The Two Wildfires Raging In Ariz. Burn Differently
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
These two fires are behaving very differently. As NPR's Ted Robbins reports, that's because the forests that are burning have been managed very differently.
TED ROBBINS: Helicopters fly overhead dumping water on the advancing Monument Fire, trying to keep it from moving further into populated areas near the city of Sierra Vista, Arizona.
GREG PONCIN: These are really difficult situations because of the weather, the severe field conditions and really steep, rugged terrain.
ROBBINS: Tania Schoennagel is a fire ecologist at the University of Colorado.
TANIA SCHOENNAGEL: Places like Arizona, New Mexico, parts of California, there are a lot of forests that really fit that bill that need thinning.
ROBBINS: So far, the massive Wallow Fire has burned more than a half million acres. It's the largest fire in Arizona history, yet it's spared four communities around which forest thinning was done. Around the town of Alpine, for instance, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell says the fire raced from closely packed treetop to treetop until it reached areas where the trees were thinned.
TOM TIDWELL: And because it lost that continuous supply of fuel in the top of the trees because of the thinning, the fire dropped to the ground, became a ground fire, where then our firefighters were able to be successful and suppressed that fire before it burned into the community.
ROBBINS: It's only been in the last decade that thinning through prescribed burns and selective logging has become widely accepted. Before that, the government saw it as unnecessary, and some environmentalists saw it as a ruse to allow timber companies access to national forests. But now, Tidwell says the opposition is virtually gone.
TIDWELL: We have more and more support every day from not only the conservationists, from the environmentalists, you know, from our local communities about the type of work that has to be done.
ROBBINS: Over the last year, the Forest Service has thinned almost three million acres. That's triple the acreage thinned 10 years ago. Still, it could take decades more to thin all the national forests. Plus, 70 percent of the land next to forests is private. And forest ecologist Tania Schoennagel says it's hard to get landowners to make their property fire safe.
SCHOENNAGEL: Yeah. In the West, there is sort of the cowboy sentiment that don't tell me what to do, especially on my land. I mean, everyone feels that, but I think it's especially the case out West.
ROBBINS: Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.
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