will also highlight some examples of stories that suggest people are not all that far apart on the mechanical treatment debate.





10 thoughts on “Seeking Coverage of All-of-the-Above “Living with Fire” Strategies”

  1. I couldn’t help but noticed this tweet today from the National Fire Protection Association and FireWise USA, two groups who have done great work to educate – and inspire – homeowners and communities to take action to develop defensible space and establish FireWise practices.

    While the states of Montana, Idaho and Utah are among the national leaders in regards to politicians blaming wildfires on “environmental extremists,” when it comes to actual FireWise communities, they lag waaaaaay behind.

  2. Actually Firewise has its own (excellent) mapping system that you can look at across states which might give a different impression. Here’s a link. You can plot them with wildfire risk as I did

    It actually appears that there’s quite a few in Utah relative to fire risk. The big surprise for me was Arkansas.

    There are various social science studies on why communities do or do not sign up for Firewise, e.g.,
    Here’s one that studies a city in Idaho from Journal of Forestry:
    There’s probably a literature review out there somewhere.

    • Yes, the Firewise website and mapping system is pretty cool. I didn’t check Utah and Idaho, but Montana had zero new Firewise communities in 2018.

      I also think Utah has a pretty darn high fire risk in general, has a fair number of people and homes in the Wildland-Urban Interface and is regularly in the top 5 for total acres burned by wildfires annually.

      My point still holds. People like Senator Steve Daines and our convicted, body-slamming, reporter assailant (Rep Greg Gianforte) pretty much blame environmentalists for wildfires every single chance they get. However, I can’t think of one time where they have help educate their Montana constituents about basic, Firewise steps all homeowners can and must take to protect their homes and help ensure firefighter safety.

        • Yes, that was the case in 2017.

          This past year, 2018, nearly 500,000 acres burned in Utah, which put them in the Top 6. And in 2012, 415,267 acres burned in Utah, which put them in the Top 6.

          In retrospect I should not have said “top 5,” however, I will stick with the fact that Utah has a pretty darn high fire risk in general, has a fair number of people and homes in the Wildland-Urban Interface and regularly has large wildfires…which Utah politicians regularly blame on environmentalists.

      • While I think that FireWise can help in educating the public I wonder what it really takes to be a ‘Firewise’ community. Paradise is on that list of ‘Firewise’ communities and had a designated ‘Firewise’ office in there downtown…

      • There seems to not be a lot of excess timber, at least in southern Utah. I have seen plenty of fuels work done in lower elevation brushy juniper areas. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was ‘chaining’, as the cleared areas are currently grassy. The higher elevations, in the Dixie NF, had extreme mortality, with some limited salvage, it seems. Much of the mortality decayed rather rapidly. That fire near Brian Head, a few years ago covered a lot of acres but, intensity was spotty, to be honest.

  3. The initial Camp Fire ignition point was about 9 miles away from Paradise. The ignition point for the Tubbs Fire was at least 12 miles from Santa Rosa. Both fires had ample unmitigated fuels, which undoubtedly led to enhanced fire intensity. Since both areas were mostly private lands, governmental Agencies should not be blamed for the severe damages. Additionally, you cannot use these fires to block actions on public lands.

    Pretending that fuels work, including thinning projects, on public lands, is not needed outside of one mile just isn’t a good idea. Some people think that a tiny WUI is better than a larger management zone. Fuels projects, including shaded fuelbreaks in strategic spots should be allowed and encouraged. We need to heed the lessons of the major fires of the last 10 years, instead of pretending that human-caused fires are “natural and beneficial”.


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