Wildfires continue to cause concerns for government
“Fire is very much on peoples’ minds throughout the western U.S.,” commented Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell during a conference on May 13.
Jewell, with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, discussed the upcoming fire season and measures that are currently being taken to increase preparedness.
“The thing that is most extraordinary is there are no barriers between the agencies in working together in thoughtful management of wildland fires throughout this country,” commented Jewell. “We work with local organizations, Indian tribes, states, all of the bureaus and the federal government in sharing assets and being interchangeable to work on wildland fires as they arise.”
Jewell also noted that she finds the level of sophistication in coordination efforts that take place in assessing the risk and circumstances behind fires, as well as the decision to fight a fire or let it burn, amazing.
“Team work is critical in doing what we need to do,” she continued. “I am impressed and grateful to the men and women who serve our country [fighting fires].”
Vilsack added that the USDA, U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are working with limited resources and doing their best to ensure the protection and resiliency of our forests.
“We are now in a time that we need to begin to prepare,” he commented. “It is our responsibility to do the best job we can in responding and suppressing fires.”
Fire season 2013
“We are prepared to fight fires or not, as funded, to take advantage of where we might be five years from now in fighting future fires,” said Jewell.
“As of May 3,” Vilsack said, “We already had 153,000 acres of fires.”
While that number is decreased by 5,000 acres from last year and 10,000 acres from the previous year, he emphasized that a false sense of security should not be felt.
“We had a serious drought in 2012, which has continued in many parts of the country, so we are preparing and expecting a challenging season,” Vilsack noted. “The key is for collaboration, cooperation and communication, and we have always done a good job of working through that from the local, regional and national level.”
“The 12 hottest years on record have been in the last 15 years,” added Jewell. “Just because we started off with a lower season has no bearing on where we think this season will go.”
Role of the public
“It is the responsibility of the people of the U.S. to remove fuels around their house, clear brush, trees and fuels around their house and to learn more about their responsibilities and what they can do to use their assets in the best way possible,” said Jewell.
Vilsack marked the FireWise program and fireadapted.org as resources for citizens to learn more about steps required in being proactive.
“There are roughly 45 million acres that require treatment,” said Vilsack of forests. “With restrained budgets, we are doing everything we can to restore acres.”
“We will continue to put resources behind the bark beetle, but the reality is both are facing challenging budgets,” he continued. “We are going to work hard to make sure the job gets done protecting people and property and make sure our firefighters are safe.”