In the year 2000, fire fighters battled raging infernos as some of the worst wildfires in 50 years rampaged across a dozen states. Not only were these fires the worst in half a century, but they may be the worst ever recorded. In a single week in mid August, 86 major wildfires were raging in a dozen states from Arizona and California up to Colorado and Wyoming to Montana, Oregon and South Dakota. Five million acres of land burned, more then double the annual average for the past decade.
A controlled fire six miles southwest of Los Alamos that was implemented as a fire prevention measure would not stop. First consuming dry grass, then ponderosa pines, then gobbling up hundreds of homes and buildings, the fire spread through Los Alamos, the home of the atom bomb. Some 20,000 people had to be evacuated and luckily the fires never came close to a building that held drums of transuranium mixed waste and a metric ton of plutonium.
Noxious fumes wafted from the lead paint, rubber and plastics in burning cars and buildings. Due to the destructive wildfires, interest in fuel management to reduce fire control costs and damages has been renewed. Although several tools, such as prescribed burning and salvage timber sales can address these problems, the extent of the problem and the cost of needed treatments are generally unknown.
There are few documented estimates of the decline in control costs or damages associated with fuel treatments. The roles and responsibilities of the Federal and State governments in fire protection may be subject to further debate. Laws state that a permit must be required to start a fire outside. Fines are issued to anyone breaking this law. As individual citizens, we can take responsibility by obeying the law. Just like Smoky the Bear says “Only you can prevent forest fires. “