20 Apr 2009, 12:40am
Federal forest policy The 2008 Fire Season
by admin

Long-Term Health Effects of Fires

Fire suppression costs are a fraction of the total cost-plus-damages that wildfires can inflict. As The True Cost of Wildfire in the Western U.S. [here] stated:

The millions of dollars spent to extinguish large wildfires are widely reported and used to underscore the severity of these events. Extinguishing a large wildfire, however, accounts for only a fraction of the total costs associated with a wildfire event. Residents in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) are generally seen as the most vulnerable to fire, but a fuller accounting of the costs of fire also reveals impacts to all Americans and gives a better picture of the losses incurred when our forests burn.

A full accounting considers long-term and complex costs, including impacts to watersheds, ecosystems, infrastructure, businesses, individuals, and the local and national economy.

Among those long-term and complex costs are long-term health effects. The Redding Record Searchlight published a report about that today [here].

There’s still much to learn about long-term health effects of last year’s fires

By Jocelyn Weiner and Ryan Sabalow, The Redding Record Searchlight, Sunday, April 19, 2009

The smoke crept in during the final weeks of June. From the blazing forest, it reached its ashy brown fingers into Frank Walden’s garden, choking his corn and poisoning his apple trees. It snuck under the doorway of his three-bedroom home on the edge of Big Bar. It entered his lungs. It refused to leave.

Ten months after the lightning storms that triggered 136 wildfires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and clogged this region with smoke for an entire summer, Frank Walden doesn’t feel much better. His resting heart rate recently clocked in at 141 beats per minute - twice as fast as normal, he says. He struggles to catch his breath.

“It probably took years off me,” says Walden, 75, his voice now scratchy like a smoker’s, though he’s never lit up. “By damn, those fires have done me bad.”

Last summer’s fires left a physical imprint on all the state’s northernmost landscapes, but perhaps none so much as Trinity County’s. The lush green hills here are now heavily patched with brown tree skeletons. Some residents say the fires also cast another, less tangible shadow: on their lungs.

The short-term public health effects of wildfires are well documented. As smoke triggers asthma and exacerbates existing heart and lung issues, emergency room visits and hospitalizations tend to go up. With the likelihood of future fire outbreaks increasing due to drought and global warming, locals wonder whether wildfire smoke may become a constant part of their lives - and whether it will have a significant longer-term health impact. The issue has attracted scant research; some experts believe a sure answer may never be known.

Chronic problems

Still, patients scattered across this region feel certain the effects are real. Some, like Frank Walden, say they were healthy before the fires, then fell seriously ill as a result of the smoke. Others say they were chronically ill before the lightning storm hit - and have grown even sicker since.

These patients’ experiences have led some local officials to raise an alarm about the fires, calling on everyone from the U.S. Forest Service to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to consider the health-related dangers of smoke when setting policies about forest management and disaster response. Too frequently, they say, those dangers - and the people who suffer the results - are forgotten in the larger policy debate.

“They’re sick for 10, 15, 20 years from the effects of smoke, and nobody’s held accountable for that,” said Rod Mendes, director of the office of emergency services for the Hoopa Tribe near Humboldt.

“And they should be held accountable.”

Redding is in Trinity County where 266,157 acres (about 97% on National Forests) burned last summer. The Trinity County Board of Supervisors reported to Congress last week [here]

* Trinity County communities were under mandatory evacuation orders 15 times

* Over 1,400 homes were evacuated

* Unhealthy and extremely unhealthy air quality alerts were issues for many of our communities for weeks

* Federal standards for pm 2.5 levels were exceeded in many cases by a factor of 10 or greater

* Millions of dead trees and millions of tons of fuel will remain untreated to threaten our communities, resources, and our firefighters for decades to come

In all, about 650,000 acres (1,000 square miles) burned last summer to the north and west (upwind) of Redding. The fires started June 21 and burned all summer long, many well into October.

Many of those fires were allowed to burn vast acreages by design. Within days of ignition large burn zones, 40,000 acres and more, were inked onto maps at the Incident Command Posts. The decisions to make small fires (less than 1,000 acres) into large fires (more than 1,000 acres) were successful in that the stated goals were achieved and then some, because the fires blew up in July and August and became megafires (more than 100,000 acres).

Over $400 million was spent on suppression on those fires alone, and it broke the USFS national fire budget. Twelve firefighters died. Smoke poured down on Redding for four solid months.

Watersheds, wildlife, habitat, heritage, recreation, public health and safety, the economy — all compromised and damaged in the short and long-term.

The decisions to Let It Burn are not made at the spur of the moment. They are not decisions per se, but more obeying directives from Headquarters, i.e. Washington D.C.

Those directives have never been subjected to the National Environmental Policy Act. No Environmental Impact Statement has ever been written regarding the National Fire Plan and the directives issued by the Wildland Fire Leadership Council. The fire community takes over entire National Forests each summer and burns to their hearts (and pockets) content.

The Federal actions which significantly (and predictably) impact the human environment are allegedly subject to NEPA. The smallest thinnings and prescribed burns are done with full NEPA compliance. Why is the deliberate incineration of millions of acres (by lightning-ignited fires) not subject to NEPA?

The Environmental Protection Agency administers NEPA. Last week the EPA proposed a Rule that will limit CO2 emissions [here]. There is no reason to believe that Rule will be applied to the Federal land management agencies that predict, plan, and promulgate Let It Burn megafires — if NEPA does not apply in the case of Let It Burn, why would the Clean Air Act?

The EPA hasn’t enforced the CCA in regards to the particulate emissions from Let It Burn fires, why would CO2 emissions be treated any differently? For that matter, why hasn’t the EPA ever enforced the Clean Water Act, either, in regards to planned and implemented project fires that burn vast acreages for months and months, with ash and erosion polluting streams and rivers for years afterward?

If a proper Environmental Impact Statement were ever written for Let It Burn, it would have to characterize and quantify all the effects that policy might have on people and the environment. A full accounting would include consideration of long-term health effects.

20 Apr 2009, 7:49pm
by YPmule

I’ll be passing a link to this page of excellent information along to as many people as possible!

21 Apr 2009, 9:08am
by bear bait

Controlled burning is all but eliminated by regulation and those regulations rely heavily on health issues for humans. Grass seed and stubble burning is in fuels that never exceed five tones per acre and probably average less than three. Slash burns are about limbs, tops and the accumulated detritus of decades. But still under 100 tons per acre. Wildland fire can burn in fuels approaching 400 or more tons per acre and burn for weeks, not minutes or hours.

Most field fires last 15 minutes and only a lit when the conditions are favorable for a fast ignition to put the plume through any inversion layers into air moving away from populated areas. Slash is handled in a similar fashion. WFU and AMR fire, purposefully not fought, can last for months, and only plume in the afternoon heating and then the smoke lays down at night to savage lungs and eyes, hurt the garden and the local wildlife, livestock, and people.

No NEPA process for those decisions, and no local inputs, control, or considerations. It is all about a self-centered agenda that embodies the inability of an agency to formulate and carry out proper land management policy in a timely manner, aided and abetted by an Eastern, effete, uncaring Congressional majority with a social agenda that is urban centric.

The West is getting screwed by NGO paid access to Congress, done with tax forgiven monies. I am sorry, folks, but the only way to cure this deal is to reform the trust and foundation tax laws, and that will mean great losses to charity, NGOs, Universities, and the like. Perhaps a thorough examination of the cost-benefit ration to the health of the Nation would cast a different light of how to find money for charity, education, and environmental issues. The present format is not working for the minorities who live rural and depend on natural resource use and extraction to create new money and a vibrant economy.

24 Apr 2009, 3:34pm
by Larry H.

Anew study coming out of UC Santa Barabara finally highlights fires’ effect on our environment.



Too bad they concentrate on the effects to our atmosphere, instead of emphasizing the myriad of impacts on soil, water, habitat and such. The calls for the IPCC to finally factor in the forest’s role in “climate change” should open people’s eyes about just how bad mega-fires are for humans and what we need to do to mitigate their effects.

25 Apr 2009, 11:52am
by Bob Zybach

I’ve been engaged in an interesting discussion of semantics regarding forest fires and fuel management in the same newspaper at:


For some reason, the paper is not listing the predicted “good fire season” in their list of “related stories” to their human health series.

Good work (and reader discussion board) by the Redding Record Searchlight! Hopefully, other papers will follow their lead this fire season.



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