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Dr. Arthur Partridge

Professor Emeritus,
College of Forestry, Wildlife and Range Sciences,
University of Idaho


Forest Fires, the Correct Way to Protect Buildings From Fire Damage,
and How Legislation In Congress Which Claims to Reduce Fires and Fire Damage
Will Achieve the Opposite Effect

Submitted to the
Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee
United State Senate

Hearing to Review
Healthy Forests Restoration Act, HR 1904

June 26, 2003

With respect:

I am Dr. Arthur Dean Partridge, Professor Emeritus of Forest Disease and Insect Problems with 37 years of teaching, research extension and administrative experience in Forestry at the University and additional experience with the U.S. D. A. Forest Service, and as an independent logger during an additional 15 years. I live in a Ponderosa Pine/Douglas-fir forest with an average 17-inch annual rainfall and am intimately familiar with both the threat and effects of forest wildfire.

With this background and being directly affected by the proposed legislation to employ tree extraction to ostensibly protect us from wildfire I must offer my profound opposition based on the facts and on my experience.

First, the data do not demonstrate the "emergency" being expounded as a reason to direct massive interventions. During the last half century in the United States, approximately 7 million acres of forest land out of 747 million acres of forest land in this country, has been affected by wildfire each year, with some but few major variations per year, meaning that fire affects 0.94% of our forest lands per year on average. Data from U.S.D.A. Forest Service records for the years 1952-1992 show a timber loss of less than 2% from fire, diseases and insects combined for any year during that period. There is no science-based indication that an upward trend in forest damage has happened or is occurring and the data certainly do not indicate an emergency.

Second, thinning, the primary proposed procedure to "fireproof" our forests is unproven as a reliable method to prevent or reduce the severity of wildfires. In fact, the process of thinning causes the deposition of fine (0 & 1-hr.) fuels on the forest floor that are primary ignition sources. It is impractical to remove such fuel under forest conditions except directly around homes. The current focus on "fuels" is, in itself, misguided because almost anything in a forest will burn, given the right conditions. Any fire specialist will tell you that the principal factors affecting fire are temperature and moisture, not fuels. No legislation will
prevent or even reduce fires in the vast areas of the national forests and to pretend so is fraudulent.

Third, the responsibility for protecting homes in woodlands rest primarily with the owners, not with the government, or with those who pay into that government but do not live in the woods and subject themselves to risk. Most Americans live in urban areas, and will soon become dissatisfied with footing the bill for billions of dollars spent on fraudulent fire fighting programs.

Rather, as I see it, legislation should focus on enabling those who live in or near woodlands to protect themselves, as my family and I have for more than half a century without federal intervention or pork-barreling. The U.S.D.A. Forest Service currently is not directed to work with individuals to enable protecting individual properties. This can be changed immediately with little or no additional costs and with considerable positive impact on those of us who live in the woods. Some of the things they can help with and that we have done are listed below:

Some important, and frequently overlooked, considerations to protect dwellings in fire zones:

The "fire protection zone" around dwellings is a mere 150-200 feet. This is the only place where removing flammable material, such as weeds, brush, shrubs, etc. will help in "fire-proofing" buildings in forest fire prone areas. Logging in forests beyond this narrow area will not reduce fires, it will only increase them.

1. Prune out the lower limbs of trees and shrubs especially small, dead material.

2. Brush easily carries fire and should not accumulate around dwellings. Coniferous foundation plantings are invitations to building loss.

3. Grass and weeds must be mowed often during dry periods, but care should be exercised to be sure the mower doesn't start a fire.

4. "Grey water" from a household, held in drums can be used to keep grass green and kept ready to dump on small fires if they start.

5. Rural residents should carry a container of water in their vehicle during dry periods to put out small fires if encountered. Many fires start at roadside.

6. Keep gasoline cans, vehicles, boats, tires, and even the lawn mower away from buildings. These are significant, easily ignited hazards. The fuel, grease and oil and tires are rapid-burning very high-heat fuels. Often old cars, etc., are stored near buildings in rural areas and are a common cause of the loss of homes in rural settings. (Propane tanks, now exploding in the big Arizona fire also need attention.)

7. Fire breaks and access trails are necessary around dwellings in the woods. We, who live in the woods, utilize rotary mowers to create trails and firebreaks through our woods. This process finely divides debris, and green grass grows in the trails to help retard any fire spread. Furthermore, the trails provide ready access to extinguish fires before they become conflagrations.

8. Metal roofing is essential in the woods but fire-retardant siding should be required on all new buildings.

9. Massive cutting near towns or rural dwellings must be restricted or stopped. Clearcutting, massive cutting or heavy thinning, that creates openings, encourages both dense tree reproduction and brush invasion. In turn, the resulting masses of small stems creates an explosively flammable fuel. Even green stems of this type ignite easily and masses of evergreen foliage, so produced, are essentially pitch torches. Foliage, particularly on conifers, is a violently irruptive green fuel.

10. Additionally, forest-land holders, who have tracts adjoining private dwellings must be compelled by law to create firebreaks adjacent to the dwellings and to keep them fuel-free by discing or plowing during fire seasons. This must include all private and public ownerships of any kind.

More needs to be said about tax incentives to those who protect their homes and tax disincentives for those who build in fire-prone zones. And more needs to be said about directing insurance companies to penalize or reward according to how property is managed in woodland settings.

Dr. Arthur Dean Partridge
Professor Emeritus,
College of Forestry, Wildlife and Range Sciences,
University of Idaho
President, TREAZ, Trees From A to Z, Inc., Consultants
3830 Moscow Mountain Road
Moscow, Idaho 83843

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