Thursday, October 28, 2010

As more people move to woodsy areas, costs of fighting fires rise

Almost half the U.S Forest Service's budget has been devoted to fire suppression costs in recent years as more people move to the areas most at risk for forest fires. "Where firefighters might normally just let a fire go, they rush in to stop it if houses and people are in danger -- requiring costly maneuvering," Dina Fine Maron of ClimateWire reports for The New York Times. The most recent fire in Colorado, where 20 percent of the population has chosen to live close to the population, cost around $10 million to fight and $217 million in property damage.

"The more residents you have [in such areas], the more expensive the fire becomes," Bret Gibson, chief of the Four Mile Fire Protection District in Colorado, told Fine Maron. In Colorado "people who chose to live in homes abutting wilderness are not planning on surrendering the territory," Fine Maron writes. The Colorado Statewide Forest Resource Assessment reports much of the state's projected population growth in the next 30 years will come in those woodsy areas.

Homeowners living near at-risk forests can take steps to mitigate their fire risk, but many say it is too expensive and alters the so-called "natural state" of the surrounding woods. "Some feel edicts that they completely clear 3-foot buffer zones and thin out surrounding trees infringe on their property rights," Fine Maron writes. Gibson also noted the current crowded forests aren't actually the natural state as forests were much thinner before the 19th century gold rush. "We are looked at and asked how are you going to prevent fires, but that is like blaming the police for you failing to lock your back door when you get robbed," said Gibson. "We are not land managers. We don't own the land. We don't have the authority to make people take action -- it ain't our fire." (Read more)

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