Reporting on the numbers game of wildfire strikes me as very similar to reporting on the swells and ebbs of the stock market. How many, how big, how caused - what does it all mean? A year-to-year analysis of the number of reported wildfires and their size doesn't give us a good sense of trending, but in a year like 2013, it might provide some needed perspective.
USA Today reporter Doyle Rice interviewed me last week for his retrospective on this year's season and we had a good chance to discuss just what a year like 2013 meant. Fewer fires - the fewest in over a decade according to the National Interagency Fire Center - and a much smaller acreage burnt, according to the same news. So should we be jumping for joy? Not quite.
The devastating losses of people and property in Arizona, Colorado and other areas this year is one reason for sobriety in the face of a "slow" wildfire year. The impact on water supply, public health, and local economies is another. Weather patterns made 2013 an atypical year, but development patterns dating back 20-30 years show us that even in years with fewer fires, catastrophic losses may be the new normal.
Wildfire is a natural phenomenon and is not going away. All the more reason for communities throughout the country to find out what it takes to adapt to the reality of wildfire and embrace wildfire safety principles that make a real difference in reducing risk.
- by NFPA's Michele Steinberg