Only We Can (Maybe) Prevent Wildfires

The Willamette Valley was ravaged by wildfires in the Summer of 2020 as drought and high temperatures, both the result of climate change, combined to bring about fires which dwarfed the legendary Tillamook Burn. The overcast skies were a terrifying orange, and ash rained down in a fashion that was chillingly reminiscent of the eruption of Mount Saint Helens. Entire towns were vacated as people fled from the danger. Convicts were evacuated from prisons, crowded together in other facilities, or simply set free. In the confusion, all manner of rumors spread: that criminal gangs were looting vacated houses, or that Anti-Fascist activist groups were deliberately setting fires. As often happens in strange and uncertain times, some people fell for even the most ridiculous tales, and formed vigilante groups that closed roads, detaining people to demand that they prove they weren’t the imaginary thieves and terrorists. Recently, the Legislature has passed and Governor Brown has signed Senate Bill 762, which requires the Department of Forestry to develop a statewide map of wildfire risk and budgets $220M for brush clearance and other preventive measures intended to make it less likely for wildfires to spread from one area to another, and less likely to threaten towns and houses. Crews from the Northwest Youth Corps and similar organizations, who normally would be maintaining trails in state parks, are cutting brush near suburban homes. These are the kind of measures which someone tried to explain to Donald Trump in 2018, leading to him making his infamous call to “clean your forest” as he tried to blame the state of California for the fires then devastating its forested areas. He then added, “Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”

How effective these measures will turn out to be is not yet known, but they are being pursued as quickly as they can be. No one wants to see a repeat of the fires of 2020, or the social disasters that accompanied them.

By John M. Burt