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Prevention can lower fire costs

August 04, 2008

Re "Out of control," July 27

The article doesn't focus enough on the huge excess of fire fuels in the wildland-urban interfaces all over the West. In many of these areas, the fuel loads are three or four times greater than they would be under natural conditions. It is large-scale firefighting to protect property and residents in these interface areas that causes fires to be labeled as "catastrophic," and that generates such incredible expense. In true wilderness, the cost of firefighting tends to be less of a budget-buster because, in many cases, large areas can be allowed to burn as a natural process.

State and federal agencies continue to shortchange preventive removal of fuels near the urban boundaries. Chief Michael Green of the Sierra Fire Protection District in northern Nevada says that fuels removal in the interfaces is 10 times more cost-effective. Unfortunately, his department doesn't have enough money for this purpose -- more is needed from state and federal sources. When (not if) there is a fire in a cleaned-up interface area, that fire is much less intense, much less dangerous and much less costly to suppress.

Jim Galloway

Reno

The writer is a Washoe County, Nev., commissioner and a member of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency governing board. The views expressed are his own.

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The article documents the billions of dollars it costs taxpayers to protect homes built in the wrong places. What can be done? The first step is to stop providing incentives for local governments to approve even more irresponsible development in high-risk areas. Right now, the state does not hold local governments, developers or homeowners responsible for firefighting costs, but rather subsidizes high-risk subdivisions through broad "state responsibility areas."

There are bills in the Legislature to reform this process. Let's hope the Legislature acts.

Dan Silver

Executive Director

Endangered Habitats League

Los Angeles

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Both last year's Zaca fire and the just-contained Gap fire in Santa Barbara County resulted in no loss of life or major structures as a result of the incredible teamwork of dozens of fire agencies. We in Santa Barbara welcome the many agencies that came to our aid. Our firefighters see this as just part of their job, and we all owe them our gratitude.

Fighting wildfires may cost significant funds, but just think of the long-term economic, social and personal costs of a wildfire destroying a community. The least we can do is provide these brave men and women a comfortable place to eat and rest between their 12- to 18-hour shifts, such as what is provided at the base camp described in the article. Such costs also underscore the necessity of having financially secure state and federal budgets and the ability of municipal governments to allocate sufficient funding toward public safety without the fear of budget raids from other agencies.

Helene Schneider

City Councilwoman

Santa Barbara

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