Wildland Fire Season 2002 may go into the history books as being one of the worst wildland fire seasons on record. The State of Arizona suffered its largest wildland and Wildland/Urban Interface (W/UI) fire in its recorded history.
The Rodeo and the Chediski fires joined together burning nearly one half of a million acres and destroying nearly 450 homes, businesses and other structures. Outside of Denver, Colorado a fire started by a USFS employee was described as Colorado's biggest fire in that state's recorded history.
These wildland and/or W/UI fires are initially fought by local firefighters until they become so immense, or are predicted to become too large for locals to control. Either Type-1 or Type-2 National Incident Management Teams then manages these fires.
These highly trained teams size-up the fires, assess what the needs are to contain, control and extinguish the fire that they are assigned to. Personnel, equipment, and all of the supplies required to support all firefighting resources are ordered through these teams. The suppression costs can become staggering as the fire(s) grow in size and complexity.
Past wildland fire seasons have been more destructive than the Wildland Fire Season-2002 in terms of either loss of lives or total acres and/or structures burned. At end of the Wildland Fire Season-2000, 122,827 fires were reported that burned 8,422,237 acres.
Fire suppression costs were $1.3 Billion. According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), as of September 12, 2002, 64,858 fires were reported that burned 6,440,768 acres and hundreds of homes, businesses and other structures.
President George W. Bush On Forest Health
The Aspen Fire burned through the community of Summerhaven, Arizona atop Mount Lemmon during 2 weeks in July 2003 destroying 84,000 acres of pristine forest, 333 homes, cabins and businesses. The fire destroyed what was once a picturesque town and vacation area. The forest was choked with an overgrowth of small vegetation called "Biomass" and too many trees per acre.
On August 11 President Bush toured the devastation of what once was Summerhaven. He stated that, "Our forests remain unprotected, our communities vulnerable. We need to thin our forests in America." He is also a strong supporter of the "Healthy Forests Initiative" that can reduce the threat of wild and wildland/urban interface fires. The Initiative, which has been adopted by Congressional supporters as the basis for pending legislation, reduces federal planning requirements for thinning forests on 20 million acres of federal land and limits legal challenges to federal forest agencies.
However, at least 190 million acres of public land are thought to need fuel reduction due to drought, insect infestation and from years of fire suppression that has allowed the tremendous overgrowth of biomass to occur. Forest experts think that the price tag for forest thinning could reach $1 Billion per year or about what fire suppression costs have been running annually.
There are pros and cons to this Initiative and to the National Fire Plan. Opponents believe that this is a presidential program to help the logging industry revive itself into what it once was before staunch environmentalists used legal means to all but stop logging in the USA. Also, there is a concern by some that prescribed or controlled burning of biomass could create other problems such as air pollution, loss of wildlife habitat and loss of control of some prescribed fires that could lead to loss of structures and delicate watersheds. On the other hand, forest thinning, either by mechanical means or fire use, has been proven to be beneficial to people, wildlife and the forest environment. It is a matter of educating the public and the environmentalists to get them to fully understand that forest thinning is not only necessary it is a good thing.
The National Fire Plan is Born