Firefighter Fatalities Raise Questions
The Yarnell Hills Fire tragedy of June 30th raises a multitude of serious questions. How did 19 hotshots perish in a single burnover? Why were they in such a dangerous position? And what must be done to prevent future loss of life?
Investigators will attempt to determine technical details – the wind, the weather, the topography, the hotshots’ training and qualifications, leaders’ decisions and the firefighters’ actions. But the reasons for such a tragedy go much deeper than fire behavior and crew training.
About 38% of U.S. homes are located in the fire-prone Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). In the 1990s, over 8 million new houses were built there, a 22% increase over the previous decade. For the most part these homes were built under codes that fail to address their risk of destruction by wildfires. These rural subdivisions and urban sprawl comprise a major part of our nation’s wildfire problem, and are a prime reason firefighters’ lives are sometimes put at extra risk.
The WUI affects forests that are far from the nearest house. Many low-intensity fires should be managed rather than suppressed – allowed to reduce excess vegetation and recycle dead downed fuels to reduce future flammability. Instead, fires that are miles from the WUI are aggressively fought precisely because the homes are so vulnerable. Can we afford to continue this reckless sprawling housing development in fire-prone environments? (continue reading)
Please note: The previous homepage article USFS Fire Management Policy: Shift in Policy, or Shifty Policy? has moved to the top of the Fire Policy Reform page.