Study: Spending on Fire Suppression May Lead to Bigger Fires

The “firefighting trap” is a term often used by business managers to describe a shortsighted cycle of problem-solving: dealing with “fires,” or problems, as they arise, but failing to address the underlying cause, thereby increasing the chance that the same problem will crop up in the future, reports MIT News.

Researchers at MIT’s Engineering Systems Division have now looked at the original inspiration for this “quick-fix” management strategy: firefighting itself. They combined regional fire data, such as the number of fires and the amount of land burned per year, with interviews conducted with fire managers, policymakers, and academics to draw up a model illustrating the relationships that contribute to forest-fire management.

Much like in business, they found fire management can fall into the firefighting trap: Energy and resources are spent mostly on fire suppression — putting out fires in the moment — while less attention is devoted to fire prevention, such as clearing brush and building fire lanes during the off-season.

In particular, the team identified a factor that exacerbates the firefighting trap: instinctive, automatic reactions to particularly damaging fire seasons. They found that after severe fires, policymakers — driven by public pressure — funnel more funds into fire suppression for the next season. While this may put people temporarily at ease, this attention to fire suppression may undermine prevention efforts. The result, counterintuitively, is even worse fires the following season, due to the buildup of fire-prone materials such as dried tinder and dead trees.

Read more about the study here

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