Shaping Wildfire Suppression Tactics

America Burning: The Yarnell Hill Tragedy and the Nation’s Wildfire Crisis

The 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire is one of the most historic fire tragedies since September 11, 2001 when it comes to the loss of firefighters. This event sparked a realization among officials that wildfires are only getting bigger and stronger. The events of the Yarnell Fire occurred on June 30, 2013. The Granite Mountain Hotshot crew, local to Prescott, Arizona, were one of the main crews fighting the fire that day. They were following all tactics and procedures until the conditions suddenly changed and the fire started moving in their direction. The crew entered a canyon to reach their safe house and the fire rushed towards them at 12 miles per hour and the crew ended up in front of the fire. Tragically, 19 of the 20 crew members were lost. There were several incidents that went wrong, such as the crew moving out of a protected area, the fire moving so quickly, communications issues, etc. The tragedies of the Yarnell Hill fire bring into question an environmental issue: have forests become more dangerous from us fighting the wildfires?

Cow Fire: Proactive Fire Management in Action

The tactics and strategies of the 204 Cow Fire were proactive and allowed fire crews to manage the lightning-caused fire and help reduce the build-up of underbrush, restoring overall forest health. That specific area of forest had been dominated by beetle-killed trees where fire had not occurred for 30 years. Instead of a direct attack, crews surrounded the fire with containment features such as existing roads and construction lines. The fire lines built were strengthened by burn outs that eliminated fuel between the wildfire and the constructed lines. Officials working on this fire state that fire footprints, prescribed burns and other fuel-reducing techniques are the key to containing new large fires.

Cohesive Strategy Stakeholders Perspectives

No matter how much research is done, fire behavior will continue to be uncharacteristic in specific circumstances. Congress created the FLAME act to address these issues. This action led to the Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, which focuses on a resilient landscape, fire adapted communities, and safe and effective wildfire response/operations. Fires cannot be avoided as it is a natural process. The end goal of this strategy is to reduce the impacts of wildfires on ecosystems and within communities through fire response and all-hands collaboration.


Assignment 1 – Fire Policies

Fire management and suppression has been a topic of controversy for centuries. There have been several policies and techniques that have been implemented over the years. To this day, there is still so much that is unknown about what is the quickest and safest way to mitigate wildfires. One of the biggest changes we’ve seen over the years is the motivation for wildfire management and suppression. In the early 1900’s, the damage to timber production businesses was the main concern. In today’s society, the public’s health concerns are the main focus around fire prevention and suppression. One of the most controversial techniques that has persisted over the years is whether or not prescribed burns are more beneficial or more harmful to the environment and to humans.

In the 1920’s, one of the major suppression techniques was light burning. Fire Chief William Greeley argues against this technique for several viable reasons in the article “’Paiute Forestry’ or the fallacy of light burning”. Greeley argues that light burning is impractical due to the requirement of burns every three to four years and the damage it causes to the young and mature trees. He believes light burning poses more of a threat to humans due to the possibility of the fire getting out of control and spreading, therefore creating an actual wildfire. Greeley also argues that light burning brings about more destruction to the environment than good, based off the conclusion that there is little to no scientific evidence that light burning is beneficial.

While Greeley makes several appealing arguments within the article, fire management and suppression techniques have adopted the technique of prescribed burns more often than not. The controversy today is whether or not land-owners are maintaining the land and burns properly. In the article “Wildfire Management in the U.S. Forest Service” by Donovan and Brown (2005), the history of wildfire management policy and techniques is briefly described. Over the years, specific circumstances have driven policy change, such as the severe fire seasons in the 1930’s, which led to the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and employed thousands of men to aid in fire suppression. In the 1960’s, the Forest Service moved away from a more aggressive wildfire suppression policy, leading to the development of the National Fire Management Analysis System (NFMAS), the first major computerized planning and budgeting tool (Donovan and Brown, 2012). The start of the twenty-first century has led to more science-based decisions surrounding fire suppression, such as the vital role fires play in maintaining healthy ecosystems. The scientific evidence supporting prescribed burns led to new policies, such as the National Fire Plan of 2000 and the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 (Donovan and Brown, 2012). Although prescribed burns may help reduce the damage of massive wildfires, there is still a lot of skepticism and controversy over how efficient prescribed burns are and if there are other management techniques that could be more effective to mitigate damage to ecosystems and human health.

Greeley, W. (2000). “’Paiute Forestry’ or the fallacy of light burning”. Fire Management Today: Washington. Vol. 60, Iss. 4. Retrieved from:

Donovan, G.H. and Brown, T.C. (2005). “Wildfire management in the U.S. Forest Service: A Brief History”. Natural Hazards Observer. Vol. XXIX, Number 6. Retrieved from:


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