Editorial: Hard to protect homes in the wilderness

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 21, 2002

The paradox of wildfire has the Denver area in a turmoil this week and once again demonstrates that too many Americans are content to let others take care of them – rather than think for themselves. Threatened by the fires that are burning out of control, homeowners who moved to rural, woodsy locations are crying loudly for ever more massive investments in firefighting to protect their property; but even if crews can stop wildfires short of rural homes, doing so only leaves the possibility that future summers will bring new fires around even more houses,

repeating the costly and potentially deadly cycle.

Easy access to telephones, roads and other services has made it ever more possible to build and live in semi-wilderness areas. Meanwhile, concerns for property have for decades driven federal policies of stamping out forest fires &045; a short-term answer that has allowed more and more fuel in the form of naturally dead trees and branches to pile up on forest floors. Given enough fuel, any fire will burn too hot to be extinguished.

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One answer is to let the fires burn, consuming the dangerous fuel overload. However doing so endangers houses and other property. However failing to let the fires burn only increases the risk of fire. That is nature’s paradox.

It is natural for those who invested in forest-area homes to seek help. It is also unrealistic. The right answer is for them to realize that they live in a high-risk area where complete protection from fire is impossible – just as Calfornians who build on mudslide-prone hills have to recognize the risk they are running.

We do not argue against trying to save the at-risk homes. We do believe that putting firefighters’ lives in the balance and spending millions of federal dollars to do so is going beyond what is necessary.

There are some places where it is not, over the long term, smart to build a house. Those who choose to ignore nature’s realities should not expect a bailout from the rest of the nation.