Are wildfires newest weapon of terrorists?

Are wildfires newest weapon of terrorists?

13 July 2012

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USA – A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security warns that terrorists may use wildfires as a weapon against the United States, specifically in the southwestern part of the country.

There is no evidence of any wildfires set by terrorists nor is there any uncovered plot or suspects in custody. In fact, the report states that they don’t know that anyone is going to act on this nor do they claim that the sources of this information are accurate.

It gets even more bizarre with the following: “…threat and incident information is drawn from open source foreign and domestic media reporting, for which credibility cannot be determined, though standards of journalism and a comparison of sources were used to select the most credible material.”

The report is based on what the feds claim is an increase in the “interest in the tactic of intentionally setting fires to cause casualties, economic damage, and resource depletion,” as well as “wide media coverage; and the accompanying psychological effects of fear and terror.”

While it is entirely possible that this report is somewhat accurate, the idea that terrorists would use wildfires as a weapon is just not believable, for many reasons.

First of all, most wildfires do not cause many casualties at all. Nor is it guaranteed that they will unless the fires are started in the middle of communities at several different points at the same time so as to trap the residents. There is no indication of this in the report.

Economic damage is relative in that the cost of fighting fires is rising every year, but the economic damage is limited to trees for the most part and some of the impacts are on communities that have been evacuated or lose tourist dollars, and that mainly happens in small, rural areas.

Wide media coverage is obvious, but most fires in the west are started by lightning and of those that are human caused, it isn’t always easily determined who started the fire.

The fear and terror is limited to those who are in danger of losing their homes or businesses and most of those who live in the path of wildfires know it’s possible. They also usually have enough advance warning to make arrangements to move valuable equipment out of the way, though not always.

The idea that wildfires would cause the kind of reaction that September 11, 2001 did, or that blowing up buildings or crashing planes does, is ridiculous.

You can’t control a wildfire, where it goes, or what it destroys. Doesn’t sound like the kind of instant gratification that terrorists usually go for.

But, when you read the rest of the report, it becomes a little clearer as to why it was issued in the first place.

A list of those people and actions to watch for is what’s scary: “Conducting unusual research or eliciting information related to weather, dry seasons, winds, or types of forests and vegetation. Appearing to conduct reconnaissance in remote, wooded areas, especially at night. Asking about emergency-response capabilities and procedures or fire department locations, or calling in false alarms to observe response.”

By these criteria, most of us would be considered suspects, except for those that call in false alarms.

Other signs of suspicious activity include: “Acquiring unusual amounts of precursor materials used to start large fires (such as foam, clocks or timers, batteries and wires, or sulfuric acid).

Displaying unusually nervous or suspicious behavior while providing evasive or vague responses to questions about intended use of the products. Conducting Internet research related to possible target selection, material acquisition, or historical cases of arson.”

Granted some of the above behaviors might be deemed suspicious but since when is looking up information deemed suspicious or a crime?

Taken as a whole, this report looks more like a reason to further limit access to the forests and take away more of our liberties.

Since September 11, we have lost more freedoms and rights than ever in our history. We don’t need more excuses to be in “fear and terror.” We don’t need to worry that every fire is now an act of terrorists. We’ve had fires forever and will continue to have them.

There hasn’t been a credible terrorist attack since 9/11 and yet the threat is always hanging over our heads, as this report is just one of many that have come out over the last 11 years.

Those of us in fire country do conduct research and look for information on weather, dry seasons, winds, and types of forests and vegetation. We are regularly in remote, wooded areas, even at night. We ask about emergency response capabilities. We care about the future of our forests, our communities and our families. But that doesn’t mean we’re terrorists.

They want us fearful of everything. We’re much easier to control that way.

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