In 2012, the Waldo Canyon wildfire destroyed nearly 18,000 acres of land in El Paso County, Colo., making it, at the time, the most destructive fire in state history. Today Sallie Clark, the county commissioner who represents much of the area that burned, wonders whether the fire needed to be so severe. “If the forest had been mitigated,” she asks, “would it have been so out of control?”
Indeed, a growing number of voices at all levels of government are questioning whether the federal government’s approach to wildfire prevention is running as well as it could. At a recent Senate subcommittee hearing, Jim Hubbard, deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service, testified that in 2013, more than 4.1 million acres burned in the United States. On its face, that doesn’t mean much, but it’s part of a troubling trend: Wildfires in the U.S. are becoming bigger, more destructive and more frequent.