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Logging & Fire Risk

     From Yellowstone to the Cascades, large fires are driven by drought, wind and forest conditions. Logging companies downplay the role of drought and wind to promote logging that removes “fuels.” These companies assert that their logging can mimic fire and prevent large fires. Although fuel is an ingredient of fire, the Pacific Northwest’s cascade and coastal rainforests with plenty of trees and fine fuel experience fires far less often, and scientists tell us it is impossible to thin fast enough, broadly enough and repeatedly enough to reduce fuels and fire risk in these forests. On the other hand, the lodgepole pine forests of Yellowstone are dependent on fire, and need it to rejuvenate periodically.  And many big fires burn in grasslands and shrublands, where there are very few if any trees.

     While we know that fires and forests go together like waves and oceans, we still need to protect homes and communities from the flames and wind driven embers. So what can we do? Experts have studied the issues and worked with the insurance industry to test the best methods for fire proofing homes and removing flammable materials immediately around them to create defensible space. Los Angeles has been a leader in encouraging fire-safe principles for homes. As a result, the La Tuna fire burned only 5 of the nearly 1,400 homes in its path. The five homes that burned either escaped LA’s annual monitoring for defensible space or had not been updated with ember-proof vents—that is, they could have been saved if the homes had basic protections that all the other homes had.

     Fire expert Jack Cohen has field-tested a variety of methods and concluded that homes can be hardened to withstand the wind driven embers that are the primary cause of homes burning in the communities we have built in fire prone areas. To meet the challenges, experts recommend against removing valuable, larger fire-resistant trees. They encourage us to keep old forests intact and grow older trees that have the ability to survive the flames, store more water, keep valuable soil in place and provide places we all enjoy.