On June 30, 2013, 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots wildfire crew perished in the Yarnell Fire in northern Arizona. As you probably know, an investigation is underway to determine the events that led to their deaths. But one fact is already clear: The wildfire crews were stretched thin and firefighting resources have been dramatically reduced by federal budget cuts.
According to Sen. John McCain, air tankers have been reduced from 42 to 10. He also estimated that a $115 million budget cut would result in roughly 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer fire engines despite the fact that western states are experiencing a rise in wildfires.
The day of the loss of the Yarnell 19, resources had been diverted to another wildfire near Kingman, Arizona. At the same time, there were major fires in Colorado, Nevada and Utah.
Unfortunately, this event demonstrates that budget cuts have real consequences. Especially big, dumb, across-the-board cuts like those resulting from sequestration. We should all remember that the federal budget isn’t just about taxes and money. It’s about services, resources and American lives.
Arizona has a long love affair with the gun. Its legislature even named the Colt .45 as the state’s official gun. Gun shops are everywhere. And there’s at least one gun show in the state every weekend. On the other hand, there are few gun clubs or official firing wages.
So where do Arizonans go to fire all of these weapons?
They simply go into the wilderness. They shoot virtually anything in sight, whether it’s legal or not. They blast away at targets and bottles, leaving spent cartridges, broken bottles, targets and other trash in their wake. Increasingly, they leave the forest smoldering.
Over the last few years, dozens of wildfires throughout the West have been caused by hot lead. It’s difficult enough to keep Arizonans from camping when there’s fire danger; from starting campfires; from off-roading; even from flicking cigarette butts out their car windows. But no one’s going to keep Arizonans from exercising their “God-given”, Constitutional right to set the wilderness on fire.
A case in point is the Doce wildfire near Prescott. It has already been determined that the fire was human caused, but it’s not yet certain that it is the result of gunfire. What is known is that the fire has consumed thousands of acres, threatening homes. And that it began in the Doce Pit, an area popular for target shooting.