Friday, August 08, 2014

Fools at the Fire

Timothy Egan, NYT
AUG. 7, 2014

In the heat, in the still gloaming, we set up camp near a snowbank across from a glacier and a symphony of waterfalls. North Cascades National Park, a few hours’ drive from Seattle, can always be counted on as a compress to the rest of the country’s fever.

Then, out of the park a few days later, down the valley to the arid east, it seems as if half of Washington State is on fire. Smoke, devastation, ashen orchards of charred fruit, standing dead pines. More than 250,000 acres have burned in the largest fire in the state’s history, the Carlton Complex. About 300 homes have been destroyed. A small army of firefighters, at a cost of $50 million so far, is trying to hold the beast in the perimeter, between days when the mercury tops 100 degrees.

With this kind of loss comes blame. It’s President Obama’s fault. Why? Because everything is his fault in the inland West, where ignorance rides the airwaves of talk radio. Amid the conservative cant, a great irony: People who hate government most are the loudest voices demanding government action to save their homes.

Those flares will die down. What can’t be so easily dismissed is what the fires say about an emerging American ethos of delaying long-term fixes for our major problems. Smart foresters had been warning for years that climate change, drought and stress would lead to bigger, longer, hotter wildfires. They offered remedies, some costly, some symbolic. We did nothing. We chose to wait until the fires were burning down our homes, and then demanded instant relief.

(More here.)

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