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Throwing Water on Firefighting Prose

June 17, 2002

I doubt that the writer of the romantic essay, "These Earthly Infernos" (editorial, June 13), has ever cut hand line in a wildfire. I was a wild-land firefighter, a.k.a. "smoke-eater," in August 2000. My colleagues on my first crew were foulmouthed jailbirds with swastika tattoos who spent most of the night shift sleeping beside a burning stump. The second crew I was on spent a week lazing on an airfield in Oregon, minus one night in a hotel with cable TV and hot tub, waiting for a fire while "the West burned."

When we finally got our big fire, I realized that the main purpose of our task had been the protection of lumber profits and a few summer cabins. We know that wildfire is part of the ecological order, yet in 2000 we spent $1 billion trying to control nature.

Victory in wildfire suppression is temporary; the fuels that don't burn this year may burn even hotter next year. Indeed, the summer of 2002 is already looking like an inferno, and the cliches comparing firefighters to soldiers and wildfire suppression to war are in print yet again.

Like soldiers, wild-land firefighters risk their lives in awful conditions to accomplish an ultimately impossible goal. Like war, the wildfire suppression business is a bloated industry whose main goal is to perpetuate its own necessity. Perhaps it's time to consider the reality these summer blazes present us in less purple and ponderous terms.

Gil Jose Duran

Oakland

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