Firefighting, Fireground Safety

Fire Season Illustrates Human Cost of Firefighting

OnEarth Magazine examines the role–and emotional cost–to firefighters in the United State’s most destructive fire season to date.

With the Forest Service’s $948 million firefighting budget for 2012 nearly exhausted, but months to go in a fire season projected to cost as much as $1.4 billion, the agency — in a major reversal of a federal policy adopted in 1995 — is quickly responding to almost every blaze in an attempt to keep small fires from raging out of control. That’s despite the long-term harm to forest ecosystems and the likelihood that the new policy could prime forests for even more destructive fires in the future.

There’s also a potential human cost to the more aggressive stance: most fire line deaths occur in the early phases of firefighting operations, when small teams or individuals may take on blazes without adequate management, communication, or knowledge of the terrain and weather. “Initial attacks” are often made up of a variety of local, state, and federal firefighters, who can prove difficult to coordinate and may have differing approaches to even the most basic firefighting operations.

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