PORTLAND, Ore., 10 January 2005/U.S. Newswire/ — News stories about wildland fires often follow scripts verging on sensationalist hype and hysteria, according to “A Reporter’s Guide to Wildland Fire,” released today by Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE), a national firefighters’ group.
“The largest, most severe wildfires provide reporters with all the elements needed for exciting news stories: Crisis and conflict, drama and suspense, death and destruction,” the Guide reads. “Wildfire stories also carry a readymade template for framing the story, identifying the main characters, and describing the unfolding events.”
“The net result may produce riveting stories, but this misses an opportunity to more accurately and fully inform the public with the facts,” said Timothy Ingalsbee, the country’s foremost fire sociologist and author of the guide. “Rather than being villains, wildland fires are natural disturbances that have affected forest ecosystems for millennia,” he said. “Reporters do great service to the public when they break free from standard scripts and official sources that typically depict wildfire events with war metaphors and ‘catastrophe’ mentalities.”
“Military metaphors, ecological illiteracy, inaccurate terminology, and biased sources consign most wildfire reporting as hackneyed,” Ingalsbee continued. “We’re trying to constructively change the debate. ‘A Reporter’s Guide to Wildland Fire’ scientifically addresses fire myths and offers new story angles, expanded information sources, better word choices, and more appropriate questions to ask agency spokespersons in order to improve the accuracy and value of fire reporting.”
Among the “myths” the Guide tackles are: “We can prevent wildfires and fireproof our forests;” “Commercial logging and forest road-building help prevent wildfires;” “Recent summers have been the worst wildfire seasons in history;” and “Most wildfires burn in densely forested areas of National Forests.” The Guide also suggests new terminologies, such as “high-severity wildland fires,” instead of “catastrophic wildfires.”
Dr. Ingalsbee, a former firefighter and a nationally- recognized writer on wildland fire, was joined at Monday’s Portland news conference by Rich Fairbanks, the nation’s most experienced fire management planner; Stephen Clarke, an expert trainer of firefighters and crewbosses; and Joseph Fox, a Ph.D. forest entomologist and forest health expert with 23 years’ experience as a firefighter and smokejumper.