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Study: Communities Must Learn To Coexist With Wildfire


Firefighter at 2012 Barry Point Fire in Southern Oregon

Firefighter at 2012 Barry Point Fire in Southern Oregon

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A study from a Southern Oregon University scientist argues a global shift in mindset is needed when dealing with wildfires. Instead of viewing fire as something that can be controlled and prevented, lives and money could saved by preparing for the inevitable.

“There’s a feeling that we have control over fires, and the fact is we don’t,” said Southern Oregon University ecologist Dennis Odion.

Odion is co-author of “Learning to Coexist with Wildfire,” published in the journal Nature last Thursday. The paper examined the findings of more than 100 studies, and says wildfire should be treated like other natural disasters.

“You know earthquakes and hurricanes are viewed as something that we prepare for and do our best to withstand.”

Odion says humans don’t take the same responsibility with wildfires – but it’s not necessarily their fault.

Forest managers and policy makers focus on fuel reduction projects, which have widely varying degrees of actual success. The study authors say the projects give people a false sense of security.

In addition, these forest treatments are often focused on remote areas.

“If we want to prioritize the effects of our actions, we want to probably put the first priority on reducing damage to humans and loss of human lives,” said Odion.

That means starting close in: Growing communities to minimize wildfire risk and focusing fire prevention resources on existing at-risk homes.

“This is a radical shift from the way we manage fire now.”

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