Tuesday, July 28, 2015

New Approach to Fighting Fire

Commissary Fire. Source: USFS.

Stephen Pyne, professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, considers the historical fire and land management contributions to the current situation on our landscapes in the West and offers a strategy of resilience which seeks to make the best of the hand we are being dealt.

From his article:

Resistance. Fire suppression continues to thrive because there are fires we need to stop, but the strategy has also reinvented itself from simple firefighting to an all-hazard emergency service model that effectively looks like an urban fire department in the woods. This makes sense in places defined by urban sprawl, but it's expensive, and it has not shown it can manage fire. If the strategy retains the strengths of fire suppression, it also magnifies suppression's weaknesses.

Restoration. Restoration’s ambition is to get ahead of the problem. Yet the vision has proved expensive and complicated. Federal, state, and local jurisdictions are all involved with many projects. Before controlled fire can, in fact, be controlled, there often need to be expensive pretreatments like forest thinning. Emissions from long-burning fire can linger, causing other problems. Between the financial, political, and social costs, there is little reason to believe that the country will muster the will to rehabilitate, at the rate or scale required, the tens of millions of acres believed by the Forest Service, Nature Conservancy, and the Government Accountability Office to be out of whack. Probably the best we can hope for is to shield high-value locales like exurbs and municipal watersheds.

Resilience. A new strategy from the West accepts that we are unlikely to get ahead of the problems coming at us. Instead of attempting to directly control burns, it confines and contains outbreaks. Of course there are some fires that simply bolt away from the moment of ignition, and there are some that must be attacked instantly because they threaten people or critical sites. But many fires offer opportunities to back off and burn out. These are not let-burns. Rather, fire officers concentrate their efforts at point protection where assets are most valuable. Elsewhere they will try to pick places—draw boxes—which they can hold with minimum expenses, risks, and damages. Some patches will burn more severely than we would like, and some will barely burn at all, but the rest will likely burn within a range of tolerance. Such burnouts may well be the West’s alternative to prescribed fire on the Southeastern model or to unrestrained wildfire.
Click on the article link above for more. 

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