It seems like deja vu.
It's August and the county is burning down.
Last year, the Trinity Ridge Fire burned 146,000 acres in the mountains above Mountain Home. Adding all the other fires in the county during that summer, nearly half a million acres burned in this county last year.
But that didn't mean there wasn't plenty left to burn, and so far, the Pony Complex and Elk Complex fires have scorched a quarter of a million acres -- with no end immediately in site.
Once again, as we did this time last year, we have the nation's number one priority fire -- the Elk Complex fire threatening Pine (and the number two fire, the Pony complex threatening Mayfield).
We had done so well this year. Human-caused fires had been rare and fires in general had been relatively small and quickly extinguished by local and federal firefighters.
But Mother Nature had other ideas and the series of dry lightning strikes last week sparked a score of fires that quickly burned together into the huge Pony and Elk complex fires.
So far, there's been no loss of life, but a significant number of vacation homes and cabins are gone. No one's sure how many, precisely, because of the difficulty and danger in getting into some of the burned areas, but the totals are going to be well north of the two already confirmed.
Some livestock and wildlife have died in the fire. Perhaps most importantly, huge amounts of the winter range for elk and deer are now gone. The ecological impact of this fire is going to last years.
As the BLM and Forest Service work to rehabilitate the land, it's time to give serious consideration to the plans proposed by Ted Hoffman and others at a conference two years ago, to plant more fire-resistant grasses and generate more firebreaks in the area. So far, those ideas have been slowly -- very slowly -- working their way through the environmental analysis and permitting bureaucracy. But it's tough for anyone to claim today that those proposals would interfere with an ecology that no longer exists, so out of the charred ashes there arises an opportunity to create a long-term strategy that could mitigate against the creation of such huge fires as we've seen in recent years.
The current fires are going to burn for weeks, at least. But the time to start thinking about the rehabilitation of the damaged land must begin now, and the opportunity is there for creative, innovative approaches.
-- Kelly Everitt