What Has Changed?

In the Words of the Experts

Tom BoatnerTom Boatner, Chief of Operations, BLM We’ve seen some fairly dramatic changes in the last eight or ten years and we generally think of three factors that are driving the change in wildfires particularly in the American West. One is climate change. There is no doubt that we’re dealing with summers that are hotter and drier and longer than anything we’ve seen in our time here in the west.

We’re dealing with the buildup of fuels on public lands in the west from a century of very successful fire suppression, and we’re dealing with millions and millions of homes built in these forested and wooded landscapes that want to burn. The convergence of those three factors has led to a huge increase in the size of the fires we’re seeing, the total acres burned, and the intensity of the fires we’re dealing with over the last eight or ten years.

We have records on acres burned going back to 1960. And if you measure the ten busiest years by acres burned going back to 1960, seven of them have happened since 1999 and that includes this year (2007).

Jeanne Pincha-TulleyJeanne Pincha-Tulley, Incident Commander, Castle Rock fire Our climatologists think we’re back into a similar drought that we experienced in 1890 to 1930, plus or minus a few years, and we’re coming out of a wet period. Fire behavior is going to be radically different between the two.

What we’re seeing now is, between beetle killed trees, between all the houses and everything, we have so much fuel out there. They’re burning more intense, we have hotter weather, we have less rain coming in, it’s just harder to put them out.

Kurt NelsonKurt Nelson, District Ranger, Ketchum Idaho I think what we need to recognize is that this is not going to be a one or two year type event, where we have a couple of years of dry weather. We’re entering into a period where we have climate change on the large scale affecting fire weather on our local or regional basis. And that in turn affects size of fires, length of fire season, how we fight fires.

We’re going to have to be much smarter about it. We also need to educate the community on how they behave living in these forested environments that are subject to burning.

Jim GrayJim Gray, Fire Management Officer for Nez Perce & Clearwater Forests Even though we have probably as many resources as we’ve ever had, the fires are large, they’re difficult to contain, we don’t have all that we need to do that, nor is our future holding that. We don’t think we’ll ever have enough firefighters to put some of these fires out because of the fuel conditions, because of these years when we set record indices for fire behavior and fuel moistures. It just simply can’t be done.

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