Are fire managers too passive?

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The Redding Searchlight in California has an article that addresses an issue that has been discussed in back rooms for years–are fire managers aggressive enough in suppressing fires?  Or, too aggressive?

Here is an excerpt from the article:


While people with opposing points of view about wildfire issues in the north state agree that homes threatened by flames should be saved, they disagree about the level at which fire should be fought in the wildland.

At the crux of most any debate about wildfire suppression is the question of how aggressively to attack — when should firefighters hit fires with everything available, and when should they let them burn. The issue is complex, with firefighter safety, threats to life or property and potential benefits of fire for the land all taken into consideration by the agencies fighting the flames.

Let it burn

Fighting fire in the back country is simply a waste of money, said Doug Bevington, forest program manager for Santa Monica-based conservation group Environment Now. “The irony of this, especially at this time of budget crisis, is we spend hundreds of millions of dollars suppressing wildfire,” he said.

He said there is a deficit of wildfire in the north state’s forests and if fires are not threatening life or structures, they should be allowed to burn.

While it doesn’t simply let fires burn, the U.S. Forest Service in recent decades has stepped back from aggressive suppression and moved to fire management when the blazes burn in areas away from communities, said Arlen Cravens, the fire management officer for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

“We recognize that fire is not all bad,” said

He said anything that reduces fuel — woody debris ready to burn — and helps return the landscape to a fire cycle is beneficial for forests. The aggressive suppression efforts of the past had disrupted this cycle, Cravens said, priming the woods for more intense burns. “We’ve basically removed fire from the natural ecological process,” he said.

But there are critics to the Forest Service’s new approach.

Call for change

Since last fall a group of former Forest Service and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection fire officials in the north state have been writing to and meeting with lawmakers.

The nine-member Concerned Citizens for Responsible Fire Management contends that firefighting efforts aren’t as effective as they used to be.

Their critiques are pointed at the Forest Service in particular. David Rhodes of Lewiston — who worked for the Forest Service for 30 years, all in jobs involving fire — said the federal agency takes too many precautions now. And that allows fires that could have been stopped when they were small to grow big, he said.

“We are trying to get them back to fighting fire instead of sitting on their hands and saying it’s too dangerous,” said Rhodes, committee chairman for the citizens group.

Rhodes said the group has gone to lawmakers with their concerns because decisions on the changes they propose must come from top firefighting bureaucrats.



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