Futile firefighting

  Dear HCN,

Louise Wagenknecht's essay on the futility of firefighting (HCN, 5/7/01: The year it rained money) confirmed my family's observations during a nearby fire last year. We watched in horror as 250 firefighters set pointless backfires, bulldozed miles of roads, and sawed down huge, rare trees that would not have burned. We saw dozens of planeloads of retardant dropped to no effect, even in wide swaths across canyons.

Whimsical evacuation orders abounded. Homeowners miles upwind of the fire received dire warnings, despite the fact that a thousand-acre swamp lay in between. At our house, shift after shift of fire crews spouted lurid descriptions of death if we didn't leave at once. Aside from the fact that the fire wasn't headed our way, I couldn't abandon our few trees to the chain saws and flamethrowers.

I'm still mourning what was the prettiest canyon in the area, trashed for no reason by bulldozers and incendiary devices. The fire bosses brushed off local advice about wind patterns, acting on their own erroneous predictions.

After the fire was declared out, I watched crews go around the edges and cut live brush and trees, presumably to make it look like they'd stopped the fire. They also took credit for saving a cabin whose surroundings burned before any firefighters arrived.

Of course, local businesses had "Thank You Firefighters" signs up. Others agreed that (a) firefighters do more harm than good, and (b) to laugh off evacuation orders. Someday this may cost lives, but whose fault will that be?

Once I regarded firefighters as brave and hard-working heroes. Now I see the fire establishment as the classic dysfunctional, unaccountable government bureaucracy.

Lester Wood
Coleville, California