Close The Forest Now!

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There but for the grace of God go we.

As of yesterday afternoon, the "Indian" fire in Prescott had blazed through 800 to 1,000 acres, five homes and a campground. More than 250 firefighters were struggling to limit the devastation as much as humanly possible, and hundreds more were expected to join the battle today. About 1,000 people evacuated their homes, many of them by mandatory order.

And Payson Fire Chief John Ross, who visited the scene yesterday, has said that the bone-dry forest conditions which led to the Prescott fire with suspected help from a single careless camper are identical to the bone-dry conditions of the Tonto National Forest, which is now in the midst of the worst fire-danger season in recorded history.

What more information do we need? Close the rest of the forest. Now.

Some argue that doing so would be devastating to local business. Think of the devastation that could be caused by losing the entire town to fire.

If there is a synonym for the kind of fire that is ravaging the countryside just 100 miles west of this community at this very moment, it is "surprise." The kind of surprise that thinking people must do everything in their power to avoid.

It was a surprise when wildfire scorched the gorgeous urban hills above Oakland and Berkeley, California, Oct. 20, 1991. That one started as a mere ground-litter fire, but soon became a literal firestorm that killed 25 people, injured 150, destroyed 2,886 homes, and caused some $1.5 billion in damage. Surprise.

The Cerro Grande fire that raced across Los Alamos, NM, last year started as a prescribed burn, and ended up devouring 235 homes and some 50,000 acres. Surprise.

And it was 11 years and 11 months ago that our very own Dude Fire scorched over 24,174 acres of national forest, 479 acres of private land, 63 homes, the Zane Grey Cabin, 29 miles of riparian habitat killing untold numbers of wildlife, 36 million board feet of timber, and the lives of five of the 2,632 firefighters who fought to put it out. Surprise.

Will closing the forest eliminate the possibility of another Dude Fire? Of course not. But it would represent a huge step toward keeping great big ugly surprises at bay.

As the Muslim saying goes, "Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel." Let's trust in God, but close the forest.

Right now.

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