FALL RIVER, MA — Wildfires aren’t just breaking records in the western United States.
Chief Fire Warden for Massachusetts Dave Celino says it’s happening in the East as well.
“This year, through June, we’ve accounted for almost 850 wildfires that’s burned almost 1,600 acres,” Celino says during a walk in Fall River State Forest.
Celino claims that Massachusetts experienced its largest fire in 20-years earlier this year.
Add all the fires in Maine and Minnesota, which you might think are always at low fire danger, and you will see that new records are being created.
According to the Forest Service, 107,000 acres or more have been lost in the Eastern Region of the United States.
This is more than the 10-year mean.
Why don’t you hear more about the fires?
“It’s what your perception is of a catastrophic event,” Celino said.
Celino says fires in his area of the country tend to be small, they aren’t burning large swaths of land like the ones in the West.
But just because they are small, doesn’t make them any less destructive. There are more people living near the forests’ edges.
Celino stated that the Northeast’s fires are five- to ten-acre fires.
Celino said, “People live near these wildlands. We cannot immediately call five air tankers into the area.”
“I can’t even get one air tanker in.”
PUSH FOR RESOURCES
Celino and others would like more resources to prevent fires as opposed to just responding them, fearing forests around the country remain primed for a disaster.
“It’s a complex issue, there is nothing simple about it,” Brad Simpkins with the U.S. Forest Service says.
Simpkins said that prescribed burning is only one tool in the arsenal.
Prescribed burning refers to the intentional setting of fires on a land area to make it less flammable.
Simpkins claims that there is a shortage of money and time which prevents more prescribed burning from occurring.
Massachusetts has approximately 16,000 acres that require a prescribed burning, but crews are limited to 2,000 per year.
Simpkins stated that it takes special training to manage a prescribed fire. Simpkins also said that the same people who do most of the burning are those responding to wildfires.
CONGRESS CONSIDERING ACTION
This is where Congress comes in and where a debate over forest funding is unfolding.
Senator Michael Bennet (D.C.O. “We have not invested in forests, and with climate change, conditions are getting drier,” Senator Michael Bennet (D-C.O.) stated.
Bennet is an important voice on the topic.
Senator Bennet serves as the Chair of U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry and Natural Resources.
His and other Democrats want to include $40 billion in the multi-trillion-dollar spending bill for forest mitigation, watershed protection, and prescribed burning.
In recent days though, it’s become clearer that the spending bill will need to become smaller in order to pass.
Bennett is confident that fire mitigation will be able to withstand the cuts.
Bennet stated that he believes the cuts will be successful in reducing fire mitigation.
While Washington is still in Washington’s shadow, Simpkins said that thousands of firefighters across the country will continue fighting fires, as needed, while records will be broken.
“Any one state, California, Montana wherever can’t handle those issues by themselves,” he said.