It is a terrible tragedy, all the worse because it might have been prevented.
Back in 2003 the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) was passed, good legislation that has, aside from an initial flurry of Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP), been pretty much ignored. The initial funding that made HFRA seem like a light at the end of the tunnel was withdrawn years ago from forest restoration and hazardous fuels reduction projects in the southwest and everywhere else. Environmental groups that had promised to support the scientifically based planning of the projects reneged and began fighting projects tooth and nail instead.
Five years after HFRA was passed it was known that it wasn't working. At that point only about 213,000 acres of forest had been treated. In 2008 alone wildfires burned 5 million acres - 1.5 million more acres than burned in 2003, the year the act was passed. In 2008 it was reported that "The worst fire seasons of the last eight years were in 2006 and 2007, with 9.1 million acres and 9.4 million acres burned, respectively." But even knowing that it wasn't working didn't bring about increased forest restoration efforts. Thus last year and the year before another 18 million acres were destroyed (9.3 million in 2012 and 8.7 million in 2011).
Environmental groups that initially not only supported HFRA but entered into agreements about how it would be implemented - including pledging to not fight forest restoration - were quick to turn traitor. In the Gila National Forest, where the Silver Fire has consumed over 125,000 acres to date and last year's Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire took an additional 300,000 acres, only a few thousand acres of forest restoration has been accomplished since HFRA, not the tens of thousands of acres needing treatment every year just to keep up with growth. And only a few miles to the west in Arizona, the Wallow Fire destroyed well over half a million acres two years ago - same ecological environment, same Ponderosa pine forest, same wildlife and habitats, the watersheds for Phoenix and the Colorado River.
Eyewitnesses report that representatives from environmental groups flat-out forbid significant logging in the forests. They refuse to allow thinning of even the drought-stricken, fire-prone, disease-ridden areas of forest to bring them to some kind of healthy condition so that they wouldn't simply burn up the moment a careless camper left hot coals, or lightning struck a Ponderosa pine on a hillside.
More than 72.6 million acres of forest has burned over the last 10 years (not counting the fires so far this year, which have already consumed considerable acreage). Here in the southwest the fires are becoming worse and worse - they are not "natural and healthy", they are fires that destroy so completely that decades later there is just scrub where there used to be mighty pines. Some scientists estimate it will be hundreds of years before there will be forests again.
This is not forest management by science-based public agencies. This is private agenda management of public resources by non-governmental entities, who care less about the health of our forests. It is these groups that have ground restoration and hazardous fuels reduction projects to a crawl - not logging, not grazing, not any of the BS the mighty environmentalist propaganda machines feed the public.
If environmentalist methods worked, then the Yarnell firefighters wouldn't have been in the path of a raging, out-of-control wildfire.
But now it's too late. Ten years of opportunity is gone. Instead of taxpayer dollars going towards proactively addressing forest health, now millions and millions have to be spent on suppression. Not only is the "closing the barn door after the horse has escaped" approach not working, it's become a national tragedy, with loss of human life, destruction of homes and businesses and ruining of watersheds, not to mention the agony of the animals in the forest that die from burning alive, or from slow starvation because of habitat loss.
And it's not going to stop, not if environmentalist are left in charge of our public lands.