Arizona wildfire prompts Congressional hearing on logging.The right focus?
The Yarnell Hill wildfire in Arizona is 45 percent contained. Next week, Congress will hold hearings on how to reduce wildfires through better forest management. Some see political opportunism for logging.
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To date, the Yarnell Hill Fire, which was sparked by lightning, has burned an estimated 8,400 acres, but the total acreage has not grown for days. A spokeswoman told the Arizona Republic that 675 firefighters were still working on the blaze. As of Wednesday, the fire was 45 percent contained, up from just 8 percent on Tuesday. The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office says that 114 of the area’s 500 homes were damaged or destroyed by the fire. Evacuated residents are expected to be able to return to the area on Saturday.Skip to next paragraph
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As the investigation into the deaths of the 19 firefighters gets under way, some have raised questions about whether the elite hotshots crew should have even been in the location where it was caught on Sunday.
"A team of forest managers and safety experts is charged with finding out what went wrong. In addition to examining radio logs, the fire site and weather reports, they'll also talk to the crew's sole survivor, a 21-year-old lookout who warned his fellow firefighters and friends that the wildfire was switching directions," according to the Associated Press.
One of the challenges, as The Christian Science Monitor reported, is the lack of micro-weather forecasting for fighting these kinds of fires.
"Scientists are working to turn a decade's worth of research into the interplay between fire, terrain, fuel, and weather into tools that fire managers might be able to use to try to reduce the risk firefighters face of being caught off-guard by sudden shifts in fire behavior.
Indeed, while terrain and fuel abundance play crucial roles in fire behavior, weather – including weather conditions that fires themselves foster – often is the wildcard in combating fires. It's a card that, without warning, can send thin tongues of flame lancing ahead of the main fire at speeds of up to 100 miles an hour, covering 100 yards in two seconds, only to vanish."
For some observers, the deaths of the Granite Mountain Hotshots raise a more fundamental question: Are lives being put unnecessarily in harm's way? Tim Wendel, a one-time Western firefighter, takes this position in an opinion piece in USA Today:
"If anything fighting fire has become more difficult thanks to global warming and people building trophy homes closer to the woods, sometimes right in the wilderness. These folks often have money and when their homes are threatened, the call goes out to people in Congress and others on high. The ones often told to do the dirty work (and that's what fighting fire is) are crews like one from Prescott."