Now that the 9,400 acre Black Crater fire near Sisters, Oregon is nearly contained, the local weekly is asking why the fire wasn’t stopped when it was 50 to 100 acres in size, before it threatened residential communities.
The Nugget newspaper’s answer: lack of resources. Sisters District ranger Bill Anthony is quoted:
“The fix is, obviously, to make more resources available,” said Anthony. And that would take a considerable ramping up of funding. “I would say that that discussion needs to be between the citizens and the public representatives that represent them,” Anthony said.
My wife and I are part owners of a cabin in nearby Camp Sherman. Last Sunday we drove into Sisters and strolled through the Summer Faire in Village Green Park. The Forest Service had set up a table with maps and other information about the Black Crater fire.
I stopped to chat. A Forest Service employee told me pretty much what the Nugget reported. They threw as many resources at the fire as they could, which wasn’t much. For example, only one helicopter was available when the lightning-caused fire had just gotten going in the Three Sisters Wilderness area.
Bill Anthony believes that more helicopters are needed. They can drop 2,000 gallons of water on a spot fire with precision, and refill from a lake or pond within minutes. The Nugget article goes on to say:
It more heavy helicopters are to be made available, and if more fire crews are to be trained and put in the field, it will take funding action in Congress, where priorities including war, homeland security and the deficit make ramping up spending a tricky political proposition.
Near the end of my conversation with the Forest Service employee I said, “It sounds to me like the problem is President Bush.” The response from someone who should know: “I wouldn’t disagree with that.”
Shooting the breeze with the proprietor of a Sisters business later in the day, I got the same opinion. He thought it was ridiculous that the Forest Service had to scramble to find equipment to fight several central Oregon fires while hundreds of billions of dollars has been spent to fight an unnecessary war in Iraq.
So, yes, it can be reasonably argued that Bush is responsible for the failure to limit the size of the Black Crater fire. If his administration hadn’t squandered Clinton’s budget surplus on the Iraq war and tax cuts for the rich, there would be plenty of money to meet pressing national needs. Such as fighting forest fires.
In the same issue of the Nugget, Chuck Humphreys expresses his opinion in a letter to the editor:
If I were to draw a lesson from this experience, beyond reaffirming my faith in the goodness of people, it is that we systematically underfund our public efforts to manage wildfires. As others have written, it is easier and cheaper to manage fires when they are small—but we often cannot do this because there aren’t sufficient resources to go around.
The answer may be to rethink our public priorities—it is more than a little ironic that our government opens its purse to spend billions on destruction abroad, but is so miserly when it comes to being more constructive at home.
Fortunately, the Black Crater fire (which ultimately cost more than $7 million to control, when stopping it at 100 acres would have cost about $1 million) ended up having some bright spots. A lot of brushy undergrowth burned without destroying many big Ponderosas, which will reduce the danger of future fires.
One dark spot, though, was Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton trying to gain political advantage from the fire while it was still burning. He tried to blame Gov. Kulongoski for not reducing fire risks in the state.
Saxton should talk to federal Forest Service employees before he shoots his uninformed mouth off. And read the Sisters newspaper. Then, blame his Republican comrade, George W. Bush.