A wildfire, known as the Carlton Complex fire, burns out of control near Winthrop, Wash., July 18, 2014.

A wildfire, known as the Carlton Complex fire, burns out of control near Winthrop, Wash., July 18, 2014.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason Kriess/Washington Army National Guard

Wildfires in the west are getting bigger and more costly, and with much of the Pacific Northwest facing drought conditions, that trend is expected to continue this year. Scientists and policy-makers have long known that fire plays a positive role in the ecosystem, but some experts say fire fighting practices — which still largely focus on stopping fires — haven’t caught up with the science.

Prescribed burns are now regularly used during non-peak season when no other fires are burning. But many wildfires are stopped as soon as possible. Many experts say the future of wildfires isn’t to stop them, but to manage the way they spread — allowing blazes to burn larger swaths of land, but diverting them away from population centers.

Think Out Loud is teaming up with Investigate West as part of its “Forests and the Economy” symposium at the University of Oregon’s Turnbull Center in Portland on Wednesday. We’ll talk about the rising costs of fires and evolving ideas about how to deal with them, as one part of a morning-long event about the future of our forests.

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