We Need to Stop 'Fire Foolishness' in America

Ex-fire chief pens 'NYT' essay on getting more aggressive on fires caused by human carelessness
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 8, 2023 12:00 PM CDT
Want to Stop Wildfires? Dump Smokey Bear
Stock photo of a fire burning near South Lake Tahoe in California.   (Getty Images/Kara Capaldo)

Canadian wildfires are wreaking havoc not only in Canada, but in cities across the northeastern United States, leading to hazardous levels of air pollution that the eastern part of the US isn't accustomed to seeing. There may be an opportunity at hand in this unusual event, however, at least according to Clare Frank, California's first female chief of fire protection. In her essay for the New York Times, Frank writes that while Canada's fires are often caused by lightning strikes on overly dry forests, America suffers more from "fire foolishness," with a jaw-dropping 80% of our wildfires caused by careless behavior, not Mother Nature. Frank has been affected personally by this recklessness: She and her husband evacuated their home during California's 2021 Caldor fire, caused by a father and son who apparently fired their guns off in a dry forest during peak wildfire season.

"When I drive past the moonscaped mountains and blackened tree skeletons where lush green forest used to be before the fire, I still get sad, then mad," Frank writes. She notes the other human fails that have led to out-of-control blazes—everything from gender reveal smoke bombs and sky lanterns released for weddings, to misguided campers lighting their own excrement on fire so they wouldn't leave any trace behind. Most of the time we shrug these incidents off as "accidents" or "mistakes," but Frank wants to take a harder tack, including with more charges of reckless arson brought against those who start the fires, as well as more aggressive awareness campaigns that trade cutesy graphics and mascots like Smokey Bear for "images of the apocalyptic destruction and words from those who have lost homes, livelihoods, and loved ones." "We can do better," she insists. Read her essay in full here. (Read more wildfires stories.)

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