Currently, at least three large wildfire complexes are burning through the Klamath Basin. The Two Four Two Fire has burned 15,000 acres on the northside of Upper Klamath Lake near Chiloquin, the Slater/Devil Complex has burned 150,000 acres including 150 homes in Happy Camp in the middle Klamath, and the Red Salmon Complex has burned over 100,000 acres between the Hoopa Reservation and the Salmon River.

Although fires have been a normal part of life in Klamath for thousands of years, destructive fires like these are not. A century of poor forest management and global warming are conspiring to incinerate communities and forests. As policymakers consider ways to prevent future fires, we urge them to look to the past for ideas.

For thousands of years, Klamath Basin tribes used fire as a management tool. Fires were set at specific times of years, in specific places, during specific weather conditions. These cultural burns managed fuel loads in the understory of the forests, the smoke killed insects that otherwise would infest acorns needed for food and promoted the vigorous growth of many plants used for medicine and basketry.

Today we will focus on the immediate needs of our friends, family, and neighbors who have lost homes and loved ones. As we start the slow and arduous path of recovering and rebuilding, we should focus on preventing such horrific events from happening again. Tribes and local fire safety councils from all over the Basin are proposing community fire protection plans that call for thinning overgrown forests and cultural burns. We should demand that agencies like the Forest Service and other land management agencies approve and fund these projects. While we can’t prevent fires, we can learn to adapt to them the way Native communities have for millennia.

Anyone interested in contributing to help survivors of the Slater Fire can  donate here