Wildfire news, July 22, 2008

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Total suppression or defensible space?

An article in the Red Orbit discusses the effectiveness of suppressing every wildland fire vs. preparing homes to withstand a frontal assault from a fire.

More provocatively, the research suggests that fighting fires on public lands to protect homes is ineffective and, in the long run, counterproductive.

It is also far more expensive.

This is the paradox of wildland fire management in America: Most scientists and fire managers agree that fire is a healthy and needed part of the forest, and that fighting these blazes serves only to build up fuels and boost the size and frequency of catastrophic fires.

But federal agencies keep attacking almost every wildfire, many deep in the woods, and the rising costs of suppression divert money from protecting homes and communities _ which can be saved with the right, often inexpensive, measures.

The result: Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on what most experts agree is the wrong approach. The lives of firefighters are put in danger on fires that don’t need to be fought. And homes are left vulnerable, their fate often decided by wind direction and the availability of federal firefighters to protect private property.

Railroad to pay $102 million for fire

The Union Pacific Railroad Company has agreed to pay $102 million for starting a fire north of Sacramento in 2000 that burned 52,000 acres of the Lassen and Plumas national forests. The government was seeking damages of $190 million, but a settlement of $102 million still sets a new record for the largest damage recovery for a wildfire by the U.S. Forest Service.

Sparks from welders repairing tracks caused the Storrie Fire on August 17, 2000, in Plumas County. The suppression costs were estimated at $22 million. A judge said the government could seek more than $13 million for “damage to wildlife habitat and public enjoyment of the forest,” as much as $33 million to plant new trees, and $122 million in lost timber. More information is HERE.

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