How do we fight super wildfires?

“It is no longer just a rural issue.”

With western wildfires growing in size and destroying more homes, farms and businesses, there is a need for new tools and approaches. The infernos are spreading so fast they are outstripping our ability to fight them in traditional ways.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last November: “Over the course of just a few weeks, a major fire can pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than California’s many climate change programs can save in 12 months. Scientists debate whether California’s vast forests are emitting more carbon dioxide through fires than they absorb through plant growth.”

Last year, wildfires nationwide consumed 12,550 square miles, an area larger than Maryland. The federal government spent more than $2.7 billion on firefighting — a record that far surpassed the previous high point of $2.1 billion set in 2016.

In California last year, nearly 8,400 homes and structures were destroyed, killing at least 45 people including two firefighters. Estimates suggest that the final state toll will be over $13 billion. Wildfires swept into heavily populated areas and accelerated so rapidly that residents barely had time to pack up and leave.

Those economic damages do not include the continued revenue losses to local merchants in rural fire impacted areas. For example, businesses in the Columbia River Gorge are stilling feeling the effects of the 48,000 acre fire last summer because many of the popular hiking trails are too dangerous to open.

One new tool is the converted jumbo jet. During the height of the Montana wildfires last summer, a DC-10 tanker was based at Helena’s regional airport and loaded with 10,000 gallons of retardant for each mission.

Now there is a 747 modified tanker which helped to douse fires in Chile and Israel. It has FAA certification, but needs U.S. Forest Service approval.

Last May, the agency said it would only give contracts to planes with a dispensing capacity of 3,000 to 5,000 gallons. The 747’s capacity is 19,000 gallons.

However, CalFire decided to use the 747 when massive fires burnt out of control near heavily populated areas surrounding San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Along with climate change, preventing and stopping mammoth wildfire is gathering lots of attention in Congress these days.

It is no longer just a rural issue. Dense choking smoke covered Seattle and Portland again last summer. It is not only an immediate health hazard to people and pets but add to greenhouse gases to our atmosphere.

People in cities are beginning to see the fire damage which increasingly threatens to clog our streams, rivers and lakes. Barren slopes are susceptible to erosion from heavy rains and rapidly melting snow.

Elected officials are revisiting the benefits of forest management tools such as logging, thinning, planting and forest roads. Some objectionable past practices are worth reconsidering. For example, planting trees on narrow shelves cut into the steep hillside can allow young seedlings to receive much needed moisture and slow erosion.

We cannot eradicate wildfires. They have been part of our ecology for thousands of year. When forests are tinder dry and strong hot winds blow, conditions are ripe for an extreme fire season such as in 2017.

We’ve learned a great deal about wildfires since the 1930s when we would send crews into remote on horseback with accompanying mule trains to fight fires. We now have an armada of aerial tankers available.

We also know a lot more about managing our forests. Hopefully, we can deploy our best eco-tools to help cleanse our air and water, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, and to convert C02 into life-giving oxygen. That means we need to think outside the box.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@rentonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.rentonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Business

A young chef carefully spreads sauce onto pizza dough during a cooking class at Young Chefs Academy of Covington. Courtesy photo/YCA Covington
Kids culinary school opens in Covington

The school takes the unknown out of cooking for kids, owner Deb O’Brien said.

A new measure from the King County Council could increase flexibility for businesses in rural areas of King County. File photo
County measure would increase flexibility for businesses in rural areas

Staff report Legislation the King County Council passed June 23 could lead… Continue reading

The Landing in Renton/File photo
The Landing open in Phase 2 for businesses

Individual retailers determine reopening and operating hours

Photo from March 2019, when the Hi-Lands Shopping center first stood vacant. A developer wants to move forward with demolition but states it can’t due to a city moratorium. File photo/Haley Ausbun
Hi-Lands Shopping Center purchased, but project, demolition on hold

The city placed an emergency moratorium on land use applications in Sunset neighborhood until October 2020. The new developer for Solera has appealed the decision and spoke out against it.

24 Hour Fitness to close clubs in Kent, Auburn, Renton

Panther Lake Kent location scheduled to reopen next month

24 Hour Fitness is closing over 100 gyms, including one in Renton. Photo courtesy the Highlands 24 Hour Fitness Instagram.
Highlands 24-Hour Fitness gym will not be reopening

It is one of several gyms in region and over 100 in the country closing after 24 Hour Fitness filed bankruptcy Monday

Westfield Southcenter Mall to reopen June 15

Modified hours; safety protocols

Closure, layoffs at Mitsubishi Aircraft’s Renton headquarters.

Only a year into joining the aerospace hub of the Northwest, several hits to the commercial jet industry in 2019-2020 causes the company to scale back.

Goodwill to reopen donation centers, stores in King, Pierce counties

Including Kent, Auburn, Federal Way locations

Michelle Hankinson stands in front of the Renton Area Youth Services office in downtown Renton. While RAYS is merging with two other nonprofits, much of it remains the same. Courtesy photo RAYS.
Local RAYS joins nonprofit Childhaven

Renton Area Youth Services has been working with local families for 50 years.

New Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma to open June 8

$400M, 310,000-square-foot facility will open with COVID-19 precautions