Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mega-Fires on 60 Minutes

60 Minutes ran thought-provoking story on the increased number of extremely severe "mega-fires" in the West. Here is a link to the story on the CBS News page. The site has an article, video, and still pictures. (I'm not sure how long it will be up.)

Reporter Scott Pelley went to Idaho to visit a hot-shot crew on a fire line near Ketcham. He did an in-depth interview with Tom Boatner, who is the chief of fire operations for the federal government. Boatner confirmed that fires are larger and more frequent. He also mentioned changes in fire-fighting rules to let more areas burn if property is not threatened. They conducted the interview near the a burning fire and had to move downhill as the temperature increased!

Pelley also interviewed Tom Swetnam, a fire ecologist from the University of Arizona. Swetnam has studied the dendrochronological record and found that fire severity is much larger. They have a tremendous collection of aged cross-sections of old logs that recorded firest over the last few millenia. I am eager to look up some of his research articles.

Both Boatner and Swetnam cite climate changes towards drier conditions and a longer burning season. Global warming was mentioned several times as the cause.

Global warming may well be an underlying of the problem. But the direct causes are well known: a rapid increase in population, people building more in the wilderness area, and changes in forest management policy. The good news is that these problems can be fixed quickly if people want to. All in all, this was a very interesting report. I hope people pay attention.

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