Fires rage as southern California grapples with 'extreme red flag'
The wildfires on the West Coast Oregon, putting a spotlight on climate change, but it is not the only reason why we are seeing such destruction, even in the iconic and typically wet woods of the Pacific Northwest. For more. We've got NPR's Kirk Sigler, who has covered wildfires for this network for more than a decade. Kirk Hi, Good morning, Rachel. So we know that the forests and the brush the grasses in the West. Are extraordinarily dried out because of climate change. Kind of remind us how we got here. Well, right. There are a couple other big things going on here that we have to consider. And one is that we've also spent the last century stamping out wildfires and we actually continued to do this today. It's just the few that get away that are in the news and Healthy forests need fire, and what we've gotten ourselves into is what the experts call the wildfire paradox. So by doing this, we're actually making the problem worse, because now the forests and the brush lands are overgrown and in this really unnatural state, So you add climate change to that mix, and it's the worst case scenario that we're seeing. Right now. We hear the U. S. Forest Service often referred to as the Fire service because so much of their budget goes to fighting fires, not actual forest management work. But hasn't the federal government and individual states haven't they made some progress in doing some prevention work? Not very much. You know the people who say the government isn't doing enough to manage these for us, to some extent, have a point. But a lot of that actually comes down to funding. If you're spending all of your resource is on trying to stop wildfires from burning in tow whole towns, then there's not going to be a lot of money left over to do the things like The thinning projects that prescribed burns. The plan burning Forster Andrew Sanchez Madore has been keeping close tabs on this where all the states are with their prevention work. He heads the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University in California. Oregon. Treatments that they've been implementing for years haven't really been at this scale that they need to be to cost a wind driven and climate change is exacerbated, isn't Some of this has to do with money, he says. And the lack of a really big, clear national strategy, But it's more complicated than just blaming the forest Service or the firefighting apparatus in the country. Or, frankly, is the Trump Administration likes to do try to just make this about logging and logging on Lee. We are now seeing those these fires. They've destroyed whole communities. It doesn't seem quite adequate to call them forced fires anymore. I mean, these are burning up residential areas, urban settings. That's right. And here's where things get really messy on the West Coast. In particular, there's been this huge amount of development into the forest that you say there now very vulnerable. The burning, especially with climate change. Now, in some cases, people have to live in these places because it's the only place they can afford. But regardless all these subdivisions, these new towns are actually becoming the fuel that's helping make these fires even bigger. And local building codes are still pretty loose. Kimiko Barrett I talked to about this. She's at the research firm Headwaters Economics, and she told me that county's still don't really have any disincentive to stop this development because of one big reason. When you look at when a wildfire does occur, it's the federal government that comes in and pays for that suppression cost. So there's this inverse fiscal incentive on what is happening about local scale versus who's actually paying for the wildfire cost. So basically local communities they don't have to pay for the cleanup. The federal government does it, so they make money when these developments keep getting built. Exactly And there is no disincentive like she says, because they know the federal government is going to come in and pay for the suppression and the cleanup. But at some point you look at all of the disasters happening at once. We're in the middle of hurricane season and We're not even really a TTE The peak of wildfire season in California there is going to become a point where this just isn't going to be sustainable anymore.