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

Swanson Scott
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 conferencefocused on issues specific to the rural American West.