California Grapples With Ongoing Forest Fire Problem While Struggling To Practice Prevention

Forest Fire

California has been spending millions of dollars every year fighting massive forest fires that have not only destroyed natural landscapes, but decimated whole neighborhood and resulted in loss of life.

The good news is that state agencies have become very good at battling these ongoing epic blazes – the problem is that it cost taxpayers $490 million in 2017 alone – an expense that could be greatly reduced if more money was dedicated to prevention.

It seems that California is caught in a kind of Catch-22 situation. So much money and resources are devoted to fighting fires after they break out, little is left over for costly prevention measures.

In the long run, no one doubts that preventing fires is not only less expensive, but means acres of land will be spared and fewer homes and lives will be lost.

The challenge of managing forest lands to makes them less of a tinder box requires enormous planning, effort, money, resources and years of commitment to stay ahead of the problem.

California has million of acres of dense forest where trees are packed too closely together. Distributed among live, healthy trees are a lot of dead trees, dried brush and forest floors that are a rich mulch of easy-to-burn material. Going into these areas, acre by acre, to remove dead trees, clear brush and restructure ground condition is enormously labor-intensive and costly.

Another factor that has exacerbated California’s fire woes have been years of unusual drought. The double whammy of untended forest growth with dry weather has already created a recipe for disaster – and such disasters have been playing out year after year.

Governor Jerry Brown has promised to develop a special task force to focus on the problem. He said the state simply must take proactive steps to manage California’s forest land in a more intelligent manner.

That doesn’t mean that literally dozens of agencies haven't already been working on the problem – they just can’t keep up. Crews are out every day clearing trees and brush. They do as much as they can and blow through their budgets quickly -- spending an average $1,400 per acre. They've been managing about 40,000 acres per years when an estimated quarter-millions acres should be done annually.

But experts say California has no choice but to ramp up prevention dramatically. The alternative is a grim, endless cycle of grappling with enormous forest fires years after year.