New fire-fighting technology could help put them out. Why isn’t it being used?
Millions of Americans watched their evening news in horrified fascination.
The Colorado Springs wildfire had doubled in size overnight, to 24 square miles – half the size of San Francisco – as 50-mph gusts carried fiery branches from exploding treetops across fire breaks, down Waldo Canyon and into fresh stands of drought-dried timber. Flames crested the ridge above the beautiful Air Force Academy campus, 346 houses burned, hundreds more faced immolation, and 32,000 people were evacuated, through smoke and ash that turned daytime into a choking night sky.
130 miles north, another monster fire west of Fort Collins consumed 136 square miles of forest and torched 259 homes. By July 4, this year’s Colorado forest fires had devoured 170,000 acres – 265 square miles, nearly five times the size of Washington, DC. Across eleven western states, nearly 2,000,000 acres have already burned this year; imagine all of Delaware and Rhode Island ablaze.
People died. Many homes are now nothing but ashes, chimneys and memories. In the forests, the infernos exterminated wildlife habitats, roasted eagle and spotted owl fledglings alive in their nests, boiled away trout and trout streams, left surviving birds and mammals to starve for lack of food, and incinerated every living organism in the thin soils, presaging massive erosion that will clog streambeds during downpours and snowmelts. Many areas will not recover their foliage or biodiversity for decades.
Having hiked in many of these areas, I’ve been truly depressed by these infernos. Why were they allowed to happen? “We are doing everything possible to control these blazes,” officials insist. One has to wonder.