Blaming federal fire-suppression policy on the conditions leading up to the South Canyon (not Canyon Creek) fire that killed 14 near Glenwood Springs, Colo., is very trendy but bullshit (HCN, 7/25/94). Fuels don't accumulate in the piûon-juniper vegetative types; typical stands are open-spaced canopies with little understory to carry a fire.
In addition, the Gambel oak growing on the site was on the average 6 to 8 feet high, hardly a hazardous fuel condition caused by a federal fire-exclusion policy of the last 80 years. Typically fires burn the leaf litter in oakbrush and not much else. It was a combination of weather, topography and drought-stressed fuels that led to the blowup, and not some dated policy as the author contends.
Writer Jim Carrier discounts the wildland-urban interface as a legitimate reason for suppressing a fire such as South Canyon. Describing it as a "leisurely creeping" wildfire with only "11 homesites on the north in trees' brings to mind the image of the textbook-friendly fire creeping around in the pine needles benignly recycling nutrients and carefully avoiding homes and other improvements. Be assured it would be a hard concept to swallow if you lived in Mitchell Creek or Canyon Creek or anywhere else that had to evacuate during a wildfire.
The key to avoiding scenarios like South Canyon is to be able to respond with adequate resources quickly. Ignoring the problems created by population growth in the West will only postpone the inevitable. Public lands in Colorado are intermixed with private lands and houses: That's a fact. Resource management agencies would be remiss not to suppress wildfires in close proximity to private lands. I think the attempt to link federal policy with the fatalities is additional proof that the media are the ones with the problem.