June 07, 2012

The Hayman Fire, a Decade Later — and a Gender Issue

It has been ten years since the deliberately set Hayman Fire burnt the heart of the Pike National Forest and gave a good scare to such communities as Woodland Park, Deckers, the Air Force Academy, and the southwestern Denver suburbs.

I blogged a drive through the burn in 2008. This year, the newspapers are doing retrospectives: "Hayman, Then and Now" in the Colorado Springs Independent, for example.

The Denver Post has a package of stories. Today's focuses on how today's firefighting focuses more on property protection in the "wiildland-urban interface" and less on aggressive fire attack.

Another headline, "Questions Linger about Fire's Start," is simply pussy-footing around the truth.

Everyone in the wildland fire service with any knowledge of the investigation agrees, as far as I can tell: Terry Lynn Barton started it deliberately. The story about burning her ex-husband's letter at a campsite and the fire then getting out of hand was simply fiction.

"[Her ex-husband] denied that he gave her a letter," [Forest Service investigator Luke] Konantz testified in 2008. "And he said he was sleeping on the porch when she would have left for work and didn't see her."

But if she started a little fire in order to be a heroine by putting it out, that is atypical too. 

It is not unknown in the fire service for someone — often one of the newer firefighters— to think like this: "We've trained and trained, but we haven't had an actual fire. If I started one in this vacant building, it would be a great experience, and no one would get hurt. (And it would be tremendously exciting.)" 

Then there was the rural tradition back when the Forest Service hired people off the street of starting a little forest fire in order to provide some temporary employment. Not so much any more.

Frankly, you don't often hear of a woman doing that. It's more of a "guy thing." But maybe not always?

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