The video below about how the media covers fires features professors from Whitman College and Oregon State University.
They talk about the myth of how after a disaster there are often reports of widespread social upheaval and discontent, which may not be accurate. And the media, they said, tends to concentrate on the singular focus of damage and short term effects.
When a wildfire occurs, obviously what you will see or read on the news will be the immediate effects, especially on populations near the fire. You will hear about homes burned, structures threatened, roads closed, people that have been injured or killed, and evacuations. And all that is appropriate as the incident develops.
The media also has a responsibility during the event to help spread information that can save lives. Too often we hear how government systems that are supposed to warn residents about an approaching fire have not been effective, were used improperly or not at all.
There may be examples of media outlets that exaggerate or hype the emergency to get ratings, but when covering fires most respected media organizations do their best to provide accurate information as quickly as possible. (Unlike the political reporting we see.) But we should keep in mind that breaking news may not be accurate news.
There are other aspects of fires that could be covered more throughly such as fire ecology, fire dependent ecosystems, “normal” fire return intervals, fuel management, prescribed fire, and the physical and mental health risk firefighters experience. Plus, of course, the five things that are the responsibility of homeowners and state and local governments to make structures and communities more resilient — so they can live with fire.
The media sometimes reports on the costs of suppressing a fire, but that is only about nine percent of the real long term cost, according to a study by Headwaters Economics. Those additional expenses may be missed by the casual observer or consumer of news.
Additional costs can include:
- Short and long term landscape rehabilitation
- Lost business and tax revenues
- Home and property loss
- Depreciated property values
- Property, energy, and infrastructure repairs
- Degraded ecosystem services
- Aid relief and evacuation