PICTURED: The 2017 La Tuna Fire, the biggest in Los Angeles’ history. Photo credit: Scott L
“More than 21,000 square miles of forest have gone up in flames in Siberia this month, putting Russia on track for its worst year on record for wildfires. The smoke from these blazes shrouded large parts of the country,” began a Vox article published yesterday.
Social media platforms of all sorts have been awash with images and videos of devastating wildfires all around the globe over the last few weeks following what was the hottest July on record.
The article continues: “last week, Denmark dispatched firefighters to Greenland combat a wildfire approaching inhabited areas. If not extinguished, officials are worried the blaze would burn through the winter, further driving up the already massive ice melt Greenland has experienced this year amid record heat”.
But certainly nothing surpasses the fires that are still torching the Amazon rainforest, burning at an 80% higher rate than the previous fire season, according to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE).
As things stand, it appears the fires are on track to pass 2017 as well for torched acerage. In that year, a record 208,278 fires scorched what researchers described as a “sick and degraded forest”. Shockingly, 2019 seems to be even worse than 2017, which the INPE says will threaten to turn the whole of the Amazon Basin back to dry savannah land as it was in the age of the dinosaurs.
An Ally of America’s Forests
At home, Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt is taking advantage of President Trump’s sextupling of the National Forest Service budget, which included over 3 billion dollars specifically set aside for firefighting costs to prepare America’s forests, particularly in the west, for fire season and to try and prevent the scope of American wildfires from reaching the levels they did last year.
In 2018, 2.6 billion dollars were spent on fire fighting – a result of 8.8 million acres of National Forests being scorched. The agency pulled much of that money from non-fire related sources to cover the costs.
All together, funding for firefighting activities has risen to 3.3 billion dollars under President Trump’s 2020 budget. The budget also reauthorizes a number of key pieces of legislation to help clear off the list of deferred maintenance projects on America’s public lands and in her parks.
Armed with the new and improved firefighting budget, Sec. Bernhardt is carrying out the preventative methods thusly.
Alaska, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Virginia, Minnesota, and Utah have all conducted prescribed burnings to clear deadwood and litter which help lower the intensity of possible fires.
Public lands in Nevada, California, and Utah are all receiving projects to add an 11,000 mile series of bare stretches known as “fuel breaks”. Similar to tank traps in World War II, fuel breaks are spans of bare ground created across areas where planners imagine the fires will travel to stop them spreading to dangerous areas.
Firefighting teams across the Great Basin will have access to many more planes and helicopters which will allow for greater mobility and fire suppression.
“As stewards of one-fifth of the country’s public lands, primarily in the West, we know that our ability to be prepared for wildfires and reduce their severity is paramount to protecting communities and saving lives,” said Bernhardt.
“In collaboration with local, state, and other federal partners, we are using everything in our arsenal to prepare for wildfires this year, treating more than one million acres”.
Fortunately for Americans, a cool, wet spring has led planners to believe this season will not come close to the tragedies experienced in 2018 when 58,000 wildfires burned over 8.8 million acres and destroyed nearly 26,000 structures.
The Department of the Interior is taking the threat of fires as seriously as ever before, and Sec. Bernhardt, who took over the position from former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, appointed by President Trump at the start of his administration, has tackled few Interior issues in his short tenure as head-on as this season’s wildfires.