FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Politics of Smoke

Hundreds of thousands of Northern California residents are currently being exposed to smoke at levels which constitute a serious health hazard. Immediate impacts include recurring headaches, sinus and respiratory problems and depression. Extended exposure will also contribute to serious health problems which will not surface for many years.

Local residents accept these impacts; we assume the smoke is from natural fires and therefore that nothing can be done to reduce it. But the reality is more complex.

How much of the smoke is the result of wildfires and how much is the result of deliberately torched “burn outs”? The Forest Service does not provide this information. But even if a lot of the smoke is the result of fires intentionally set by the Forest Service isn’t this necessary to stop the wildfires from sweeping into our communities?  Not necessarily.

During the Megram Fire in 1999 high winds pushed fire toward Hoopa and Willow Creek. At the time most residents assumed the firestorm was the natural fire. Later analysis revealed it was lit by the Forest Service. The natural Megram Fire never got near the firelines or the “burn out” that threatened Hoopa and Willow Creek. As with every large fire that has burned in the Klamath Backcountry, it was fall rains – not firefighting – which put the fire out.

Forest Service “burn outs” are ordered by fire managers unfamiliar with the Klamath Mountains. These outsiders assume fighting fire here is like fighting fire where they come from. It is not. Old timers and those with local fire fighting experience know that “burn outs” in the Klamath Mountains are crap shoots; if conditions change they can quickly become more of a problem than the natural fires.

Old timers know that in this landscape the best strategy is to “loose herd’ fires in the backcountry while concentrating fire fighting resources where they can do good – in the “front country” where people live. But the rotating “managers” whom the Forest Service imports to fight our fires rarely listen to old timers. More often their attitude is that they are the professionals; they think the local yokels don’t understand modern fire fighting.

Because natural fires result in air quality which exceeds standards, the Forest Service must get variances from air pollution rules in order to light their “burn outs.”  These variances are given by county officials without question. Given the track record of Forest Service “burn outs” in the Klamath Mountains, however, officials may be unnecessarily exposing citizens to health hazards.

In 1999 we dodged a bullet when Hoopa and Willow Creek were spared. But one of these years a Forest Service “burn out” is going to get out of control and destroy a community. If that happens lawsuits from burned out residents could follow. Is that what it will take to get the Forest Service bureaucracy to realize that in the Klamath Mountains their fire suppression cure may be more damaging – and more dangerous – than the natural fires?

FELICE PACE has lived in the Klamath Mountains since 1975. Since 1987 he has walked and studied all the large fires that have burned in the Klamath Mountains. He can be reached at: unofelice@gmail.com

 

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Felice Pace is a longtime environmental activist in northern California. You can find his writings online at Bearitude in Black.

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail