Our forest fires are going to keep getting worse if we can’t reform the way we fight fires.
Earlier this month, standing on a hill overlooking the Columbia River that runs between Oregon and Washington state, the view was stunning as always. But not in the usual way. The swiftly flowing water was barely visible through the thick smoke of the Eagle Creek Fire then decimating 30,000 acres. Ash floated in the air like gray snow.
As Americans monitor television reports and text alerts on Hurricane Maria, there’s little attention for the fires across the West that have spread the heart-racing scent of fire across 10 states. Today it feels like that smell permeates our home region more than ever in our lifetimes. It’s getting much worse. Most shouldn’t have happened.
While headlines screamed of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma ravaging coastal states, more than 8 million Western acres have been torched, leaving behind billions of dollars in economic damage. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Our nature-loving culture makes these fires worse over time. The big ones — nearly four dozen — are wind-driven, fast-moving and impossible to contain until wind subsides, then they burn themselves out. There is much we can do to transform catastrophic wildfire ecologies into non-catastrophic ones. It’s time to act.
Since weather patterns fueling wildfires and hurricanes typically occur in summer and early fall, hurricanes and fires often devastate simultaneously. While wildfire landscapes can be bigger, hurricanes get more attention by impacting heavily populated and media-heavy Eastern coastlines. Throw in life and private property losses that are exponentially worse — and it explains why hurricanes garner more news coverage. Hurricanes receive special federal disaster relief from wide-ranging state, local, individual and business assistance programs covered in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster policies. No such federal program exists to assist with catastrophic wildfire beyond the U.S. Forest Service’s budget.
Congress authorized about $120 billion in extra spending…