New approaches needed to fight super wildfires | Brunell

With Western States wildfires growing in size and destroying more homes, farms and businesses, there is a need for new tools and approaches. The infernos are spreading so fast they are outstripping our ability to fight them in traditional ways.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last November: “Over the course of just a few weeks, a major fire can pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than California’s many climate change programs can save in 12 months. Scientists debate whether California’s vast forests are emitting more carbon dioxide through fires than they absorb through plant growth.”

Last year, wildfires nationwide consumed 12,550 square miles, an area larger than Maryland. The federal government spent more than $2.7 billion on firefighting – a record that far surpassed the previous high point of $2.1 billion set in 2016.

In California last year, nearly 8,400 homes and structures were destroyed, killing at least 45 people including two firefighters. Estimates suggest that the final state toll will be more than $13 billion. Wildfires swept into heavily populated areas and accelerated so rapidly that residents barely had time to pack up and leave.

Those economic damages do not include the continued revenue losses to local merchants in rural fire impacted areas. For example, businesses in the Columbia River Gorge are stilling feeling the effects of the 48,000 acre fire last summer because many of the popular hiking trails are too dangerous to open.

One new tool is the converted jumbo jet. During the height of the Montana wildfires last summer, a DC-10 tanker was based at Helena’s regional airport and loaded with 10,000 gallons of retardant for each mission.

Now there is a 747 modified tanker which helped to douse fires in Chile and Israel. It has FAA certification, but needs U.S. Forest Service approval.

Last May, the agency said it would only give contracts to planes with a dispensing capacity of 3,000 to 5,000 gallons. The 747’s capacity is 19,000 gallons.

However, CalFire decided to use the 747 when massive fires burnt out of control near heavily populated areas surrounding San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Along with climate change, preventing and stopping mammoth wildfire is gathering lots of attention in Congress these days.

It is no longer just a rural issue. Dense choking smoke covered Seattle and Portland again last summer. It is not only an immediate health hazard to people and pets but add to greenhouse gases to our atmosphere.

People in cities are beginning to see the fire damage which increasingly threatens to clog our streams, rivers and lakes. Barren slopes are susceptible to erosion from heavy rains and rapidly melting snow.

Elected officials are revisiting the benefits of forest management tools such as logging, thinning, planting and forest roads. Some objectionable past practices are worth reconsidering. For example, planting trees on narrow shelves cut into the steep hillside can allow young seedlings to receive much needed moisture and slow erosion.

We cannot eradicate wildfires. They have been part of our ecology for thousands of year. When forests are tinder dry and strong hot winds blow, conditions are ripe for an extreme fire season such as in 2017.

We’ve learned a great deal about wildfires since the 1930s when we would send crews into remote on horseback with accompanying mule trains to fight fires. We now have an armada of aerial tankers available.

We also know a lot more about managing our forests. Hopefully, we can deploy our best eco-tools to help cleanse our air and water, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, and to convert C02 into life-giving oxygen. That means we need to think outside the box.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

More in Opinion

Does Sound Transit realize the consequences of this do-over?

Pass or fail, Initiative 976 is a reminder of what critics most dislike about the regional agency

Impeachment likely, removal not: President Pelosi?

Democratics are likely to impeach Trump, but Republicans are unlikely to convict him at trial.

A look at the races for the state’s 9 top jobs

Nine of the most powerful political jobs in Washington state will be… Continue reading

Amateurism must be maintained to preserve education-based sports

While we addressed a number of important issues with our member state… Continue reading

Turn america’s innovators lose on greenhouse gases

Assuming that reducing greenhouse gases are an ongoing challenge, we need government… Continue reading

King County Library System explores the artificial intelligence frontier

If asked for a show of hands in tech-savvy King County, many… Continue reading

Gov. Jay Inslee. REPORTER FILE PHOTO
Lawmakers to governor: How dare you mess with our budget

They want Jay Inslee to halt his planned $175 million reallocation of state transportation dollars

Give parents an Education Savings Account with $10,000 so children can learn phonics

By Liv Finne, Washington Policy Center, for the Auburn Reporter Teachers are… Continue reading

This political break-up couldn’t come at a worse time

As backers of I-1000 gear up, a legal spat involving others is casting a shadow on their efforts.

High school football is thriving, not dying

By Karissa L. Niehoff, NFHS executive director When the annual High School… Continue reading

Sen. Mona Das. COURESY PHOTO
After a senator’s claim is debunked, a call for an apology

The GOP wants a Democratic senator held to account for accusations which an investigation found to be false

Mitsubishi launching into regional jet space

Traditionally, media coverage of the Paris Air Show focuses on the battle… Continue reading