September 2015 - Smoke and Fire

Oct 19, 2015

Captain's Log Starship 1XE, Day 24 in the month of September in the Earth Calendar Year of 2015.

Where there's smoke there's fire, where there is drought there is incendiary quick-moving fire, and this summer we have seen our share. In the last Captain's Log I recounted flying through the dense smoke to identify lands for wildlife connectivity and habitat. This last month I was flying experts over the devastation that many of these fires caused. This flying season we have had approximately 9.3 million acres burned by wildfire, up from just 3 million in 2014, and the firefighting efforts were heroic, extensive and enormously expensive.


The mission was in Idaho, flying over a myriad of issues from fires to mining to wilderness, as we celebrated the Boulder-White Clouds, our nation's newest wilderness area. Idaho Conservation League organized flights over the recent Soda Fire in SW Idaho, which scorched over 400 square miles in a blazing blitzkrieg that raced across 300,000 acres in a matter of days. 2015 is on target statistically to be the most catastrophic year on record for fires. 2006 still holds the record at 9.8 million acres. The subdivisions on the outskirts of Boise were part of the flight focus as these community developments are occurring deep in the forest where forest fuels meet homes in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and cause concern over fire mitigation and safety.


Traditional ways of fighting these fires are proving to be not as effective as desired, with the extreme drought conditions and invasive species in the West making for difficult choices and methods as the fires spread at unprecedented speeds, jumping bulldozer and fire-lines and making traditional firefighting methods ineffective. Firefighters now have to concentrate on slowing the blazes as well as being tasked with protecting the homes that are being built in increasing numbers in the WUI. Experts aboard spoke of the tremendous costs of dropping slurry around these homes, and how ineffective these methods can sometimes be with the runaway forces of these fires.


The Idaho Conservation League is always creative with flight routes, and in addition to the fire flights we also flew abandoned mining sites near Atlanta that require a cleanup plan, and newly proposed mines that might adversely affect the headwaters of Grimes Creek and the Boise River, which supplies 25% of the City of Boise's drinking water. These flights brought attention to the fact that nothing is being done to address these toxic mining dumps, and the flights were an attempt to be pre-emptive and proactive to avert a spill event like the one we recently flew on the Animas River in Colorado. There are over a half million abandoned mines in the West, which are contaminating streams in the headwaters of 40% of watersheds.


Our watersheds are the lifeblood of the arid West, as our plane-loads of press, scientists and community leaders saw, with our focus this month on mine cleanup and fires. Drought and climate-induced water shortages are big contributors to the mega fire season of 2015, and to continue denying that climate change is occurring might be a critical mistake. My personal opinion on this debate is quite simple. We take out insurance on every item we possess and indeed on our lives themselves, so I am always puzzled why many of our leaders don't err on the side of caution and take out "insurance" on our planet earth, by aggressively addressing climate change. The retardant political process we are enduring these days will be as expensive as the retardant used to protect our homes when these fires are lapping at our doorsteps.




Bruce Gordon