Wasted energy: from biomass to wildfire

Guest opinion by Dale Nova

Heavy smoke is thick again in Siskiyou County's air. It's another summer…and another ripping fire season. Few of us, unless we have been camping in a cave to beat the heat, have missed how the media has fanned the flames of recent wildfires sweeping across the West.

Northern California included, fire has razed residences, often ravaged communities, and broken some records in the process. New Mexico and Oregon set two of those records, racking up their largest wildfires ever experienced in modern history.

We have excluded wildfire to such a deliberate, deleterious extent that we now have very few fire-resilient forests, save possibly Alaska and a small handful of wilderness locales in the lower 48.

Native Americans had it right – before European settlers began preventing wildfire from doing what it does best – re-creating natural diversity quickly, with fire often revisiting in as little as 10-year intervals, creating mosaics, park-like forests, timber stand replacements on small to grand scales, and purging competing vegetation in its seemingly thoughtless ways.

Yet, our native first people had it down, with thoughtful, deliberate actions. Their cultural firing accomplishments are well documented, using fire for good forest management, religious reasons, better food gathering, medicinal plant enhancement, and so many more practical, solid, scientifically sound and time-proven reasons.

Now we spend billions of dollars every year in the U.S. trying to control wildfires that sear precious homes so dear because they have often been poorly planned and planted in wildland urban/suburban interface areas that are actually ignition zones, complete with very high hazards for firefighters like vehicles full of volatile fuel parked in garages filled with killers like ammunition to oil-based insecticides.

These houses shadow propane, stove oil, and kerosene tanks while other I-Zone neighborhoods often have buried natural gas lines coursing throughout the honeycombs of homes, rising to the surface of each abode. That does not bode well for the safety of firefighters going full tilt at setting up structure protection, often evacuating too long lingering residents at the same time.

It is imperative that we re-introduce fire back into our landscapes, possibly not on such a grand scale as that used by our indigenous peoples, but certainly with the same thoughtful, even reverent deliberation and planning, prescribing fire onto discernible areas, where neighborhoods and isolated homesteads along with the people that love them can be made more fire safe from the ravages of the certain return of wildfire.

Where we prescribe and spend this precious energy is where we can reap the dividends of our investments in the form of saved tax dollars, reduced home insurance rates, peace of mind and even the possibility to convert some biomass to electrical energy at local cogeneration plants that make jobs in our depressed communities. This makes more than a lot of good cents. It makes wise dollars, saves all of us big dollars, and helps the U.S. become less dependent on finite fossil fuels.

Uncontrolled wildfires or more prescribed fires – what's your vote?

For more information go to: norcalrxfirecouncil.org

• Dale Nova is the Joint Coordinator, Fire Safe Council of Siskiyou County