Is This Burning an Eternal Flame?


What fire and politics have in common.

Three out of four is plenty bad. Next to the Rim Fire in California, this summer Idaho hosted three of the largest wildfires in the country: the Beaver Creek Fire, which claimed more than 110,000 acres; the Elk Complex, which burned more than 131,000 acres; and the Pony Complex, which devoured nearly 150,000 acres.

Like every fire season—and 2012 was no small affair, either, with a total of 1.66 million acres burned in Idaho alone, making it the most charred state that year—we'll wipe our collective brow and say, "Whew, dodged another one."

Idaho's blazes are all but out, but the damage is still being tallied. In the Wood River Valley alone, where the Beaver Creek Fire forced evacuations in Ketchum, Sun Valley and surrounding towns, the costs of suppression topped $25 million—and that's not counting the millions lost from a truncated tourist season.

But we were lucky, considering that the loss of homes could have been so much worse, especially in a highly populated area like Ketchum. And as in previous years, residents in fire-affected areas clean up, budget appropriately and move on.

The same thing is happening in Washington, D.C., as the government shutdown collapses into a smoldering mess.

As with the fires, the government's conflagration resulted in the loss of untold riches and damaged the country's reputation: How safe is your investment in the United States if it can't keep the doors of its offices open? Why vacation in Idaho—buy property or open a business there—if it runs the risk of burning or getting choked with smoke each year?

In burn-prone parts of Idaho, as with the government, the "closed' sign has been flipped and we're again accepting customers. By next month, the memory of both disasters will be hazy—forgotten by many if not most outside those directly affected. But both are catastrophes whose root causes remain.

Our politics have become like overgrown forests—too much waste lying around, ready to ignite. Tired prejudices, ideologies that belong in the Antebellum South, and a level of opportunism that would be at home in a tin-pot dictatorship litter the floor of Congress like tinder-dry brush.

This week, Boise Weekly looks at the impacts of the fire season on the Wood River Valley (Page 13). What to do about our current state of politics by self-immolation is another matter, but rest assured the coals will stay hot long enough for us to see them spark again.

Zach Hagadone

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