Romney Says Early Detection, Logging Could Stop Wildfires

By LINDSAY WHITEHURST | August 10, 2018

As wildfires ravage the U.S. West, Republican Senate candidate Mitt Romney has called for more logging and a high-tech early detection system in a plan that was met with some skepticism.

Romney, a candidate in Utah, said in an essay that more logging would thin out forests and clear dead timber so fires have less fuel.

“If the devastation of wildfires were being caused by a foreign enemy rather than by natural causes, we would do and spend whatever it took to stop it,” he wrote.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke also advocated for thinning out forests in a USA Today op-ed published Wednesday, as California fights its largest wildfire in state history.

Zinke took aim at “radical environmentalists,” who oppose logging, but Romney said there could be common ground if stopping fires meant saving animals and habitat.

Romney’s Democratic Senate opponent Jenny Wilson lauded protective measures but said Romney’s plan misses the mark by not specifically addressing climate change-linked factors such as warmer weather and drought.

“We must address climate change as a national crisis in order to protect the American West,” she said in a statement.

Romney said he also wants to beef up regional firefighter resources and create an early detection system of drones, satellites and sensors. Romney’s campaign didn’t provide additional detail on his ideas.

Fire experts said an early detection system isn’t at the top of their wish list. The Utah governor’s office agreed with most of Romney’s plan but said most wildfires are spotted and suppressed quickly.

“We believe that prevention, preparedness and suppression response capacity should be the top priorities for investment,” said Paul Edwards, deputy chief of staff for communications and policy.

Such a system would likely be expensive and would only help with a small portion of wildfires – ones that start at night when people are asleep and are fast-moving near urban areas, said Tom Cova, director of the University of Utah’s Center for Natural and Technological Hazards

“Detection of wildfires is not really a problem,” Cova said. More logging would help but wouldn’t solve the problem, he said.

Firefighters use human spotters in lookout towers. There are also cameras placed on existing cell towers on mountaintops in many Western states, including Nevada and California, said Jessica Gardetto, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Money spent thinning forests of weeds and other vegetation, especially near buildings, is well spent, she said.

Wildfires are a confluence of many factors, including longer, hotter summers, she said.

“We’re seeing more of a fire year whereas we were seeing fire seasons in the past,” she said.

Nearly 1,000 fires large and small have been sparked in Utah alone this year, costing some $60 million to fight, the state said.

(Associated Press reported Brady McCombs contributed to this report.)

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