On the fire line, personal decisions pick up where public policy leaves off

Here is a draft of our Sunday editorial:

People who choose to live near fire-prone forests know the tradeoffs.

With the scenery comes some increased risk. Homeowners know going in — or find out quickly — that fire can threaten their idyllic surroundings.

Often without warning.

Sometimes without reason.

Late Monday afternoon, the Karney Fire broke out in the summer-parched hills near Robie Creek, a short drive from Boise. In the dry conditions, the fire spread quickly, destroying one home and threatening dozens more, growing from 80 acres on Monday to 440 acres by Friday.

A familiar storyline during this long, smoky summer — but this time, the story took a bizarre turn. The Boise County sheriff’s office said Nathaniel Bartholomew, a volunteer firefighter, admitted to starting the fire by igniting pine cones along Robie Creek Road. According to Chief Deputy Dale Rogers, the 18-year-old Bartholomew described firefighting with his father as a bonding experience.

For more than 300 firefighters — who spent Friday on this fire line while Bartholomew was held in Ada County Jail on a felony arson charge — the Karney Fire is probably anything but a bonding experience. Same for the dozens of homeowners in the Wilderness Ranch subdivision, located uncomfortably close to the blaze.

Stressful experience? Traumatic experience? That sounds more like it.

In one sense, the alleged circumstances surrounding the Karney Fire are so unusual that they provide no lesson, no cautionary tale.

Except, perhaps, for this.

A fire season as long and destructive as this one will refocus attention on prevention and suppression. It will bring renewed attention to important questions made even more complicated by our nation’s fiscal crisis. Can land management agencies do more to thin out overgrown forests, reducing the risk of fires that burn hotter, consume more acres and persist until first snowfall? Are firefighting agencies using scarce dollars wisely — or are they fighting backcountry blazes with the same rigor that must be applied to fires near developments such as Wilderness Ranch? Sunday’s Insight section will provide a flavor for this debate.

On the ground, and in fire country, personal decisions pick up where public policy leaves off. It comes down to fire managers who have to make split-second firefighting decisions. It comes down to firefighters who have to work with courage and skill in the path of peril. It comes down to homeowners who have to keep their property as clear and fireproof as possible. It comes down to forest users who have to realize that it takes only a single spark from a vehicle, or a single ember from a campfire, to endanger lives, private property and public resource.

And if the Boise County sheriff’s reports are accurate, it takes only one criminal act to extend a fire season that had already lingered too long.

Neighbors and Firewise

You can do all the thinning and lean and green stuff, but if your neighbor doesn't - you are at risk. Especially if your neighbor is the Fed. You can't just go out and firewise FS property!


YP, I don't think that is true.

You have some property you can still manage.
Even if you have only an acre and are surrounded by ill managed FS property. That just means you have an acre of bare (almost) land, and a firewise building. Even with less, there is nothing preventing a homeowner from curiously thinning the surrounding FS property. SSS is not a problem for rural residents, but cutting dead trees and spraying is somehow 'unheard of'???

A firefighter has protective gear for a fire to over him/her. A propery owner can do the same.

It's your property - protect it.

I'm Firewise!

Prior abatement and the 2007 back burns took care of it for miles around us.

I'm not talking about us in particular. Lots of places have a problem tho. There is only so much you can do when the forest 100 feet away is thick. 100 feet of abatement doesn't help when a crown fire is coming. Folks in Secesh know about that.

Look at how much thinning and burning around Featherville they did.


Right, but in Featherville they did it only AFTER the fire started. One can only cut x amount of trees in 3 days. Three years though...?

I understand lots of places have a problem though. That's because they are not doing anything about it before the fire is at their doorstep.

These places like Robie and Wilderness Ranch, Warm Lake Cabins, Payette Lake for that matter, they need to collectively thin and make fire breaks. They should be able to say, "Tomorrow there will be a BIG fire come through here and our property will be okay."
And who should pay for it? They should!

Instead of a firefighing industry- the next adminstration (& state level too) should be developing a forest/rangeland industry. It starts with logging to make wide firebreaks, and it includes roads to provide access.

Private vs. Public

It would be nice if the FS didn't remove existing roads and made fire breaks. The public can remove dead trees with firewood permits - where they have access.

But you can NOT cut a green tree on federal land. Even the FS has to jump thru hoops to cut trees around the ranger station.

Getting a restoration project thru all the NEPA stuff is tough. It takes years of meetings and comments, etc.

Its easy to say the homeowners should go out and make the fire breaks on forest land - but you just can't go and do it and hope the FS doesn't notice.

What is really on fire is....

Obama's foreign and domestic policies and KR fiddles.