Press-Republican

FYI...

July 9, 2013

Western wildfires' size, intensity and impact are increasing, experts say

(Continued)

Just days before the fatal fire in Yarnell, Ariz., a group of Western senators raised alarms after the Obama administration proposed sharp cuts to fire-prevention programs.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, noted that the Forest Service had repeatedly cut fire- prevention efforts such as clearing underbrush in national forests, only to spend massive amounts battling the destructive fires that result each year - money often intended for other uses.

"When the budgeted amount is insufficient, the agency continues to suppress fires by reallocating funds from other non-fire programs," the lawmakers wrote to Obama's budget director, among other Cabinet members. "This approach to paying for firefighting is nonsensical and further increases wildland fire costs.

Climate change expert Michael Crimmins of the University of Arizona said he and his colleagues are trying to analyze what happened in Yarnell and what might have been done to prevent such a disaster.

"The Yarnell Fire was a really rare combination of several different factors that you often don't see here in the Southwest that made it particularly tragic," Crimmins said, citing drought effects, record-high heat and the brimming thunderstorm season.

Thunderstorms usually bring relief in terms of wildfires, but in this case, they brought lightning - which sparked the fire - and chaotic, strong winds that changed the spread of the fire in unpredictable ways.

But in other ways, the Yarnell fire might be further evidence of a new normal. The National Interagency Coordination Center, comprised of representatives from various federal agencies, said that nearly two dozen other uncontained wildfires are burning throughout the country this week. Experts say fire seasons are starting earlier and ending later than in the past.

Michael Kodas, who is writing a book about the global increase in wildfires, said there's only so much humans can do to intervene. He said the century-old practice of trying to fight all wildfires has left large swaths of land more flammable than ever, crowded with trees and undergrowth ready to act as fuel.

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