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.