Holy hyperbole!

  Dear HCN,

As a fan of fire (and past pulaski-wielding partisan of that subgenus "flamebo heroicus'), I read the article about early fires in the West by Mark Matthews with great interest (HCN, 5/25/98). The various signs and symptoms he surveyed were familiar: "I've never seen things burn this well, this early in the year." ; "...lots of grass'; and the classic line - -moisture content ... is way down."

But his crowning achievement was his traditional description of the effects of fire: "... eventually consuming 200 acres ...," "... burned 5.9 million acres ..." , and the colorful: "6.6 million acres scorched." Holy McLleod Smokey Bear!

My lookout eyes detect a rapidly building column of overheated rhetoric appearing on the surface of this reconstituted forest product. As best as I can tell, not even the most "catastrophic" fire (whatever that means) has consumed as much as a single acre anywhere on the planet. There is no Lake Woebegon where cartographers consign "acres lost to fire."

Our current version of "playing with fire" is watching it consume our scattered trophy homes after breaching the wimpy fireline "levees' we annually throw up. Then we soothe our blistered fingers in a poultice of taxpayer dollars which enables us to rebuild and expand into even more remote corners of the fire landscape.

Please! Let this be the year that High Country News does well-researched articles about the realities of fire as a change agent in ecosystems. Sound the call for the Writers on the Range essays to challenge every inflammatory headline with all four doors of a rhetoric-retardant drop. Don't let the purported federal budget surplus be consumed by the Overlord of Yesterday (Smokey Bear, Western Broker for Millennia 21 Real Estate).

Forrest (Woody) Hesselbarth

San Diego, California