Damping fire dangers in the West

PEOPLE of goodwill everywhere cannot help being moved by the selfless and often heroic efforts of firefighters, public officials, families, and private individuals -- all cooperating -- to contain the fires that have swept through large parts of the Western United States and Western Canada. The fires have already taken a major toll, in terms of a number of lives lost, homes destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of acres burned or damaged. Most of the blazes stem from a combination of overly dry weather and lightning storms. Some are believed linked to individuals -- set inadvertently, through negligence, or, in a few instances, perhaps intentionally.

Whatever the origins, however, the situation calls for the deepest compassion by all people, wherever they might live. Indeed, many individuals and groups from other regions have already responded by sending supplies and equipment as well as through their prayers.

The fires have once again raised questions among some public officials about land-use and zoning laws that encourage home construction in areas susceptible to ground fires, as well as the need for long-range construction of natural ``fire walls'' or buffers -- such as treeless or relatively shrubless acres between wooded areas and neighborhoods that can inhibit or slow, if not actually prevent, ground fires. It is only proper that public officials consider such zoning laws, given the continued population flow into Western communities from other parts of North America -- a population flow that encourages new construction in rural as well as urban areas.

Public officials and individuals will also need to ensure that burned out acreage is restored to a natural state -- to protect loss of vital topsoil and to keep the land from actually shifting, thus creating new hazards for some communities.

Still, at this time, it is compassion and support that are called for as the people of the communities involved take so many tireless steps to contain the conflagrations.

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