I recently read the Gazette-Times' editorial, "Fire Funding Fix Needed Now," and can’t stay silent any longer. The dereliction of duty referred to in your editorial is not with Congress, but instead the United States Forest Service.
The Forest Service has done a masterful job at deceiving the public and unfortunately most our elected officials in believing the devastating fires that have occurred were unavoidable acts of nature. I beg to differ. Let’s look at some Oregon cases:
• The 190,000-acre Chetco Bar Fire in the Rogue Siskiyou National Forest is most devastating and expensive fire in Oregon in 2017. The fire was discovered on July 12 at one-quarter acre and was not suppressed when it was small and manageable. Had the Forest Service put the fire out in its infancy, several thousand dollars would have been spent on this fire instead of the nearly $50 million spent thus far. An interesting note: When the Chetco fire grew to 5 acres, a 20-person Grayback Forestry suppression handcrew stationed in Merlin was being readied to fly in by helicopter to suppress the fire, but the mission was scrubbed by the Forest Service for safety reasons. In other words, let it burn.
• In 2008, the Rattle Fire, started by a lightning storm on Aug. 18 in the Umpqua National Forest, smoldered in a snag along Illahee Road for one week along the Boulder Creek Wilderness Area and was reported several times by local residents. Little was done to locate the fire other than a cursory look by Forest Service personnel. When the fire could no longer be ignored, the Forest Service said that no resources were available to fight the fire. In other words, let it burn. The toll on this debacle tallied 20,000 acres burned at a cost of $18.5 million. The fire was contained 59 days later.
• The Willamette National Forest’s Deception Fire in 2014, located two miles west of Oakridge, was sparked by lightning on Aug. 11, and burned over 7,800 acres before being contained 60 days later by rain at a cost of nearly $33.5 million. The forest supervisor frequently said the fire was too dangerous to engage. In other words, let it burn. Millions were spent by the Forest Service basically monitoring instead of suppressing the fire when first discovered.
Unfortunately, the list appears endless. Instead of asking for more money to manage fires, hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved if the Forest Service adopted a new policy to fully engage and suppress fires, the way that the Oregon Department of Forestry does. Has anyone ever thought to ask how the Department of Forestry's incident management teams can suppress large destructive fires in days at a fraction of the cost as opposed to the Forest Service taking months? The Department of Forestry's safety record is exemplary when compared to the record of the Forest Service, because far fewer individuals are required to put out a small fire, limiting the exposure of personnel to hazards. Taxpayer money would be far better spent training Forest Service fire personnel how to emulate the Department of Forestry in their firefighting methods and techniques.
I encourage Oregon citizens to do their homework. I, for one, am tired of having to chew my air prior to breathing because of the Forest Service's broken, unproductive and hopeless system. It took a fire season like 2017 to unveil and bring to light the Forest Service's firefighting ineptitude. Our congressional delegation should start applying pressure on the Forest Service to start fully suppressing fires instead of asking for more taxpayer money to simply manage them.