On Aug. 5, Mr. Trump tweeted: “California wildfires are being magnified and made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”

On Aug. 5, Mr. Trump tweeted:  “California wildfires are being magnified and made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized.  It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.  Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”

 

I have been a wildland firefighter for 44 years.  I have helped fight wildland fires in 12 states including California.  And water availability is not an issue, WATER TRANSPORTATION IS!  “Bad environmental laws” has nothing to do with it.

 

Indeed water is a precious resource that we firefighters use in our effort to contain wildfires.  We use it sparingly not because it is scarce, but because it is not often readily available near the fire control line.  Basic western woodland firefighting involves removing all organic material down to mineral soil along a control line, installing a “hose lay” along that line, then burning out the surface fuels between the wildfire and control line.  Then we do the dirty job of mopping up.

 

If we are lucky and have a water source such as a mountain stream or pond near the fire line, we often install a portable pump and hose lay to bring water to the fire.  

 

Often a water source is not close enough to the fire line to be pumped so we need to truck water to the fire.  In that case we will use water trucks (tenders) to deliver water to the fire.    

 

Often due to terrain difficulties we will transport water by helicopter to portable tanks on ridges or mid slopes to provide water for our fire line hose lays.  This is perhaps the most expensive water on the hill since we have to add in the cost of the helicopter delivery. 

 

Water and retardant is often dropped directly on the fire by helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.  But we can’t always depend on availability of aircraft because they cannot fly in low visibility conditions.

 

The bottom line is in western state firefighting, water availability is not an issue, water transportation is!   

 

Regarding the statement “Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!” it is misleading and too simplistic.I assume that Mr. Trump is referring to a supposed lack of timber harvesting as the reason for these major conflagrations.

 

As a 39 year career professional forester I know that while there is some truth to that statement, it is by no means that simple.  Thinning forests and removing the thinned trees from the forest will greatly reduce fuel loading and potential fire intensity.  Thinning can also eliminate ladder fuels (trees with low limbs allowing fire to climb into tree crowns).  Clear cutting and removal of products can also reduce fuel loading.  To reduce fire potential you also need to eliminate logging residue from cut areas.   Once fuel reduction is completed we can use periodic prescribe burns and/or light grazing to maintain low fuel loading.  

 

This all sounds like the answer to the wildland fire problem, but there are several problems involved with these solutions.  Funding for natural resource agencies is limited and often not available for such projects.  Time is another limiting factor.  It can take months to years to complete these projects.

 

Not all wildland fires involve forest.  Last year the largest recorded fire in the United States involved primarily grasslands which burned 780,000 acres in western Oklahoma and southwestern Kansas.Under the right combination of drought, wind, heat and low humidity any fuel can and will burn.

 

Mr. Trump is using fire disasters to further his attacks on environmental regulations.  This is unacceptable.  

 

 

Gary Smith writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.