These two fatal fires that are still spreading have over 7,100 personnel working to put them out. Today, nationally, 24,641 are assigned to wildland fires according to the July 29 National Situation Report, including 584 hand crews and 1,689 fire engines. These are very high numbers that have not been reached very often.
There are risks associated with wildland fires, and the more people taking those risks, almost 25,000 today, the more likely it is that fatalities will occur. Struggling to knock down huge weather and fuel-driven fires, or having people assigned for months to a fire that is being managed with a less than full suppression strategy, exacerbates the situation, exposing more firefighters for longer periods of time.
Firefighters on the Carr Fire near Redding, an area very familiar with wildland fire, are saying that during the current drought and extreme heat, the fire has been spreading without regard to what’s in front of it.
Below is an excerpt from an article at KTVU about the Carr Fire:
“We’re not fighting a fire,” said Jonathan Cox, battalion chief with Cal Fire. “We’re trying to move people out of the path of it because it is now deadly, and it is now moving at speeds and in ways we have not seen before in this area.”
Carr Fire Unified Incident Commander Chief Brett Gouvea said, “This fire is extremely dangerous and moving with no regard to what’s in its path.” Homes, businesses and tens-of-thousands of acres reduced to rubble and ash.
Mark Brunton with CAL FIRE said, “We’ve seen rates of spread, which means the movement of the fire, that are unprecedented. They’re record-breaking.” And continuing to force families to evacuate.
It is too early to say if what we are seeing on fires this year and this decade is the new normal. But maybe it is time to step back and see how the current climate affects the management practices we are using. Are the long term decisions made 10 years ago still viable today? Are we suppressing or managing every fire the best way? At the rate we are using let burn (or less than full suppression) strategies, will we ever treat enough land to make a difference in the long run? Do we have enough funding and firefighters for let burn fires which can linger on for months? Oddly, the National Situation Report does not include any meaningful data about these less than full suppression fires (how I hate that term!), only that there are 39 of them on July 29.