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Originally published: 2014-05-08 09:49:03
Last modified: 2014-05-08 09:49:46

Our View: More money to burn?

The high cost of wildfires recently got more than a little higher, according to a new congressionally-mandated report. Indeed, if fire projections hold true, the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior will be forced to spend nearly $500 million more than the $1.4 billion budgeted for firefighting.

And that's only dollars and cents. Factor the potential for harm to humans and homes -- in 2013, 34 wildland firefighters died in the line of duty and more than 1,000 homes were destroyed as wildfire consumed 4.1 million acres nationwide -- and the escalating costs are incalculable.

This is no new scenario in the year 2014. As fire season lengths have increased by more than two months and acreage burned risen by millions of acres during the last three decades, firefighting budgets have fallen short time and time again, including for seven of the last 12 years.

The solution in the past has been "fire borrowing" -- diverting funds from other programs, such as forest management, maintenance and recreation. Yet this has proved an unhealthy cycle. Taking money from areas such as mechanical thinning and controlled burns only adds fuel to the next fire season. Underfunding the maintenance of public lands -- from which nearly 20 percent of our nation's clean water comes and a more than $13 billion annual economic boost is generated -- leads to direct and indirect attacks on public health and fiscal welfare.

The solution is not as simple as an increase in funding. No amount of dollars can keep a firefighter completely from harm's way or a family's home from destruction.

A more real start to combating the growing consumption of wildfire across North Carolina and the rest of the nation begins with each of us recognizing the responsibility we share in preventing those fires. 

Websites abound with wildfire prevention tips ranging from campfire safety to properly controlled debris burning. But unless these tips are put into practice, they remain only good ideas -- and ineffective in preventing the preventable.