A bad fire in California generates some good ideas

As the Station fire burns through the San Gabriel Mountains of California just outside of Los Angeles, one can only hope for cooler weather and pray that the firefighters keep safe. This fire to date has claimed the lives of two firefighters and burned 70 structures.

In the wake of this fire, many people are naturally asking questions about what can be done to prevent these kinds of tragedies from occurring so often. A Los Angeles Times editorial on Sept. 1, 2009 provided some level-headed answers.

The paper points out that the war metaphor is not working well. It's hard to win against something as natural to the area as wildfire. The Times then rightly states that we can reduce fire's harm to humans by limiting sprawl into remote areas.

Communities can also take more responsibility for protecting their homes. We already have a number of fire safe councils and public agencies helping people clear out brush and other flammable items near buildings and creating fire buffers along roads and between wild lands and inhabited areas. Still, there’s room for a lot more to be done on this front.

We also have biologists, botanists and fire scientists restoring habitat — working to prevent the spread of flammable invasive weeds and restoring vegetation to a more natural state that provides less fuel.

“Fire is inevitable,” the L.A. Times editorial writers state. “Our challenge is learning to live with it.”

If we follow their advice and take the actions they spell out, this cohabitation could be safer for everyone.

Rich Fairbanks is a California-based forestry expert with The Wilderness Society and with 32 years of experience in the U.S. Forest Service (including 20 years working on fire crews).