© 2023 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

New Top Northwest Wildfire Official Says 'Not All Fire is Bad'

File photo of a firefighter using a driptorch to apply fire during a prescribed burn.
Swanson Scott
USFWS - tinyurl.com/yaerker7
File photo of a firefighter using a driptorch to apply fire during a prescribed burn.

The new person in charge of regional firefighters at the U.S. Forest Service has called for an increase in prescribed fire and a change in attitude about wildfires.

John Giller was recently appointed as the U.S. Forest Service director of Fire, Fuels and Aviation for the Pacific Northwest and Alaska regions. 

“Not all fire is bad fire,” Giller said. “Fire is a good thing and I am a firefighter and I’m telling you this.”

Preventing wildfires was the general marketing strategy for the U.S. Forest Service for decades, and since the 1950s, Smokey Bear has been its chief spokesman. According to Giller, that strategy just isn’t reasonable, nor is it natural.

“How do we stop saying-- ‘we need more firefighters and we need more money,’ and we gotta throw more stuff at these fires.”

Giller said prescribed burning can help thin forests and manage rangelands. He also said some fires should just be allowed to burn naturally. He said the keys to protect the public are “local notifications, evacuations, defensible space.” 

Giller’s comments highlight a movement away from the practice of fighting every wildfire.

“The public defines what success is. We used to think it was putting out fires, we used to think it was the minimizing the number of homes that were burned,” he said.

Giller, a firefighter for nearly four decades, spoke during a panel discussion in Yakima at a Stanford University conference focused on issues specific to the rural American West.

Copyright 2018 Northwest News Network

Emily Schwing
Emily Schwing comes to the Inland Northwest by way of Alaska, where she covered social and environmental issues with an Arctic spin as well as natural resource development, wildlife management and Alaska Native issues for nearly a decade. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio’s programs like “Morning Edition” and “All things Considered.” She has also filed for Public Radio International’s “The World,” American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and various programs produced by the BBC and the CBC. She has also filed stories for Scientific American, Al Jazeera America and Arctic Deeply.