Ross: The difference between good fire and bad fire

Firefighters burned about 30 acres of oak woodland on March 10, 2015, during a prescribed burn along the eastern edge of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in Shasta County, Calif. (Andreas Fuhrmann/The Record Searchlight via AP)

In California, Governor Jerry Brown recently got a tour of a fire zone.

“It’s the devastation that only fires of this kind can bring about,” Brown said at a recent press conference.

But it’s also the type of thing fire can prevent. Fire researchers will tell you who’s most at risk from this sort of devastation – it’s people building homes at the edges of hills to get the best views. As Dr. Alexandra Syphard with the Conservation Biology Institute recently told conference: “There’s something about fire locations that’s really appealing for people to put their houses.”

There’s another factor. In 1911, the federal government outlawed the fire ceremonies of Native American tribes, who for 10,000 years had been setting fires to protect settlements and improve hunting. Tribal members who persisted were charged with arson. That’s explained in a 2012 film called Catching Fire – about how state officials have come to realize there was science behind those ancient ceremonies.

“Smokey Bear has done an excellent job saying fire is bad, well now we realize the ecosystem needs fire,” the film explains.

Sorry Smokey.