The Challenges of Managing Fire in the Wilderness

When fires burn with primarily ecologically beneficial effects in wilderness areas, fire managers face difficult questions: when do we let these fires burn, and when do we send in resources to try to stop them?

The Hancock Fire in northwest California offers a lens through which we can explore this puzzle. The fire ignited in mid-August in the Marble Mountain Wilderness, and it has largely stopped spreading in recent days.

Federal officials have made plans for firefighters to put in lines around the fire to try to contain it, likely out of fear that a major east wind event could push the fire some 10 miles toward the community of Somes Bar in Siskiyou County. How likely is such a wind event, and what factors played into the decision to send firefighters out? How do fire managers balance the desire to contain the fire with the risk that firefighters face in attempting to do so?