TOWN HALL: Feds bungled new fire fighting technology (poll)

July 2, 2012
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The federal government’s lack of dedication to controlling fire on its land was further exposed on Sunday, when the Denver Post published a story about the bungling of a bold strategy to battle wildfires. The Post reminded us that federal agencies announced plans for a sophisticated new computer system, called Fire Program Analysis, 11 years ago.

It would “evaluate where to station people and equipment and decide how many planes to buy,” the Post reported.

It was supposed to operate by 2007, but is nowhere near implementation. Sources told the Post that federal bureaucrats fear technology taking over decisions about resource management.

The Post quotes the director of natural resources for the Government Accountability Office explaining the importance of Fire Program Analysis. The GAO has warned Congress, in reports and hearings, that federal firefighting agencies were failing to implement the new technology.

The United States government has sent troops and equipment to Iraq and Afghanistan to enhance our safety. We have a history of revolutionizing and rebuilding other governments and cultures and exporting representative democracy. We maintain weapons that can destroy life on earth.

Given our government’s superpower might and sophistication, it seems reasonable that a federal response to fire on federal land would cause shock and awe. Large planes would deploy immediately to attack fires in their earliest stages, trying to contain them before heat, humidity, wind and time give them a chance to grow monstrous.

Let us not forget the frustration of local officials who watched the Waldo Canyon fire grow while federal C-130s sat idle at nearby Peterson Air Force base for days. The Gazette asked Mayor Steve Bach about the planes nearly two days after a thin white plume alerted our entire region to the start of a fire just west of Colorado Springs.

“It has taken quite a while to get help here,” Bach told us. “This has been going on for a day and a half or so. Tomorrow, we’re told, we’ll have a lot more help and it cannot come any too soon ... This is a wild fire up in the mountains and it has a lot of places it can go and it’s not cooperating with us. We should have had those assets in here yesterday ... I’ve been watching this fire now for about 48 hours and it’s not going to wait for us.”

It waited for no one. Experts tell us the planes sat still because of protocol. That explanation is supposed to suffice, but it is unacceptable. The protocol needs to change. In 90-plus degree heat and drought conditions, federal authorities should respond to federal fires as paramedics respond to cardiac arrests. Spare no time, no expense. Fires only get more costly as they grow.

If the federal government is to own 190 millions acres of forestland, then the federal government needs to manage it better. That includes controlling fires before they devour neighborhoods and kill people in nearby cities.

That's our view, so what's yours? Please begin or contribute to a Facebook discussion below this article, and vote in the poll to the upper right of here.

Friend editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen on Facebook, follow him on Twitter

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