EDITORIAL: Wildfire danger: Humans play a large part in preventing fires


It wasn’t very long ago that we were all tired of the cold winter and waiting for the snow to melt. But here we are in mid-July, with temperatures soaring in the 90s and no cool days in the forecast.

With the hot weather comes an increased risk of fire danger. The Bureau of Land Management issued fire restrictions for local public lands on Thursday. A list of those restrictions appears on Page 7 in today's edition of the Powell Tribune.

“It is important that we all do our part to prevent unnecessary risks of wildfire starts,” the BLM said in a press release last week.

That’s something we’ve all heard in the past, but it bears repeating during these hot, dry conditions. This year marks the 70th anniversary of Smokey Bear’s slogan, “Remember … only YOU can prevent forest fires.” Smokey has repeated that line countless times in fire prevention campaigns since 1947, but his message still hasn’t gotten through to many Americans.

Nationwide, people are responsible for 84 percent of wildfires, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year. That’s more than eight out of every 10 wildfires.

Within national parks, humans spark fires through campfires, smoking, equipment malfunctions or by intentionally setting fires, fire ecologist Melissa Forder told National Public Radio.

Locally, we saw the devastating effects of human-caused fires last summer. The Whit Fire west of Cody burned over 12,000 acres. One home and seven other structures were destroyed in the August 2016 fire, which threatened dozens of other homes in the area. While much smaller in scale, a human-caused wildfire on Quarter Horse Lane (off Road 2AB outside of Cody) also burned down a home last year.

Of course, we also have seen multiple small grass fires in the Powell area this summer, some of which were caused by fireworks.

During this hot weather, which is likely to continue through August, it’s important that we all do our part to reduce the risk of fires.

“Fires caused by lightning are something we can expect and prepare for. Human-caused fires are 100 percent preventable,” said John Kidd, acting forest supervisor for the Bighorn National Forest, in a news release last week.

In addition to helping prevent wildfires, we also have a responsibility to respect fire crews as they battle blazes. A new problem has arisen in recent years as people have flown drones over or near wildfires. Last year, there were 40 documented cases of unauthorized drones flying near fires in 12 states, including Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. That led to shutting down aerial firefighting operations more than 20 times last summer, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

So far this year, drones have temporarily shut down firefighting efforts 14 times.

Aerial firefighting aircraft often fly at very low altitudes as they drop water on wildfires. When drones fly in the same airspace, it creates the potential for a mid-air crash or pilot distraction.

Just as you wouldn’t drive in front of a fire truck on its way to an emergency, people with drones shouldn’t get in the way of aerial firefighting efforts.

Firefighters already risk so much to protect our lands, homes and lives. Don’t be part of the problem by starting fires or getting in the way of fire crews.