Prevention is an important part of fire fighting

Published Jul 12, 2017 at 4:00pm

Nearly every day over the past week, the Daily Sentinel has printed stories and photos about the huge wildfires in many of our western states.

Wildfires are deadly, devastating and putting them out burns through cash faster than a stand of dry pine. When they’re raging, it calls for an all-out effort to bring them under control.

The Fresno (Calif.) Bee reports there is legislation in Congress that would help the U.S. Forest Service fight these devastating natural disasters — both as active fires and by providing funds to make them less devastating. It is embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike (in an all-too-rare moment of bipartisanship). The co-sponsors include 16 Californians.

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, HR 2862, by Reps. Michael Simpson, R-Idaho, and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., addresses something called “fire borrowing,” a concept that bases the budget for fighting fires on the 10-year wildfire cost. When that cost is exceeded — as it almost always is — Forest Service funds designated for prevention, such as clearing brush, are “borrowed” to pay for putting out the fires. The preventative measures are then ignored. The bill would correct this.

Without clearing brush, forests become unnaturally overgrown — creating a tinderbox ready to explode into even more ferocious flames.

Congressional analysts say in 2016, wildfire “containment costs” consumed 56 percent of the Forest Service budget — up from 16 percent in 1995.

Failing to address the “borrowing’ issue is self-defeating. Without prevention, the costs of fighting fire become far, far higher — not to mention greater damage to private property and loss of life.

The cost of fighting forest fires is already too great in money, property and lives. We need to make sure firefighters have what’s needed to fight them.