The Carr Fire near Redding in Northern California and other recent wildfires like the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa demonstrate the danger of wildfire to property and human lives. But what practical approaches can we adopt individually and collectively to decrease the threat of wildfires?
Progressive Fire Management
I attended the excellent talk “Progressive Fire Management” August 9 at Northwest Nature Shop in Ashland, Oregon. It was delivered by Richard Fairbanks, who has 30 years of experience working in fire management, much of that with the Forest Service. Richard discussed key wildfire management events in Southern Oregon and Northern California, with a strong focus on practical solutions to minimizing future wildfire risk to humans and property.
My Main Takeaways from the Presentation
I am not an expert on this subject! But, like most people living in California, Oregon, and the western United States, I am very concerned about the risks of runaway wildfires actually burning our towns and killing people, as they have done in 2018 with the Carr Fire and in 2017 with the Sonoma County fires, and, of course, in many other instances.
I’m sharing these main points as a way to get us all thinking about practical steps we can take now to deal with the situation. I’m not giving details, since specifics of each step are covered in-depth in many other places online and in print.
Wildfires: Be More Proactive and Less Reactive
Public forests and private forests need to be managed and treated to decrease the probability of major wildfires and accompanying smoky conditions that last for weeks. This includes lands managed by major federal agencies like the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the large holdings of private timber companies, and the small portions of forests owned by private individuals.
Use the Science and Fund the Science
Smart people with both theoretical knowledge and practical experience have been studying forest ecology and wildfires for decades. Let’s make full use of what they know, and let’s also make sure they have adequate funding to continue their research.
Guide Movement of Wildfires
Keep them away from high-value structures and areas and help them burn in low-intensity environments that contribute to long-term forest health. One key suggestion from the talk involves preparing existing forest roads as future fire breaks by selective logging and fuel reduction.
Change Zoning Laws
As populations grow and expand into forests and wild areas, more and more homes become vulnerable to fire. Many good zoning laws are on the books in some states, but more needs to be done to minimize and prevent the destruction of houses, outbuildings, and commercial property. This includes using fire resistant building materials and making good landscaping choices near all buildings.
Reduce Fire Fuels
This is crucial to minimize risk, especially near communities. Landowners can safely do this on their own properties, and government agencies need to do much more of it in forests near towns and cities, and beyond.
None of us like to see the smoke from controlled burns in fall, winter, and spring, but these low-intensity fires remove much of the fuel that can feed summer conflagrations. Controlled burns should happen on days with unstable air when smoke will rise high in the atmosphere and away from our lungs. The National Weather Service is usually able to give good predictions of unstable air.
Increased Number of Firefighters and More Equipment
More firefighters and more equipment means we can slow the spread of large wildfires and decrease their impacts on humans. We also need more year-round firefighters, given that climate change has led to a much longer season due to higher temperatures and decreased soil moisture.
The Need for Cooperation and Compromise
This is my view. Let’s minimize the intrusion of politics in finding the best ways to reduce the destructive effects of wildfires. Let’s focus on on science-based and practical solutions that can gain enough support to actually be enacted. This means environmentalists will not get all that they want, and it means conservatives will have to deal with increased government spending and increased regulations.
I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.