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Updated Jul 3, 2014 - 12:01 pm

Legislation expert: Cheaper to thin forests than fight wildfires

A helicopter hovers above the San Juan Fire, Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Vernon, Ariz. Emergency crews have set up a shelter for evacuees of a wildfire in northeastern Arizona's White Mountains that has charred more than 8 square miles. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, David Kadlubowski)

PHOENIX -- Firefighters have expressed concerns over Arizona's dry summer weather and overgrown national forests. Many are worried 2014 will be another deadly wildfire season.

Valley legislation expert Russell Smoldon said trimming trees and treating forests could save Arizona homes and, more importantly, firefighter's lives at a lower cost than fighting the fires. Smoldon said he thought the federal government would help maintain Arizona's national forests after the tragedy at Yarnell Hill.

"I had really hoped that Congress would take some positive action," he said.

Congress, however, has not taken any action since the tragedy, according to Smoldon. He said fighting wildfires in Arizona is getting riskier every day.

"At what cost human life versus property and at what point do we say we either thin it on the front end or we let it burn on the back end," he said.

Smoldon said it would cost the feds around $135 per acre to treat Arizona's national forests. He called it a significantly lower price than fighting a wildfire of the same size.

He pointed to the fire in the White Mountains as an example.

"The San Juan fire has cost $4 million to fight but not even a fraction of that to put people out there and get them to thin the forest," he said.

Forest thinning and maintenance is the only solution to avoiding another tragedy like Yarnell, according to Smoldon. He said he hopes the government starts treating Arizona's national forests soon.

About the Author

Cooper Rummell is a Southern California native. He moved to Arizona in 2012 to pursue a bachelor's degree in journalism at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Since May 2013, Cooper has worked as a desk anchor and reporter at KTAR. He has a passion for investigative political reporting and covering the local crime beat.


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