The ISIS Controlled Burn: You Can Fight Fire With Fire

When I was very young I was given a copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie for Christmas, I had read every other book in the series and I promptly devoured this one.

The contents of chapter 22 have stuck with me to this day. In that chapter Pa and Ma defend their homestead from a massive prairie fire. One of the best parts of Little House was the fact that Wilder went into such detail about the process of building and defending a homestead and chapter 22 was no different.

On this windy day, Pa comes running home with Pet and Patty screaming of fire. He orders buckets of water and wet sacks. Then he gets to plowing a furrow west, south, and east of the house. He has time to plow only one. He sets fire to the grass on the other side of the furrow — a “back fire,” Ma calls it — away from the house. With the big fire advancing from the south, he and Ma beat back the flames approaching the grassless furrow.

Beyond Little House

The idea of a “back fire” had never even occurred to me. The old saying is, of course, ‘you can’t fight fire with fire’ and suddenly, at age 8, I was learning that this was not always the case.

Now that I’m older and I live in the Southwest “Wildfire Season” is an actual season which brings with it burn bans and fire warnings. Where a drive up to the White Mountains can find numerous areas of burned out forest and residents all to willing to discuss their strategies for protecting their modern homesteads from wildfires. I have learned a lot more about wildfires and forest fires and the strategies the ecological and conservation groups go through to prevent these fires from getting out of control.


The lingering results of a forest fire in the White Mountains.

Sometimes a Controlled Burn (also referred to as Hazard Reduction Burning) is necessary.

People still say “don’t fight fire with fire” but ecologically speaking, that is exactly what we do. We use controlled burns to prevent uncontrolled wildfires, which kill innocent people and destroy homes, businesses, and towns.

These burns are carefully planned and clean out underbrush and other easily flammable materials, before the wildfire season comes, to reduce the possibility of a wildfire or forest fire sweeping through an area.

Johnson is a former smokejumper with more than 100 jumps in his career. He says fighting fire with fire — literally — makes sense, even if it may not seem logical to some. “It’s hard to convince people it’s a good thing,” he says. “They’ve seen too many homes go up [in flames] on the news. And it’s hard to get the message across that this has been going on for thousands and thousands of years.”

It’s not easy to bring fire back in a landscape with people and livestock and homes in it. But the alternative, says Korb, is worse. “When we light fires, we can choose the conditions that the fires are burning under,” he says. That makes them easier to control.

Without the kind of thinning and burning that crews like this do, the backcountry forests of the West get overgrown to the point where natural fires become unstoppable. The U.S. Forest Service says it needs to thin or do prescribed burns in more than 200 million acres of Forest Service land; so far they only have money to do 3 million acres a year.


You are probably wondering why I’m talking about this on a political blog. That would be because I’m not actually talking about wildfires, I’m talking about ISIS.

ISIS is moving to create a new caliphate in the Middle East (gaining support from Boko Haram as well), moving through Syria and now on to Iraq, murdering Christians, kidnapping women, cutting off water supplies, and burying people alive.

Someone needs to do a controlled burn before this gets out of control and becomes a true wildfire that kills and destroys more people than it already has.

Who has that responsibility? Iraq? The Kurds? Or maybe some other portion of the Middle East, like Iran, Egypt, or Israel? Even if some combination of those people were willing to work together, could they even accomplish the task?

I honestly don’t know. All I do know is that without a controlled burn, this is going to get even nastier than it already is.

So here’s the score. ISIS is not just a threat to Iraq and Syria, it’s not even just a threat to the Middle East or Turkey. They’ve already verbally threatened the United States and it might behoove us to take that seriously, given that they are psychotic, fairly well funded, and have a lot of  fighters with American citizenship leaving our country and going to them for training to kill innocent people in ISIS’ bid to take over the Middle East.

It doesn’t have to take 10 to 20 years to deal with it, as Dan Greenfield has pointed out, not if we are willing to go in hard with a plan (like we should have done during the Bush administration) and finish this.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that America has a responsibility to deal with ISIS or that we must deal with them, but I do believe that it’s in our country’s best future interest to clear this underbrush now, before wildfire season starts.


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Categorised in: America, World

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