Letter to the Editor


Dear Editor,

Texas hasn’t seen a big jump in the number of wildfires per our current range conditions, but we are suffering from larger fires from these normal wildfire events. We are spending millions of dollars to babysit the growth of megafires on private property, under the supervision of Texas Forest Service. The rub is our current wildfire “system” rewards Texas Forest Service for spending more and more money “fighting” these wildfires. The more TFS spends fighting fires this year the more they can ask for in next year’s budget. The system erroneously has no incentive to extinguish fires when they are small.

Where VFDs used to sell briskets on the 4th of July to buy extra tires for functional, deuce-and-ahalf converted brush trucks, they’re now being outfitted by TFS with the latest and most expensive, specialized wildland brush trucks ever built. We are running $350,000 VFD trucks to wildfire scenes, where the VFD has no improved strategy other than park a million dollars in new fire equipment on the edge of black and call TFS for help. Cha-ching.

There is so much taxpayer money in the TFS system, TFS is inadvertently changing the way Volunteer Fire Departments see their community roles as well. Before Nature’s mega wildfire complex response to severe drought and brush infested rangeland in 2011, VFDs generated extra VFD revenue by working within their community to reduce dangerous fuel loads, knowing the wildfire risk reduction was a community win. Local brush pile burns and other debris clean-up was a bread and butter revenue stream and the communities which originally built and funded the VFDs benefited from the relationship. Landowners used to be able to hire VFDs to assist or, at least, show up on prescribed fires, bringing the fire equipment the community helped originally fund. Recently, talking with a local VFD about a neighborhood brush pile burn request from a community homeowner, the VFD declined the small project, citing they just don’t need the money anymore. Call a VFD in advance about hiring them to help babysit a prescribed fire and they are more likely to storm the county judge’s office with fear and anger over the audacity of a landowner’s lack of fire fear.

This is not a strategy to protect private property or to improve how wildland fires are tackled. There is no incentive to stop the fire while it is small. There is no incentive to develop a strategy with the private property landowner which considers future use of private property. TFS strategy is a bulldozer and air show costing taxpayers millions more than if the incentives and funding were more appropriately tied to quickly and economically extinguishing fires. Our current trend is the more we spend the bigger the fires become. Common sense would apply the converse?

My Texas Department of Agriculture prescribed burn manager license, encourages me to respond to Texas Forest Service commanded fires because the department of Agriculture recognizes where experienced prescribed burn managers have a unique professional skill set which should be valuable to these 1st responders at stopping wildlfires. I can report where increasingly since 2011, Texas Forest Service has not just been disappointed when my team shows up to offer true volunteer aid, they physically stop my team from assisting. Texas is the only Western State where expensive direct attack of fires is allowed. Other states execute indirect attack, where cost effective and safer defensive fires are lit to contain the growth of fires, using cheap fire to fight fire, working with Nature.

As a licensed burn manager, my little 10-man Conservation Fire Team burns more acreage than Texas Forest Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife combined. In fact, we are the largest applicator of prescribed fire in Texas, behind the Federal Government. We have built a multi-state prescribed fire business on conducting safe fires. In the “business” world, we are incentivized to not have fire escapes, to execute prescribed fires inside firebreaks, and to deliver safe and responsible use of the tool of fire. Since 2011, TFS is perfecting a policy where given enough time, money, and resources your State Fire Service can commandeere an insignificant and small fire and grow that fire into a sweet overtime gig and in some cases even a Federal revenue source.

Fear of fire is a better budget builder than a community which understands the historic role of fire and accepts we live with fire, just like hailstorms and tornadoes. On a recent named fire in Westcentral Texas, my team installed +/-7 miles of backburns and blacklines to stop all forward progress of the wildfire on its 1st night. We likely spent $50 for the burn fuel required to halt the dangerous growth of the fire and used less than 100 gallons of water. TFS strategy never attempted to address the growth of the fire, concentrating all resources on the safer backside of the fire, which obviously grows fires instead of stopping fires. TFS managed to turn the safe side of this fire into a 9 day extravaganza, with 100’s of firefighters, multiple air attack aircraft, more than a dozen bulldozers, and spending in the neighborhood of $15 million while our cheap blacklines held and the shape of the fire footprint never changed on our West and North flanks?

Fire is a natural part of our landscape. However, we are committing to hosting more future mega wildfires when the only community wildfire response is to evacuate, pray for firefighters, and buy the briskets. The real threat to future wildfire growth is asking why Texas doesn’t create firefighting incentives that are based upon how small we can keep wildfires. If my team can control wildfires in the early mornings with cheap leafblowers, why does TFS wait until the afternoon to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars from airplanes? At this rate it would be cheaper for Texas to have TFS buy the property on fire than to force taxpayers to fund their capital growth “response”.


Brian Treadwell

Christoval, TX