SALEM, Ore. — Wearing soot-smudged, fire-resistant clothing and helmets, several wildland firefighters armed with hoes moved through a stand of ponderosa pines as flames tore through the underbrush. The firefighters weren’t there to extinguish the fire. They had started it. The prescribed burn, ignited thisnear the scenic mountain town of Bend, is part of a massive effort in wildlands across the U.S. West to prepare for a tthat’sexpected to be even worse than last year′s record-shattering one.
The U.S.by hand, machines, and prescribed burns about 1.8 million acres (728,000 hectares) of forest and brushland since last season; officials told The Associated Press. They typically treat some 3 million (1.2 million hectares) acres every year. All that activity, though, has barely scratched the surface. The acres (260 million hectares) in the U.S. All, but 4% of it lies in the West, including Alaska, with some unsuitable for prescribed burning. All these steps are in the right direction. Still, the challenge is extensive and complex,” said John Bailey, professor of silviculture and State University.
“More needs to be done even to turn the corner.”The efforts face a convergence of bleak forces. Severe drought has turned forests and grasslands into dry fuels, ready tostrike. More people are building in areas bordering wildlands, expanding the so-called wildland-urban interface, where the most. Invasive, highly flammable vegetation is the West. “I’mseeing probably the worst combination of conditions in my lifetime,” said Derrick DeGroot, a county c commissioner in southern OOregon’sKlamath County. “e have an enormous fuel load in the forests, and we are looking at a drought unlike wwe’veseen probably in the,e .
Asked how worried he is about the 2021 fire season, DeGroot said: “n a scale of 1 to 10, II’ma 12. nothing looks good.”In other prevention measures in the West, utilityvegetation around power lines and are ready to impose blackouts when those lines threaten to spark a fire. Armies of firefighters are being beefed up. And communities are offering incentives for residents to make their properties fire-resistant. Still, much work remains to change the rregion’strajectory with fire, particularly in two key areas, said Scott Stephens, professor of wildland at the University of California, Berkeley. “ne is getting people better prepared for the inevitability of fire in areas like the wildland-urban interface. “and the second is preparing our ecosystems for and fire impacts. That includes new construction,” he said.