Sunday December 16, 2018
Home Lead Story U.S. Official...

U.S. Officials Find Solutions To Prevent Increased Wildfires

For 2019, the Forest Service has proposed a $3 million bump for its wildfire fuels program.

0
//
California, Fire prevention, wildfires, Insurance, rain
A controlled burn ignites pine trees on the "Rough Fire" — which closed camps east of Fresno at Hume Lake as it crossed Highway 180 — in the Sequoia National Forest in California, Aug. 21, 2015. VOA
Republish
Reprint

Creating fire buffers between housing and dry brush, burying spark-prone power lines and lighting more controlled burns to keep vegetation in check could give people a better chance of surviving wildfires, according to experts searching for ways to reduce growing death tolls from increasingly severe blazes in California and across the U.S. West.

Western wildfires have grown ever more lethal, a grim reality that’s been driven by more housing developments sprawling into the most fire-prone grasslands and brushy canyons, experts say. Many of the ranchers and farmers who once managed those landscapes are gone, leaving neglected terrain that has grown thick with vegetation that can explode into flames when sparked.

Killed while evacuating

That’s left communities ripe for tragedy as whipping winds and recurring drought that’s characteristic of climate change stoke wildfires like the ones raging in Northern and Southern California that have killed at least 51 people in recent days.

cars, wildfires
The burned out hulks of cars abandoned by their drivers sit along a road. VOA

Hundreds of thousands of people were told to leave their homes ahead of the blazes to get out of harm’s way. Yet some experts say there’s been an over-reliance on evacuation and too little attention paid to making communities safe, as well as not enough money for controlled burns and other preventive measures.

Search crews found many victims inside their vehicles, or just next to them, overcome by flames, heat and smoke as they tried to flee. Survivors of the blaze that nearly obliterated the Northern California town of Paradise and nearby communities spoke of having minutes to escape and narrow roads made impassable by flames and traffic jams.

“There are … so many ways that can go wrong, in the warning, the modes of getting the message out, the confusion … the traffic jams,” said Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension program.

Local safety zones

As deadly urban wildfires become more common, officials should also consider establishing “local retreat zones, local safety zones” in communities where residents can ride out the deadly firestorms if escape seems impossible, Moritz said.

California, wildfires
The Delta Fire burns in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. VOA

That could be a community center, built or retrofitted to better withstand wildfires, which can exceed 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving little trace of ordinary homes.

Such fire protection measures in buildings can include sprinklers, fire- and heat-resistant walls and roofs, and barriers that keep sparks out of chimneys and other openings, according to the International Code Council, a nonprofit that helps develop building codes used widely in the United States.

Buffers and buried power

Creating more buffers — whether parks, golf courses or irrigated agriculture, like the vineyards that helped keep 2017 wildfires in California’s wine country from spreading into even more towns — around new and old housing developments would help stave off wildfires threatening to overrun cities and towns.

So would burying electric power lines, which can spark and fail in the high winds that drive many of California’s fiercest fires, said Jon Keeley, a research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in California.

Trees, fire, wildfire
Charred trunks of Ponderosa pines stand near Sisters, Ore., Sept. 27, 2017, months after a prescribed burn removed vegetation, smaller trees and other fuel ladders. VOA

Sparks from electrical utility equipment are suspects in the Northern California wildfire that consumed Paradise, destroying some 7,700 homes, and other deadly blazes in the state.

Brush management

A proven method to prevent wildfires from getting out of control is the use of controlled burns. By intentionally lighting fires, property owners or land managers can remove dead and low-lying trees and brush, material that otherwise accumulates and can accelerate the growth of fires.

In the mid-20th century, California ranchers burned hundreds of thousands of acres annually to manage their lands, said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, director of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council.

That was phased out in the 1980s after California’s fire management agency stepped in to take over the burns, and by the last decade, the amount of acreage being treated had dropped to less than 10,000 acres annually, Quinn-Davidson said.

Former agricultural land that rings many towns in the state became overgrown, even as housing developments pushed deeper into those rural areas. That was the situation in the Northern California town of Redding leading up to a fire that began in July and destroyed more than 1,000 homes. It was blamed for eight deaths.

California, Wildfires
In this Sept. 5, 2018, photo released by the U.S. Forest Service, a truck drives next to the Delta Fire burning on Interstate 5 near Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Calif. VOA

“You get these growing cities pushing out, housing developments going right up into brush and wooded areas. One ignition on a bad day, and all that is threatened,” Quinn-Davidson said. “These fires are tragic, and they’re telling us this is urgent. We can’t sit on our hands.”

Not forest fires

The latest California fires have fueled debate over the reasons for ever-more deadly wildfires, with President Donald Trump claiming in a tweet Saturday that “gross mismanagement of the forests” was the sole reason the state’s fires had become so “massive, deadly and costly.” He also threatened to withhold federal payments to the state.

However, most of California’s deadly fires of recent years have been in grasslands and brushy chaparral, Keeley said.

“Most of the fires we’ve been seeing in the last couple years that are the most destructive are not in the forest. Thinning isn’t going to change anything,” he said.

Trump’s assertion also ignored the huge federal land holdings in the state and brought a quick backlash, with the president of the California firefighters union describing it as a shameful attack on thousands of firefighters on the front lines.

California, Wildfires
California Gov. Jerry Brown, second from left, looks at a students work book displayed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, that was found during a tour of the fire ravaged Paradise Elementary School, Nov. 14, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. The school is among the thousands of homes and businesses destroyed along with dozens of lives lost when the fire burned through the area last week. VOA

Feds share the blame, cut funds

To ease tensions, the White House sent Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to tour fire-damaged areas and offer assistance to California Gov. Jerry Brown.

In an interview before the two-day visit, which began Wednesday, Zinke struck a conciliatory tone and said federal officials share blame for not managing public forest and rangelands aggressively enough.

“We need to work in unison to make sure we thin the forest, especially fire breaks, and make sure we have prescribed burns,” Zinke told The Associated Press. “There’s been a lack of management on Interior lands, on U.S. Forest Service lands and certainly with state lands.”

But it’s California, not the Trump administration that is putting more money behind such efforts.

California, Fire prevention,  wildfires
A firefighter sprays the smoldering remains of a vehicle on Interstate 5 as the Delta Fire burns in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, VOA

In response to the deadly blazes of recent years, California lawmakers in September approved a measure that would provide $1 billion over five years for fire protection, including more controlled burns and projects to thin forests and brush land.

Also Read: Wildfire in California Causes Severe Distress To Citizens

By contrast, federal spending on hazardous fuels reduction has been flat in recent years, hovering at just less than $600 million, even as direct firefighting costs jumped to a record $2.9 billion last year.

For 2019, the Forest Service has proposed a $3 million bump for its wildfire fuels program. At Interior, Zinke proposed a $29 million cut in fuel management spending. (VOA)

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2018 NewsGram

Next Story

U.S. Welcomes Pakistan’s Actions Towards Peace in Afghanistan

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan

0
Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Pakistan"s Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen during talks in Beijing, China, VOA

The United States said Saturday it welcomes actions Pakistan is taking to promote a negotiated solution to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

The acknowledgement came a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced his country has arranged another round of Washington’s peace talks with the Afghan Taliban scheduled for Monday.

“The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans,” a U.S. embassy spokesperson in Kabul told VOA.

US negotiator

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has met, and will continue to meet, with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, the spokesperson added.

Neither Khan nor the U.S. spokesperson have disclosed the possible venue for the upcoming meeting with Taliban officials.

Some Afghan sources say Monday’s meeting will take place in Islamabad, but no official confirmation is available.

USA, afghanistan
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

Khalilzad, who is visiting regional countries to gather support for Afghan peace talks, is to lead the U.S. delegation in talks with insurgent representatives. This will not be the first time Khalilzad has met with the Taliban.

Since taking office in September, the special U.S. envoy has held two publicly known rounds of preliminary discussions with insurgent negotiators in Qatar, where the Taliban runs its so-called political office. The talks have been for the sake of talks, according to insurgent and other sources aware of the meetings.

Trump’s letter to Khan

U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month wrote a formal letter to Khan asking for his help to bring the Taliban to the table for negotiations. A day later, Khalilzad visited Islamabad where he met with Khan and his military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, to follow-up on Trump’s request, Pakistani officials say.

Speaking in northwestern city of Peshawar on Friday, Khan said the U.S. has changed its tune by requesting help instead of saying Islamabad is not doing enough, as U.S. officials have previously insisted.

“By the grace of Allah, the dialogue is now happening inshallah [God willing] on the 17th [Khan did not mention the month] and Pakistan has facilitated the talks between America and the Taliban,” Khan said. He did not share further details.

taliban, afghanistan
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, right, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

Khan recounted Friday that critics used to mock him as “Taliban Khan” for saying the Afghan war could not be ended without political negotiations but now all key stakeholders are jointly working to pursue a political settlement to end the violence in Afghanistan.

“If peace were achieved, God willing, Peshawar will change and become a hub of commerce and tourism, as things around the 2,500 years old living city are likely to change,” Khan said Friday.

Ambassador Khalilzad is 13 days into an 18-day visit to the region. He has traveled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium and plans to visit the U.A.E. and Qatar.

Withdrawal an issue

Pakistani officials privy to the U.S. interaction with the Taliban have told VOA that until now no progress has been achieved because the insurgents adamantly demand “a date or timeframe” for all foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban decides to participate in an intra-Afghan peace process.

Also Read: What to Make of Taliban’s Continued Rare Silence on Ghani’s Peace Offer? 

U.S. officials have long maintained Taliban leaders are sheltering in Pakistan with covert support from the country’s intelligence agency. Washington has been urging Islamabad to use its influence to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan and continue to pose serious battlefield challenges for U.S.-backed Afghan security forces. (VOA)