2017 Wildfire Season - Hard Lessons And A Ray Of Hope

Highly toxic smoke from wildfire obscures flag and sickens citizens.

by Capt. William E. Simpson II


Now that the flames from the recent catastrophic 2017 wildfire season have subsided, we have a very short window of time until the 2018 wildfire season begins to gather-in what was learned from these many disasters. For starters, we know that nearly 9-million acres of forest and wildland urban interface ('WUI') areas were devastated by catastrophic wildfire, in some cases irreversibly.

We also now know that even a mile-wide river (like the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington) does not provide any 'defensible space' when facing catastrophic wildfire, as was clearly demonstrated when the Eagle Creek fire jumped the Columbia from Oregon over to Washington and ignited the ground fuels and forest there; story here: columbian.com/news/2017/sep/05/eagle-creek-fire-jumps-columbia-river-evacuations-in-skamania-county/

It is also abundantly clear that catastrophic wildfires are fueled initially and in some cases primarily by grass and brush (aka: ground fuels), as was the case in the Chetco Bar Fire in Curry County Oregon (a Megafire), and the Sonoma County, CA fires. As we saw, wildfire season began in-earnest in July and continued through October costing dozens of lives, nearly 10,000 homes and structures, and more than two-billion dollars in costs just to fight. Actual monetary costs related to total losses are in the tens of $-Billions of dollars, and still counting.

The total price-tag in terms of the hundreds of human lives lost and upended families is tragic and incalculable, as are the costs related to many other losses. Thousands of homes and structures were destroyed, forests, watersheds, fisheries, wildlife, etc. devastated, all burned and in many cases, beyond recovery due to the extreme heat of these unnaturally-hot catastrophic wildfires.

Some of these wildfires evolved into Megafires, such as the Chetco Bar Fire in Curry County Oregon, which consumed nearly 200,000 acres in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area, fueled primarily by grass and brush, having been previously burned in 2002 as the Biscuit Fire. This super-hot re-burn further degraded soils, and will further devastate the watershed and fishery. Furthermore, it wiped-out about $10-million worth of restoration work that was invested after the 2002 Biscuit Fire.

These new-breed of fires are so hot in fact, they pasteurize the soils, killing all of the beneficial microbes needed for healthy plants. Furthermore, many mineral analogs are sublimated into gases, which are then combined into the highly toxic smoke from these unnaturally hot wildfires, posing serious health effects for humans and animals. This observation is well-supported by this study published at the National Health Institute: cbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4245643/.

And this: ehp.niehs.nih.gov/14-09277/

During these new-breed of highly-fueled and unnaturally hot fires, soils are severely damaged and degraded as cited in this study: forest.moscowfsl.wsu.edu/smp/solo/documents/GTRs/INT_280/DeBano_INT-280.php.

The thesis that I had formally put forward regarding the correlation between the now depleted cervid (deer & elk) populations in CA, OR and in other areas and the onset of catastrophic wildfire was presented in a series of published articles that started in June of 2017, and is now unfortunately well-supported by actual experience and also by existing peer-reviewed science; to wit: advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/4/e1400103.full

It has become clearly evident that an integral part of any wildfire-prevention plan will require the abatement of grasses and brush in and around our forests and wildlands, and the WUI. Furthermore, the regeneration of the depleted cervid (deer) populations will require decades of thoughtful management, thus requiring an interim species of large-bodied herbivore to fill-in with regard to abating grasses and brush via grazing. The captive native species wild horses in the BLM/USFS corrals are well-suited to this task and could be quickly and cost-effectively re-allocated into and around carefully selected areas as a part of a multi-pronged ground fuel abatement program.

It was early June 2017 when I began drafting an initial article that was published at several outlets (I.E. myoutdoorbuddy.com/articles/67878848/fire-brigade:-wild-horses-and-their-value-proposition.php), which contained the science-based conclusions for instituting an all-natural component of a wildfire prevention methodology using wild horses, which I had formulated over the prior months after concluding an extensive study of the data related to numerous seemingly related subjects:

1) Depleted deer populations and predator management on the west coast (and elsewhere) and the interrelations between deer and their ability to annually abate hundreds of tons of dangerous ground fuels (grass and brush) thereby modifying the fire regime; the frequency and severity of catastrophic wildfire; and,
2) Foods of deer, wild horses and cattle; and,
3) Carrying capacity of forest and range lands and the behavioral ecology of wild horses, deer and cattle; and,
4) Statistics related to tonnage of forage (plants and types) naturally grazed by various herbivores, including deer and wild horses; and,
5) Thermodynamics of wildfires and measured temperatures of grass and brush fires compared to canopy fires.

The result of months of exhaustive research and work culminated with the publication of the 'Natural Wildfire Abatement And Forest Protection Plan' (aka: ‘Wild Horse Fire Brigade’), which was distributed to the Department of Interior and numerous state and county officials. Online here: horsetalk.co.nz/2017/10/13/ecological-imbalance-wildfires-us-rangelands. And here: freerangereport.com/index.php/2017/10/13/can-wild-horses-help-solve-the-wests-wildfire-scourge/

With just 7-months remaining until the onset of the 2018 wildfire season, legislators and officials must act expediently and effectively to help prevent a recurrence of the disasters of 2017, or possibly worse.

This part of an overall wildfire solution can also provide a politically viable and equitable solution for the wild horses sitting in the Bureau of Land Management and United States Forest Service corrals, costing taxpayers about $80-million annually. These American wild horses can become a natural fire brigade.

William Simpson is the author of Dark Stallions – Legend of the Centaurians, proceeds from which go towards supporting wild and domestic horse rescue and sanctuary.

Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Simpson has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family for years at a time. He holds a U.S.C.G. 500-ton captain’s license for commercial-inspected passenger vessels and he is also a commercial airplane and helicopter pilot.

Simpson spent his formative years growing up on the family’s working ranch in the mountains of Southern Oregon, where horses were an integral part of the daily life. William left the family ranch to attend college, which turned out to be a stepping stone into a bizarre lifestyle that led him around the world on an entrepreneurial quest. An adventurer at heart, Simpson and his best friend and wife Laura, spent many years at sea during two sailing expeditions (1991-1994 and 2008-2011) where they experienced some of the many wonders and mysteries of nature. Since retiring, Bill and Laura have changed lifestyles and are once again engaged in a new adventure; living an off-grid lifestyle in the remote wilderness of the Siskiyou Mountains, where they enjoy coexisting with herds of wild horses, along with a myriad of other wild animals. The staggering beauty of the local mountains and valleys is awe inspiring and has influenced Bill to frequently write on subjects related to wild horses as well as wild and domestic horse advocacy, rescue and sanctuary.

The opinions expressed on MyOutdoorBuddy are those of the author and do not represent the opinion of MyOutdoorBuddy or that of the author's employer unless otherwise stated.