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By Marvin Robertson

Smokey the Bear was seen out my window sitting under a palm tree and crying over the terrible fire season. All his efforts to teach about fire danger seems to be for nothing. It is a shame that, with all the fears of people, so much property, money and lives are lost from carelessness of individuals. The loss of 19 firefighters in the Arizona Yarnell fire was from a fire started by a lightning strike but the conditions were from man’s neglect. No fire in the area for 50 years and the accumulation of dry fuel made conditions ripe for a disaster. Cleaning under growth has been limited by funding and forest practices in U.S. forest management. Environmental groups pressure managers to leave trees unharvested and growth of dry brush to feed fires.

Northern California and Southern Oregon have the most and largest forest fires now burning with smoke across Arizona, Nevada, into the Pacific Northwest and some of Utah. Interstate 5 (I-5) has had some closing and traffic has detoured further east. Motels across the fire region are filled with fire fighters all the way to the California-Nevada border. Oregon traffic has been pushed east of the Cascades. Coastal areas of Southern Oregon are difficult to reach through the fire areas.

The South Umpqua, Sugar Pine and Garner fires along the California-Oregon border include many smaller fires started by lightning. However, of the 618 fires in Oregon since 2000, just 131 were started by lightning. The other 347 were caused by or purposely set by humans. One of the most destructive recent fires in Oregon last year destroyed much of the scenic area along the Columbia River Gorge between Portland and Hood River. Damage in the hundreds of million dollars resulted from fireworks set off by a teenager from Stevenson, Washington who crossed on the bridge at Cascade Locks. He will spend the rest of his life without paying off the fines imposed by the court.

July Fourth is the day of most man started fires. Five percent of all such fires occur on that one day. Much legislation to limit sale and use of fireworks by the public have not been successful in changing that statistic.

One of the worst fires in Oregon this year burned 60 miles up the Deschutes River canyon and across the wheat fields of Sherman County but did not cross Highway 97. It covered 75,000 acres of wheat and grazing land and most of the towns in the area were evacuated. That included the county seat of Moro where this author was once mayor. The disaster during that time was a flood that washed away the railroad. Only one life was lost in the latest fire when a farmer fighting the fire turned over a tractor. The economic cost will be difficult to calculate.

The Rice study reported by a U of A professor emeritus reports causes of man-made fires are 29 percent by burning debris, 21 percent by arson, 11 by equipment and five percent by campfires. Smokey may need to expand his education program beyond campfires. It is sad that so many fires are caused by or made worse by actions of humans.

University of Colorado’s Boulder Earth Lab reports the annual cost of fighting wildfires averages $2 BILLION dollars per year. That does not include losses, only fighting the fires.

Fires have been a problem across the years at many levels. The 9-11 attack resulted in major fires that brought down the two buildings, surprising even the 19 Muslim attackers. The fire that destroyed most of San Francisco was created by an earthquake. Chicago may have the most interesting cause of a major fire. A cow kicked over the lantern while a lady was in the process of milking.

Should fire be banned to save property and lives? Some historians claim the discovery of fire is a key to the progress of civilization. Survival when lost can depend on the ability to start a fire for warmth. Like so many other things in this life, fire has the power to destroy and the power to create better life.

The problem is not fire so much as how humans use and misuse it. Many things in our lives add good or cause issues for which we are accountable.

Note: Check “” for over 500 archived articles. Dr. Robertson is available for church, schools, political groups or local clubs for programs. Check the web site for books.

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