One Man’s Opinion, “Burn Baby Burn,” Tuesday, August 17, 2021
The largest number of forest fires occur annually in Georgia, Florida, and a handful of southeastern states. Interestingly though, and with rare exceptions, thanks largely to smart forestry management practices, and the good fortune of not recently experiencing extended periods of drought, those fires seldom burn long or get out of control, or cause massive property and environmental damage, as well as the potential loss of life. Southeastern forests also tend to be much more evergreen, ask any Boy Scout or experienced camper, pine, and related tree species do not quite make as solid fire fuel as old growth, hard timber such as the forests covering much of the pacific northwest.
The currently raging Dixie Fire has already consumed nearly 500,000 acres of northern California, with the burning area now more than 500 square miles and considered only roughly 20 percent ‘contained.’ The fire completely destroyed the small town of Greenville, California, and several residents and area pets are still among the missing. Evacuations continue across the region, as more than 5,800 firefighters, park rangers, National Guard members, and others continually battle the blaze around the clock.
To the north in Washington State, firefighters are using an adapted technology to fight larger blazes there, using heat sensors and night vision from the air after dark, enhancing firefighter abilities to track and then douse the ‘hot spots’ as well as note how prevailing winds are spreading the flames. Nearby in Oregon, firefighters are successfully using two LONG-established fire fighting tactics, well-proven here in the south, including controlled burns, to pre-clear and burn out dead trees, limbs, underbrush, and other debris which may later serve as the tinder and accelerant for hot burning fires. AFTER the most destructive fire in California’s history, the Camp Fire of 2018, became the most destructive blaze in the state’s history. The Camp Fire was named after Camp Creek Road, near its place of origin in northern California’s Butte County. Initially ignited by a faulty PG&E transmission line, and east winds drove the blaze southward into thoroughly developed areas. The fire claimed 85 civilian casualties, as well as seriously injuring five firefighters. Damage and loss claims including the near-complete loss of the towns of Paradise, Concow, Magalia, and Butte Creek Canyon exceeded $16.5 billion (with nearly 25% of that property uninsured). We have friends who lost their homes and virtually every possession in that disaster. The state of California then promised to review and revise is forestry management practices.
Much of northern California, and smaller segments of southern CA, are state and federally protected forests and nature preserves. California has chosen to be more concerned about disturbing the forest biome, secondary environmental impacts, and potential harm to wildlife to engage in many proven and standard forest management practices. That said, layer atop endless drought, the Santa Anna and other prevailing wind systems, climate change, and a major utility that seems to set fires to the extent of considering arson as a sideline, and you have a pile of accelerant awaiting only a match, lightning strike or the next spark jump off the transmission grid.
Those noting the alphabetic order of the Camp Fire, and now Dixie, I was starting to wonder if the meteorological and firefighting communities in California either had a sarcastic sense of humor or a naming algorithm programmed with a sense of irony. The Dixie Fire is making General William Tecumseh Sherman’s 1864 ‘March to the Sea’ looks more like a weekend weenie roast run amok.
And while the Dixie fire burns thousands of acres and endangers millions across California, the beloved song “Dixie” is no longer allowed to be played at sporting events. At my alma mater, UGA, the word “Dixie” was deemed too offensive to remain part of the name of our well-regarded “Dixie” Redcoats Marching Band. Only Dixie Crystal Sugar and Dixie cups/paper products remain as last vestiges of a word once spoken with pride, and daily printed beneath the masthead of The Atlanta Journal for decades which once covered “Dixie Like the Dew.” Combined with an assist from Smokey the Bear and some of the milder and moister climes of southern Appalachia, the south has a thing or two to share with the west in terms of timber safety and safer forestry management practices. Though last week I referenced there are times when looking lefts seems right, this week rather than urging some to ‘go west young man,’ I will instead leave you with a long favored refrain…”Look away…look away…look away, Dixie Land.”