New approaches needed to fight super wildfires | Don Brunell

Last year, wildfires nationwide consumed 12,550 square miles, an area larger than Maryland.

With western wildfires growing in size and destroying more homes, farms and businesses, there is a need for new tools and approaches. The infernos are spreading so fast they are outstripping our ability to fight them in traditional ways.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last November: “Over the course of just a few weeks, a major fire can pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than California’s many climate change programs can save in 12 months. Scientists debate whether California’s vast forests are emitting more carbon dioxide through fires than they absorb through plant growth.”

Last year, wildfires nationwide consumed 12,550 square miles, an area larger than Maryland. The federal government spent more than $2.7 billion on firefighting — a record that far surpassed the previous high point of $2.1 billion set in 2016.

In California last year, nearly 8,400 homes and structures were destroyed, killing at least 45 people including two firefighters. Estimates suggest that the final state toll will be over $13 billion. Wildfires swept into heavily populated areas and accelerated so rapidly that residents barely had time to pack up and leave.

Those economic damages do not include the continued revenue losses to local merchants in rural fire impacted areas. For example, businesses in the Columbia River Gorge are stilling feeling the effects of the 48,000 acre fire last summer because many of the popular hiking trails are too dangerous to open.

One new tool is the converted jumbo jet. During the height of the Montana wildfires last summer, a DC-10 tanker was based at Helena’s regional airport and loaded with 10,000 gallons of retardant for each mission.

Now there is a 747 modified tanker which helped to douse fires in Chile and Israel. It has FAA certification, but needs U.S. Forest Service approval.

Last May, the agency said it would only give contracts to planes with a dispensing capacity of 3,000 to 5,000 gallons. The 747’s capacity is 19,000 gallons.

However, CalFire decided to use the 747 when massive fires burnt out of control near heavily populated areas surrounding San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Along with climate change, preventing and stopping mammoth wildfire is gathering lots of attention in Congress these days.

It is no longer just a rural issue. Dense choking smoke covered Seattle and Portland again last summer. It is not only an immediate health hazard to people and pets but add to greenhouse gases to our atmosphere.

People in cities are beginning to see the fire damage which increasingly threatens to clog our streams, rivers and lakes. Barren slopes are susceptible to erosion from heavy rains and rapidly melting snow.

Elected officials are revisiting the benefits of forest management tools such as logging, thinning, planting and forest roads. Some objectionable past practices are worth reconsidering. For example, planting trees on narrow shelves cut into the steep hillside can allow young seedlings to receive much needed moisture and slow erosion.

We cannot eradicate wildfires. They have been part of our ecology for thousands of year. When forests are tinder dry and strong hot winds blow, conditions are ripe for an extreme fire season such as in 2017.

We’ve learned a great deal about wildfires since the 1930s when we would send crews into remote on horseback with accompanying mule trains to fight fires. We now have an armada of aerial tankers available.

We also know a lot more about managing our forests. Hopefully, we can deploy our best eco-tools to help cleanse our air and water, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, and to convert C02 into life-giving oxygen. That means we need to think outside the box.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

More in Business

Retrieving ocean trash is only the first step | Don Brunell

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is nearly the size of Alaska.

The inconvenient truth about batteries | Don Brunell

More than 86,000 tons of single-use alkaline batteries are thrown away each year.

Enumclaw Recyclers, The Use Again Store re-open on Garrett

The businesses have collected close to 1.3 million pounds of electronics for the E-Cycle Washington program over four years.

The darker side of renewable energy | Don Brunell

Renewable energy doesn’t automatically mean it’s clean, especially in how certain renewable energy products are made.

Oil giants betting on electric tech | Don Brunell

Making electric cars and new batteries for homes and power grids is a major step toward replacing carbon-based energy with electricity from renewables such as wind and solar.

Trade issues bring state Republicans, Democrats together

Washington is the third largest exporter of food and agricultural products in the nation.

California wildfires spark renewed debate over underground power lines | Don Brunell

Power lines could have caused the Camp wildfire in California.

Microsoft has expanded their AccountGuard service to 12 new European Countries. Yellow: European countries already protected. Blue: European countries now protected. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Microsoft warns of hacking ahead of elections

Launching defense services in Europe.

Those pesky tax incentives | Don Brunell

We need them to start big projects, no matter how much of a pain they may be in the future.

Praerit Garg joins Smartsheet as CTO

Bellevue-based company employs 760 people

In Buckley, more storage units on 410, beer and wine downtown

Wood, Wine, & Whimsy got their alcohol license Feb. 12.

Growing resistance to corporate incentives | Don Brunell

There is a growing backlash to corporations among liberals.