The US Forest Service, the nation’s primary firefighting agency, spent a record $1.72-B on firefighting in Y 2015.
More than 50% of the land burned in the US by wildfires last year was in Alaska, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates firefighting nationwide. Washington and Oregon accounted for 18%. California accounted for almost 9%.
The overall tab for wildfires, including prevention programs and the cost of putting crews, equipment and aircraft on fire lines, is consuming a growing share of the Forest Service budget. That has forced cuts in forestry research, campground and trail maintenance and other areas.
The Obama administration has been pressing Congress to pay the cost of fighting the worst fires from natural disaster funds, rather than the Forest Service budget. The largest 1 or 2% of wildfires account for about 30% of the costs.
The US Congress has not agreed to the change, however it did approve an additional $520-M for fighting fires during this 2016 season.
The Service says that climate change is making wildfires worse, heating up the air, drying out forests and extending the wildfire season by an average of 78 days since 1998.
A growing number of homes on the edges of the forests, which firefighters call the wildland-urban interface, also drives up costs by forcing managers to concentrate crews and equipment to protect communities.
Southern California also has the most urbanized mountain communities in the nation. The Inland Empire is home to part or all of the San Bernardino, Cleveland and Angeles National Forests.
It is notable that Deserts are not immune from wildfires.
A blaze that burned 1,400 acres this April along the Colorado River on San Bernardino County’s eastern border. And the Y 2003 Old Fire burned a path 30 miles wide out of the San Bernardino Mountains into San Bernardino and Highland.
A Cal Fire San Bernardino Unit Captain said that the thick, dry brush and chaparral that fueled the Y 20o3 Old Fire has returned.
“But now we’re experiencing the longest sustained drought we’ve seen in years,” she said. “Therefore, the fuels are thicker, drier and are susceptible to flare-up with the slightest ignition point.”
Sstate and federal agencies need to thin forests to a more natural state to prevent fires and make them easier to fight. Some researchers say decades of over-aggressive firefighting have left forests dense with living and dead trees and more prone to deadly mega-fires.
To drought-stricken Southern California and other parts of the West, this fire season is expected to be worse than in Y 2015.
America’s wildfire fighting efforts and techniques need huge improvements, the technology is available and should be readily adopted by federal, state and community governments to save lives, trees and property.
Be very careful traveling through, camping and day tripping in our National Forest this fire season.
Have a terrific week.
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