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Our view: Fighting fire with fire

Posted: March 24, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 24, 2013 2:00 a.m.

A recent announcement by the U.S. Forest Service about altering its approach to fighting fires has caught our attention albeit for reasons different than theirs.

Instead of aggressively attacking every fire in terms of full suppression the Forest Service will let fires in certain areas and situations burn. In 2012 the Forest Service overspent its budget by $400 million using the more aggressive approach.

Forest fires have always posed a danger in the Santa Clarita Valley especially for those who live in the rural areas or on the fringes of suburban development.  It is one of the off-sets to the joys of residing in these environments.

Santa Ana winds and mature fuel have been a devastating combination in the forest fires that have caused much destruction in the valley. The hot dry Santa Anas are a factor that is out of our control. The maturity of the brush that fuels these horrendous wildfires is a factor that we can influence.

We think that an important element in managing the National Forest includes managing the destructive potential of the forest as a fuel for out of control forest fires.  Fire has always been an important part of the ecology of the region.  Before the settlers came west the Indians and the Mexicans periodically used fire to maintain a healthy ecosystem for livestock, wildlife and plant food source. Periodic burning would keep the fuel from getting too mature and creating fires that literally scorched the earth and inhibited healthy and useful regrowth.

It may sound counter-intuitive to say that prescribed burns up to a certain boundary in unpopulated areas keep us safer but they do.  Fuel that is too mature creates fires that can be literally too hot to put out and when they roar into developed communities cause significant destruction and tragedy.

We support the U.S. Forest Service emphasizing change from all-out suppression to responsible fire and fuel management not because of the cost but because in the long run it makes us all safer.  We appreciate that the L.A. County Fire Department remains more suppression oriented because that is their primary mission within their jurisdiction but they should have a role in prescribed burns as well.

We suspect that the reduction in prescribed burns using established science is more of a function of lawyers and litigation than it is of intentional changes in responsible public policy regarding forest fires. We would support legislation to create a better balance in the opportunity and use of prescribed burns.


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