“Fire season worst in decades.” “Disastrous (Bastrop) wildfire, worst in Texas history.” These headlines, similar to ones that might have appeared in the 1870s to 1920s, are actually from 2011-2012. What’s going on?
Taking a look at some of the largest single fires in U.S. history – for instance in years when a total of more than 20 million acres burned — some individual fires charred between 3 and 4 million acres. We know that many or those larger fires were in areas that had been heavily cut-over. That’s still a lot of acres. But, clearly losing an acre of cut-over land isn’t the same as an acre of old growth forest – whether one considers ecological or economic loss.
Acres Lost are Growing, Again
The longest running campaign in Ad Council history, Smokey Bear and his well-known warning, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” was introduced in 1944. And it worked! The Smokey website notes that “the Forest Fire Prevention campaign helped reduce the number of acres lost annually from 22 million to 8.4 million (in 2000).” The sad part in that true statement is that 8.4 million acres is well above the average of preceding decades.