One lightning strike in one forest and all hell breaks loose and becomes 100,000 acres of sheer hell.
The fact that the Beaver Creek Fire grew to such an enormous size after the first flames were spotted, that it became an unpredictable and voracious monster over the next week, is certainly not the fault of firefighters or the team of fire management people who attacked it. They were simply overwhelmed.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, headquartered in Boise, nearly 32,000 fires have burned 3.4 million acres in the U.S. this year alone. That’s just so far.
Federal budget cuts, pushed by anti-tax fanatics, took a toll and made hundreds fewer firefighters available this season. Anti-government proponents sit comfortably in Washington, D.C., offices and take potshots at federal funding and government workers. Those workers include the firefighters who are spending their summer risking their lives to protect our lives and property in ways no single community or even single state can possibly be prepared to do.
Some, however, recognize the legitimate role of government.
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., has joined other colleagues to urge the inter-agency cooperation and data assessment that will grease the skids of the transfer of assets from where they are outdated to where they can be effective. One such example would mean more previously military-purposed large tankers and helicopters to drop fire retardant. Udall is also pushing for a $100 million addition to the 2014 Senate budget for wildland firefighting.
Individual states simply cannot take on these fires or other massive disasters like the Beaver Creek incident, which has cost $15 million to date. Not many can afford their own retardant-dropping DC-10s or water-swigging helicopters.
National resources have to be brought to bear in instances like Beaver Creek, last year’s Mustang Complex Fire, or the Little Queens Fire that is now burning near Atlanta. A shovel, a Smokey the Bear hat and a garden hose are just not sufficient when trees are exploding.
The Wood River Valley has been incredibly lucky to have those aircraft and nearly 1,800 firefighters. Instead of complaining about the amount of money the Forest Service spends, we need to make sure firefighters and their supporters have the best equipment, best training and best salaries we can give them.
Imagine how the Wood River Valley would look today if they where not there when the fire broke out. We would have learned the cost of not having a federal government.