Could the brush fires last month in RI have been prevented?
In the days following the massive brush fires in Exeter and West Greenwich last month, House Republicans raised concerns about whether the fires could have been prevented or at least minimized.
More than half of Rhode Island is covered in forest, with the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) responsible for managing approximately 20% of it, totaling over 73,000 acres.
However, House Republicans argue that the DEM’s current field staff of 11 is insufficient to adequately maintain the wooded areas.
House Minority Leader Michael Chippendale believes that Rhode Island’s forests have been neglected for a long time, leading to excessive underbrush and overgrown fire roads.
He suggests that these factors were significant contributors to the recent brush fires that burned over 850 acres of forest in Exeter.
Chippendale emphasizes that a healthy forest is less prone to burning compared to an unhealthy one.
When approached about these concerns, DEM spokesperson Mike Healey acknowledged that the forests are covered in dead and downed trees but attributes this to natural factors rather than neglect.
Healey points out gypsy moth infestations and recent droughts as weakening the trees over time.
While House Republicans have been advocating for increased funding in the state budget for DEM’s forest management, including additional funding for conservation districts and the addition of two forest rangers, Governor McKee did not support these proposals in his budget.
Although Governor McKee’s office mentioned 16 full-time DEM employees approved in the previous year’s budget and eight more proposed in the current year’s budget, House Republicans argue that further action is needed to address the potential risks.
They warn that without adequate funding and resources, Rhode Island could be setting itself up for a calamity.
However, the DEM has utilized a green bond to train municipal firefighters in fighting wildfires.
Several individuals who underwent this training were instrumental in extinguishing the recent wildfires.
In summary, the brush fires in Rhode Island last month have prompted discussions about the preventive measures and forest management practices in the state.
House Republicans argue that the fires could have been avoided or mitigated with better maintenance of the forests, while the DEM attributes the forest conditions to natural factors.
The debate over funding and resources for forest management continues between House Republicans and Governor McKee’s office.