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USDA Forest Service
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HFI - Video Transcript

Seasons of Fire: Working Together to Live Better with Fire
Scene 1

Once again, Americans are witnessing the spectacle of large fires in the West. This year's Aspen Fire near Tucson, Arizona, was a stark reminder that we are again in a season of big, costly fires.

The impacts can be devastating. Last year's Hayman Fire burned 138,000 acres, making it the largest fire in Colorado history. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated from their homes, and 600 buildings were destroyed, including 133 residences. Containment and recovery costs to taxpayers exceeded $40 million.

Why is this happening? It's not just a story of natural catastrophe. People have played a role in the story, and people can help decide how the story ends.

Scene 2

The story began thousands of years ago, with the evolution of our native American forests. Many evolved with frequent fire, particularly our long-needle pine forests, such as ponderosa pine in the West. These fire-dependent forests were once open and parklike. Frequent low-burning fires cleaned out the undergrowth without doing much damage to the big trees.

But decades of fire exclusion and limitations on active forest management have allowed smaller trees and brush to build up. Thick with brush and small trees, many ponderosa pine forests in the West are prone to fires that roar through the forest, killing the big trees, damaging the environment, and threatening lives, homes, and wildland values.

Scene 3

People are moving in record numbers into forests that are increasingly susceptible to big, dangerous fires. The result is an explosive mix. The risks are enormous, and they go well beyond individual homes. If houses are saved but the surrounding landscape is blackened, people have still lost their homes.

Fire protection is therefore not just about protecting homes. It's about protecting quality of life. It's about protecting communities, watersheds, views, amenities, wildlife habitat, forest health-everything people value on our national forests and other public lands.

The Healthy Forests Initiative is a common sense policy that brings people together to protect these values and preserve a heritage for generations to come.

Scene 4

There is not much that people can do about weather or topography, two of the factors that contribute to fire danger. But they can do something about fuels.

The Healthy Forests Initiative gives people the tools they need to help reduce dangerous fuels and make fire less destructive to communities and the environment.

Presently, the policy emphasizes that people can do much to make their homes and communities firesafe. Research has shown that homeowners can help protect their homes from wildland fire by fire-proofing their houses and the surrounding 100 or 200 feet of defensible space.

Scene 5

The Healthy Forests Initiative does not stop with creating defensible space around homes. Treatments are needed further into the forest to keep fires from becoming large, fast moving, and dangerous.

There has long been evidence that reducing overcrowded vegetation is effective in long-needle pine forests such as ponderosa pine. Circumstantial evidence is found on the land itself-in fire patterns that thinned forests in patches across the landscape. Documented evidence of treatment success began more than 40 years ago, with field experiments in California, Florida, and elsewhere.

Today, we are still seeing case after case of treatments that work. One recent example came from last year's Hayman Fire in Colorado. Long before the fire came roaring through the treetops, the Forest Service had treated thousands of acres in a controlled burn. When the fire reached the treated area, it dropped to the ground, giving firefighters enough time to keep the fire from burning into a subdivision.

Just this year, researchers found that a big fire had stopped cold in a treated area in an experimental forest in California. There, a combination of thinning and burning had both opened the forest canopy and reduced flammable materials near the ground, simulating conditions in the ancient ponderosa pine forest.

But big, dangerous fires can blow right through treated areas if these areas are small and randomly located. Studies have shown that large-scale treatments are needed to create a patchwork pattern across the entire landscape. If treatments are big enough and strategically located, they can reduce fire risk while minimizing cost.

Scene 6

The key is cooperation at the local level. The Healthy Forests Initiative brings state and federal agencies together with tribes, local governments, and citizens to set local priorities. The idea is to engage all interested parties in planning local projects and in contributing the needed resources.

Scene 7

So that's where our story is today. We are still seeing seasons of big, dangerous fires, and we probably will for many years to come. The dangerous conditions in our fire-dependent forests won't disappear overnight.

But we are doing something about them. Through the Healthy Forests Initiative people are finding ways to make their homes and communities safer from fire. And they are coming together to protect and restore the landscapes they cherish. It will take active management all across the landscape to reduce the risk of big, dangerous fires and restore our forests to a healthier condition, where fire is a friend rather foe.

Seasons of fire are inevitable, but they don't have to be seasons of dread. If we work together to protect our communities and restore our forests, these can be seasons of hope.

US Forest Service
Last modified March 28, 2013

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