Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wally Bennett: "We’ve got a lot less of the toys we need to do the job"

At a three-day conference organized by FireSafe Montana, Wally Bennett, a Type 1 Incident Commander, told the group that climate change and fewer air tankers and hand crews are making the job of wildland firefighters more difficult.

From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:
"Coming summers will bring more and bigger wildfires to the Northern Rockies. But it also will bring fewer firefighters, less equipment for them to use, and more and more homes to protect in flammable landscapes.

That’s the message spelled out Tuesday by climate and firefighting experts at a conference at the Bozeman Holiday Inn.

“We’ve got a lot less of the toys we need to do the job we’re doing out there,” said Wally Bennett, a veteran commander of a Type I incident command team, the type of force that tackles large and complex blazes.

Bennett was one of the speakers at the three-day conference organized by FireSafe Montana, a fledgling nonprofit group that is trying to motivate landowners, county governments, developers and other entities to do more to protect private land before wildfire reaches it.

Several years ago, Bennett said, firefighting teams had 32 large retardant planes available to them. Last year, they had 16.

The number of 20-person hand teams has declined from roughly 750 to about 450 over the same time period, he said, and that number is likely to fall further.

“There’s not enough to go around,” he said.

That’s partly because a rookie firefighter can earn about the same pay flipping burgers at McDonald’s.

Meanwhile, a warming climate is bringing earlier snowmelt along with hotter, drier summers, said Faith Anne Heisch, a climate researcher who works with Steve Running, the University of Montana professor who was part of the Nobel-prize winning International Panel on Climate Change."
The NewWest.net site also has a lengthy article on the conference.

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