19 very brave and very talented firefighters died this past weekend. The Granite Mountain Hotshot crew was overtaken by a fire burning out of control in Yarnell AZ about 90 miles northwest of Phoenix.
The fire was started by a lightening strike on Friday and today (Tuesday) it has spread to 6000 acres or about 10 square miles. It was 0 percent contained as of this writing.
The problem is God or nature or whatever you believe in, has set up a system that works with forest fires burning off the dead trees and leaves every few years. That is how it has worked for as long as we have been on the planet. Then about 100 years ago we started fighting the forest fires. People began building their homes in the woods and we couldn't let them lose their homes. The cost of fighting those fires has risen steeply the past few decades. We have gone from spending 300 million annually back in the early 90's to 3 billion a year today. And that is after the 1995 decision to change the official US policy to "Wildland fire, as a critical natural process, must be reintroduced into the ecosystem.” Of course they fought fires that were getting near homes, and with homes everywhere these days that means they fought at some level, just about every fire. By not letting the fires burn the fuel for fires accumilated over the past 100 years, so that every fire we have now is far more explosive than any previous. Last year was the worst with over 10 million acres on fire!
Now it looked like it was going to be a bad summer so New Mexico Republican Steve Pearce took to the house floor to beg that our policy revert back to fighting all fires immedietly. He got his wish. An agency-wide memo sent June 25, 2012, by James Hubbard, the national deputy chief for state and private forestry, ordered an “aggressive initial attack” on fires in wilderness area managed by the Forest Service. In an interview, Hubbard said officials were concerned that one or more of the small fires in remote wilderness areas could burn out of control — consuming not just acres of forest, but also the agency’s already-depleted budget. And so they changed their policy and ended up needing Congress to cover 400 million they went over on their budget. Their plan failed.
The problem as I see it is that people just decide to build where they want to build and expect some protection from the government when nature does what it always does. I used to live on Long Island and the Hamptons is a beautiful area where a lot of mansions are built. There is a horrific flood every few years there and houses are destroyed. Most insurance companies no longer offer coverage and even the government is starting to recognize that it's uninsurable. It's beautiful, but houses shouldn't be there. Same with the middle of a forest. Build a log cabin or something you don't mind losing because every 5 to 10 years that thing is going to burn. Or build a town but clear cut several miles from the forest so the fire can't easily jump. We're spending billions to protect peoples property that shouldn't be there. And at the same time compounding the problem by letting the fuel build up so that eventually it explodes in to an unstopable inferno. We lost 19 brave men last weekend, because of this policy and we're bound to lose lots more unless we really fires burn.