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Changes in firefighting

Forest Service Changes Course on Firefighting Policy

By Chris Thomas, Oregon News Service

Barry Point fireThe Barry Point fire in August 2012 was one that required a lot of resources to contain, but not all wildland blazes are that much of a menace. Courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

For decades, the U.S. Forest Service let small fires in remote areas burn naturally - in recognition that fire was part of the natural landscape, and that by letting some fires burn, larger fires could be prevented.

But last year, every fire was battled unless granted special status. That's been acknowledged as part of the reason the Forest Service spent more than $1 billion fighting fires in 2012.

Now, the agency is taking the "fight all fires" directive off the books.

Timothy Inglesbee, executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology (FUSEE), says it means flexibility in making decisions this season.

"Our response to fire has to be tailored to the conditions of the fire and our goals for the piece of ground it's burning on," he says.

The forest official that required that all fires be suppressed in 2012 had a goal of keeping all fires small. This year's policy comes from Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell.

Last year, Oregon's fire season didn't officially end until mid-October. The biggest Oregon blazes were on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in 2012.

Inglesbee says the blanket policy of "fighting all fires" meant some Forest Service resources were spent on smaller, lightning-caused blazes that previously, just would have been allowed to burn.

"Which enables fire managers to use fire to benefit the ecosystems," he says, "especially those ecosystems that depend, or require, wildfire to maintain their ecological health and integrity."


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