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“We are failing miserably to tell our story,” said Bob Mutch, long-time forest fire researcher and fire management expert, during today’s featured presentation at NFPA’s Backyards & Beyond conference in Salt Lake City.
Mr. Mutch, retired from a 38-year career with the U.S. Forest Service, said the fire community and interface leaders are failing to communicate to policy-makers and interface residents about the enactment of unsustainable fire policies that are producing catastrophic outcomes.
He was referring to fire bans and the practice of quickly responding to every fire in an effort to keep them from raging out of control. Mr. Mutch said this policy leads to long-term harm to forest ecosystems and primes our forests for even more destructive fires in the future.
“These policies fly in the face of 50 years of fire research that tells us that it makes no sense to try to keep fire out of systems that are inevitably going to burn,” he said. “I am not here to point fingers, but we have to realize that together, we have a responsibility to tell our story better, more clearly, and more completely, so that those who need to know get it”.
How can we better frame our stories? Mr. Mutch suggests conducting after action reviews (AAR) on fire ban policies (in particular, the May 25, 2012, "fire ban edict" from the U.S. Forest Service) and taking to heart the lessons learned. “We also need to heed the call for outside review of sustainable fire policy issues and take advantage of the strength of interagency partnerships,” he said, because if we don’t provide the facts, “others will rush in and fill the vacuum.”
Mr. Mutch dedicated his presentation to the memory of Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old wildland firefighter from Idaho who died while battling a 43-acre wildfire, as well as to the 19 members of Arizona’s Granite Mountain hotshot team who died last June in or near their shelters while on assignment. </p>