Growing fire danger puts crews at risk

first_img160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The firefighters’ job has been made more hazardous by an increase in houses and vacation cabins being built across the West – some of them inside national forests. An estimated 8.6 million houses have been built within 30 miles of a national forest since 1982. Fire commanders say they are more likely to walk away from houses without a buffer zone, which can be as simple as raking debris from around a house and leaving a bed of gravel at the foundation, or putting metal roofs on their homes instead of flammable wood shakes. Until recently, firefighters “saluted and went out and did it,” said Don Smurthwaite, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman and former firefighter. Now, “we will not ask a fire crew in a dangerous fire to defend a structure that has not taken precautionary steps. That’s definitely a change.” Wildfires have always swept the landscape, but scientists say they are becoming more catastrophic. There is little dispute that the wildfires are being fueled by a hotter weather, a drought, the spread of weeds that burn like oily rags and the buildup of forest debris from decades in which fires were routinely suppressed. So far this year, wildfires have consumed 8.2 million acres nationwide, an area larger than Maryland, and most of it in the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. That figure is fast approaching last year’s record of 9.9 million acres. By Sept. 26, wildfires had destroyed 409 houses across the West, more than 1 times last year’s total of 263, federal statistics show. By Paul Foy THE ASSOCIATED PRESS SALT LAKE CITY – Fueled by drought and development, wildfires in the West are getting bigger and more aggressive, creating conditions so dangerous that fire bosses are increasingly reluctant to risk lives saving houses, particularly if the owners have done nothing to protect their property. From Southern California to Montana, seven firefighters have died this year battling blazes that have destroyed more than 400 houses. last_img