SLO GAZETTE

Fire, Fire, Burning Bright
by herm a. toba, Aug 19, 1996

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please note all opinions and views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the SLO Gazette.

SAN LUIS OBIPSPO - Once again it is fire season. The hills are dry, the warm winds blow from the east and increased entry into wildlands (e.g., recreation) are perfect conditions for wildland fire. And, columns of smoke appear on the horizon. Those of us who have been in the area for awhile have seen many examples.

But with fire season comes the attacks on those who fight those fires. I've read feature articles, letters and op-ed pieces all questioning the bias, intentions and effectiveness of firefighters. These are people who have lost their homes, questions of 'Indian reservation' land not being defended and lots of talk criticizing the delay of full containment. While there has been property loss we have some of the most advanced firefighting resources in the world. California's force is especially exceptional. When something does happen it is amazing how quickly these resources are applied.

So with all these resources at our disposal why are there raging fires leading to property loss? Early legislation shows a policy of fire-is-bad mentality carried out at a federal level. Our wildlands have continued to grow unimpeded, increasing the fuel load year after year. Over 125 years of total, fire suppression has created critical situations in some areas. In the past decade we have seen many large, violent fires both locally and nationally.

Prior to the suppression period it is estimated our area burned on a seven to twelve year cycle without any help from people. But these fires were of much lower intensity burning off grasses and small brush but the trees remained intact. The native plant communities actually thrive under these conditions and have adapted to or require fire for parts of their life cycle. Interrupting that cycle invites disaster where residences and other land uses push into more overgrown areas (I very much fear for Cambria).

To help this situation we need to be fire conscious and fire safe. Be aware of the fire triangle's three legs: ignition, fuel and moisture (relative humidity). Be aware of the weather when relative humidity dips and the winds start to blow. Ignition control is proper handling campfires and cigarettes. But ignition can come from many other sources, some natural. Mainly, we need to manage our fuel loads. For instance, Santa Margarita is in an excellent position to really manage the burned areas surrounding the town. Hopefully, some of the more farsighted fire professionals, land managers and legislators will pursue an aggressive fuel management program to reduce the possibility of huge conflagrations. Fire is just another part of our world's ecosystem that has been knocked out of whack by humans. Hmmmm, just another example why not to fool with Ms. Nature?


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