By Trey Rusk
When I was a kid my family would vacation out West. Smokey the Bear signs proclaimed, "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires." Smokey stood there holding a shovel and the message was clear.
Smokey's message wasn't exactly true. Forest management in the 60's, 70's and 80's was to put people on towers to watch for wildfires. Forest undergrowth was not addressed.
The big 1988 fire of Yellowstone National Park made the Forest Service rethink the way they managed the forest. Massive undergrowth had to be dealt with or wildfires could not be contained.
Natural factors such as drought and wind could make areas of forest a tinderbox but developers in search of the almighty dollar continued to build in densely forested areas. The canyons act as chimneys and the oxygen enriched wind creates fire tornadoes that cannot be stopped until they run out of fuel.
The California Santa Anna Winds are some of the strongest predictable winds in the nation. This year they blew into the drought stricken and over developed forests pouring fast moving oxygen on the embers and destroying thousands of buildings. People who lived in Paradise, California witnessed the fire's wrath. These people did figuratively live in paradise. The area was beautiful.
Sadly many California citizens through no fault of their own were burned out. Many people were killed and I'm afraid that number will rise dramatically. The Utopia they sought turned into a burning Hell.
I visit the Lake Tahoe area on average twice a year. My wife and I always rent a car and drive off to see the beauty of the area. We stop to walk in the forest and we are constantly amazed at the areas that we return to that have succumbed to fire. We are also amazed at how resilient the forest is. This is because after the 1988 fire of Yellowstone National Park, the forest Service learned that forest fires were a naturally occurring process.
The Forest Service was surprised to find that not long after the 1988 fire the tree species quickly reestablished themselves and plant regeneration was highly successful. In fact, fire actually helps some trees to successfully regenerate.
If we know that a forest fire is a naturally occurring process why would people be allowed to build entire cities in a fire prone area? We know that there are fire retardant materials that can be used to build homes and fire prevention misting systems that can be installed. I'm confident that before much of what burned can be rebuilt some of these things will be addressed.
Of course, each area has different hazards. I have been through at least four hurricanes in my lifetime and I still live on the Texas Gulf Coast and yes the area is overdeveloped.
That's the way I see it.