Government” is not popular in the rural West. It costs money. It makes decisions that often are unpopular and occasionally seem inexplicable. It issues restrictions that sometimes thwart what people want to do and how they want to make money.
Like the State Line Fire, the Little Sand Fire and others around Colorado, the Weber Fire shows the benefits of government.
Almost instantly, the fire was too big for an individual landowner to fight. The local volunteer fire department – a group organized long ago to provide personnel to combat fires cooperatively – quickly responded.
That fire department sought, and quickly received, mutual aid from other area fire departments, which responded because they, in turn, have had cause to ask Mancos firefighters for mutual aid.
Those fire departments are funded through a variety of sources, including property tax. That makes them government – not big government, not bad government, just residents collaborating to accomplish something they cannot do on their own.
Soon, federal firefighters who protect national parks, national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands were called in, because the Weber Fire required more of a response than local agencies could muster or afford.
Those firefighters – men and women risking their lives to protect people and property – are part of the government. They do not fit the perception of bureaucrats sitting idly at their desks, wasting time and plotting to spend more taxpayer money.
Their superiors – the ones more often called bureaucrats – are figuring out how to deploy scarce resources as effectively as possible and how to support the firefighters in the air and on the ground. At one point during the weekend, half of the nation’s public-lands firefighting force was fighting fires in Colorado, and planes were pulled from the Weber Fire because other fires were more dangerous. That highlights the scarcity and the logistical challenges.
The federal government will receive considerable criticism from people who believe land managers should have managed the public lands better to reduce fire danger, should have fought the fires more effectively, did not have enough equipment close enough, had too much deployed to the wrong place, did not manage to convince Congress they needed more – you name it, somebody’s going to complain about it. But consider the difficulty in convincing anyone – before it is too late – that more money is needed for firefighting.
The dispatchers, the deputies staffing roadblocks and the investigators seeking the people suspected of starting this fire are government employees, as are the fairgrounds manager, the school administrators, and the other local government employees scrambling to respond.
That is not to say that a large number of volunteers are not contributing a great deal to the effort. They are and they deserve appreciation.
But this week, and for as long as this fire goes on, all of the governmental entities allied to fight it deserve unified support and heartfelt thanks. This is your government at work and everyone involved should get credit for doing the best they can.