Make the Priority – First, Put Out the Fire

The loss of life and trauma experienced in Lahaina should never be forgotten.  In a recent (Washington Post) Op-Ed, Jennifer Balch wrote about wildfire vulnerabilities.  While I agree that we need to promote fire resiliency, fire-resistant building materials and codes, the price for these items will not be cheap and funding is not available.


In my research, in the 15 Western most fire prone states, wildfires are caused by lighting 65% of the time – not humans. There are many simple facts across local, regional, state and federal governments that give rise to the conflagrations of wildfire. One of the major problems is our wildland urban interface (WUI), which directly effects wildfires.  Lahaina is an example.  Superior, CO and Paradise, CA fires stem from exactly the same problem – WUI!  And the problem of unrestricted building in the wildland urban interface has been uncontrolled by all levels of governments. It is a long-recognized problem by the USFS and possibly every fire organization and urban or wildland firefighter where the encroachment of development occurs – especially in the west


Wildfires are not just an Alaskan and western state phenomenon.  Let us not forget the wildfire problem exists across the country. Let us not forget the Great Smoky Mountain National Park fire in Gatlinburg, TN or the “Bugaboo Fire” in south Georgia that burned more than a half million acres, roughly 780 square miles, and the recent Green Swamp Game Land Fire that burned 15,642 acres. There are many other eastern wildfires we have forgotten that have consumed thousands of acres of land, annihilated towns and killed people.

The wildfires we are experiencing have to do with Forest Service policies.   The first policy that must change is to make the priority  First, put out the fire!  

We have the means to identify lightning strikes and possible ignition (fire).  We have the means to identify trees that are “sick” through their leaf structure, we have the means to identify individual trees infected by various bugs such as the beetle infestation, we have the means to identify the basic signs that are inherent to wildfires – humidity, fuel loads and areas that are prone to wildfire, we have the tools to identify things we cannot see – such as pipeline methane leak activity, and much more.  And, more than anything, let us not forget we need to spend our taxpayer monies on solutions that fix problems we have control over.  They exist.


The call to address the problem requires focus on the Congress.  The funding for fixing the problems are not simple.  The fact is there isn’t enough money (funding) available to fix all of the national problems of wildfires.

Given the specific circumstances surrounding the Lahaina disaster, little could be done to prevent the losses incurred.  Let us not forget 60 mph winds certainly helped bring about the inferno and resultant and immeasurably unfortunate deaths

Jeff Lehman is a founder of Crowbar Research Insights, LLC and a co-author of “Running Out of Time. Wildfires and Our Imperiled Forests,” a book chronicling their 10 years of research into forest management policy and practices.


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