This week we mourn the worst wildland firefighting tragedy in at least 80 years. On Sunday, 19 members of a 20-man firefighting crew were killed in Arizona when shifting gale-gust winds, drought-parched brush and low relative humidity caused the 9,000-acre Yarnell Hill fire, northwest of Phoenix, to split erratically in two directions.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer appropriately called the loss "unbearable."
Tragedies like this remind us just how much we owe wildland firefighters, who battle these blazes on a regular basis. They remind us just how dangerous the job is and how skilled those who battle these fires truly are, as evidenced by the speed of most containments and the rarity of catastrophes such as this.
But this event demands new attitudes about cooperation among state and federal agencies, local zoning commissions, the timber industry and nature. Since 2000, the U.S. has endured eight of the nine worst fire seasons in terms of land burned. Eight states including California have seen record-setting destructiveness over the past six years. Changing global weather patterns will mean higher temperatures, more unpredictable winds and longer droughts.
We mustn't simply mourn these 19. We must learn and change.