Burned

As I write this, the largest active forest fire in the United States is burning through the mountains some twenty odd miles to the northeast of Cedar City, having consumed more than 70,000 acres of trees and vegetation. What started the fire was a homeowner who decided to use a weed torch to clear away weeds on his property. The fire swiftly went out of control and reached a stand of trees killed by bark beetles, growing to close to a thousand acres overnight. Currently, close to 1,500 fire fighters are engaged in battling the blaze, estimated to be 75 percent contained. The homeowner is liable for the damage and the cost of fighting the fire, a cost that the state of Utah estimates will exceed twenty million dollars. Fortunately, there have been no deaths and less than twenty homes destroyed… so far.

Just about a week before the Brian Head fire began, here in Cedar City, a local resident tried the same thing on his weeds on farm property inside the city– at a time when winds were gusting from fifteen to twenty miles an hour! Predictably, the fire got out of control. Thankfully, there were no trees nearby and the fire department and BLM firefighters managed to contain the fire in a five acre area, although three old livestock buildings and several horse corrals were destroyed.

In addition to these two examples, there have been three other fires in the area in the past weeks, and the fact that all of Utah is now considered high risk for fires has been in the news for weeks. Yet it’s clear that more than a few individuals haven’t listened or ignored what they heard or read.

At least to me, these fires came about because those who caused them succumbed to some of the oldest human weaknesses, the idea that they were above taking into account the conditions around them… or that such considerations didn’t apply to them.

The problem is that, when people ignore common sense and practical precautions, the rest of us are the ones who get burned, both by property being destroyed and by taxpayer funds being spent to deal with the fires and the aftermath – and that’s not just the case with fires.

4 thoughts on “Burned”

  1. Lourain says:

    In this area, the most common example of ignoring reality is people driving ‘across’ flooded roads, leading to dangerous water rescues and, sometimes death.
    The delusion that “This can’t happen to me!” persists long after adolescence.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    I’m reminded of a line in one of the Harry Potter books:
    “— yet, sadly, accidental rudeness occurs alarmingly often”.

    This seems also true for negligence, alas.

    Financial liability is fine, but if it’s personal, it’s often meaningless, being perhaps larger than the person’s expected lifetime income; and if it’s covered by insurance, then it drives up everyone’s premiums.

    Past a certain size damage, perhaps jail time would be more of an incentive to caution, esp. combined with specific lists of acts to which it would be applied, and appropriate and ongoing public service announcement reminders.

    Stupidity may not be curable, but if anything is a disincentive, it would be actual discomfort, not mere inconvenience.

  3. Alison Hamway says:

    Many people don’t remember that the Malheur wildlife refuge occupation, where the Bundy boys led an armed occupation of the Oregon wildlife refuge, was triggered by two local ranchers (the Hammonds) who had set two separate wildfires and were convicted of arson. The Hammonds were upset that they served time in jail, then were sent back to prison because their time served did not meet the minimum sentence of 5 years. So they called the Bundy’s for help … and the Bundys of course had their own agenda.

    1. JakeB says:

      Those would be the Bundys who have been happy to graze their cattle on public lands for many years without paying the grazing fees, right? Another good example of people who don’t believe the rules should apply to them . . . .

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