Support wildland firefighters: End the war on wildfire

Photo courtesy of Brett Cole

Many people greatly appreciate wildland firefighters for their efforts to protect lives and homes during wildfires, but supporting bad fire management policies is NOT the way to show your support for firefighters.

Fire management policies that are focused on reactive wildfire suppression are not in the best interests of wildland firefighters, communities, or natural ecosystems. Most forests, shrublands, and grasslands in North America have evolved with fire playing a vital role in maintaining ecological integrity and biological diversity in those ecosystems. The legacy of fire suppression has caused enormous harm to many ecosystems and native species that depend on recurring fires. We need new fire management policies that focus on helping communities safely coexist with fire-dependent ecosystems, rather than trying to suppress all fires in remote wildlands. Politicians who want to double down on the flawed and failing attempt to suppress all wildfires by spending billions of tax dollars to increase firefighting efforts are paradoxically putting both firefighters and the public at greater risk. 

The problems with the old approach have been on display in California this year. Resources have been squandered and firefighters’ lives put in unnecessary danger when they have been deployed into remote wildlands where fire plays a vital ecological role. For example, two firefighters were killed while aggressively suppressing the Ferguson fire, which was burning toward Yosemite National Park. Yosemite has a long history of progressive fire management and was well-prepared to receive the approaching fire as a natural ecosystem process. 

Instead of the current approach of chasing all fires burning in remote wildlands—which has left fire crews physically exhausted and firefighting budgets almost completely spent before the California wildfire season is halfway through—it would be safer, less costly, and more effective to concentrate firefighters closer to communities and focus on protecting homes from igniting. 

Fighting fires in remote wildlands is massively expensive and is ineffective in protecting communities, whereas scientific research has revealed that the best means of protecting communities from wildfire damage is to reduce home ignitability factors. That means retrofitting homes with non-flammable materials, especially on rooftops, and reducing flammable materials and vegetation directly adjacent to homes. Rather than spending billions of dollars year after year fighting fires in remote wildlands, investing a fraction of that money in practical steps to make buildings fire-safe would be a more efficient and effective means of protecting communities, and would spare firefighters the unnecessary risks of trying to defend homes that are not properly prepared for a fire-prone environment. 

Ultimately, humans must relearn how to live safely and sustainably with wildland fire. The "war on wildfire" paradigm is obsolete and is causing great harm to society and the land--essentially it is a war on nature itself. This means that the mission of wildland firefighters must fundamentally change from fighting against fire to working with fire in ways that protect communities from fire while restoring ecosystems with fire.

Want to know the best way to "support the troops" of firefighters? End support for the misguided "war" on wildfire that has been fueled by bad fire management policies, and lend support to a new approach of ecological fire management that makes sense for firefighters, communities, ecosystems, and taxpayers.

Last updated September 20, 2018

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