Government

Large-scale fire response is very worthy of untainted thanks

“Government” is not popular in the rural West. It costs money. It makes decisions that often are unpopular and occasionally seem inexplicable. It issues restrictions that sometimes thwart what people want to do and how they want to make money.

The Weber Fire, though, shows the benefits of government.

Almost instantly, the fire was too big for an individual landowner to fight. The local volunteer fire department — a group organized long ago to provide personnel to combat fires cooperatively—responded quickly.

That fire department sought, and quickly received, mutual aid from other area fire departments, which responded because they, in turn, have had cause to ask Mancos firefighters for mutual aid.

Those fire departments are funded through a variety of sources, including property tax mill levies. That makes them government — not big government, not bad government, just citizens collaborating to accomplish something they cannot do on their own.

In short order, federal firefighters that protect national parks, national forests and Bureau of Land Managment lands were called in, because the Weber Fire required more of a response than local agencies could muster (or afford).

Those firefighters — men and women risking their lives to protect people and property — are part of the government. They don’t fit the perception of bureaucrats sitting idly at their desks, wasting time and plotting to spend more taxpayer money.

Their superiors — the ones more often called bureaucrats — are figuring out how to deploy scarce resources as effectively as possible and how to support the firefighters in the air and on the ground. At one point during the weekend, half of the nation’s public-lands firefighting force was fighting fires in Colorado, and planes were pulled from the Weber Fire because other fires were more dangerous. That highlights both the scarcity and the logistical challenges.

The federal government will receive considerable criticism from people who believe land managers should have managed the public lands better to reduce fire danger, should have fought the fires more effectively, didn’t have enough equipment close enough, had too much deployed to the wrong place, didn’t manage to convince Congress they needed more — you name it, somebody’s going to complain about it. But consider the difficulty in convincing anyone — before it’s too late — that more money is needed for firefighting.

The dispatchers, the deputies staffing roadblocks and the investigators seeking the individuals suspected of starting this fire are government employees, as are the fairgrounds manager, the school administrators, the other local government employees scrambling to respond.

That’s not to say that a large number of volunteers aren’t contributing a great deal to the effort. They are, and they deserve appreciation.

But this week, and for as long as this fire goes on, all of the governmental entities allied to fight it deserve unified support and heartfelt thanks. This is your government at work, and everyone involved should get credit for doing the best they can.