Losing Homes to Wildfire - a Sociopolitical Problem
Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Jack Cohen is a research physical fire scientist with the U.S. Forest Service. With four decades of experience, he is a preeminent expert on wildfire and home ignitions. In this interview he explains why he is convinced that the loss of homes to wildfire is as much a sociopolitical problem as it is a physical, on-the-ground problem.
"Wildland fires are inevitable. And without homeowner engagement, without their participation in mitigating the problem, firefighters can't be effective. It's continuing a problem to have my own agency, federal agencies in general, and most fire departments in this country that deal with wildland fire issues, not be telling people that by and large, under the conditions that destroy lots of houses, we can't deal with this without your participation. It's about taking responsibility for the condition of your house, before the fire, because nobody else can. And it's not just the material that the house is made of, it's the condition that lends itself to potential ignition. It's a big maintenance issue too.
Really, we need to be educating everybody who lives in (the WUI), or near it, or deals with it. Like Southern California, like Colorado Springs, like Denver. Everyone needs to be aware of how this problem works. Additionally, we're dealing with fire agencies that are very paternalistic and patriarchal. So it doesn't come naturally to involve homeowners. On the other hand, homeowners are expecting to be saved. As a society that has largely gone urbanized, we're more remote from dealing with fire on a personal basis - fewer people smoke, so people aren't even used to a book of matches catching on fire now." Read more from Cohen's interview here.