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Hodel Promises Revised Policy By Next Fire Season

September 14, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Interior Secretary Donald Hodel said today the government’s ″let burn″ forest fire policy, proven inadequate in the face of this summer’s extraordinarily dry conditions, will be revised before next year’s fire season.

To maintain now that the 16-year-old policy is sound ″just doesn’t make sense,″ he said in an interview on the NBC-TV ″Today″ show.

″I am confident that before the next fire season, we’ll have a revised policy in place which will take into account these kinds of conditions,″ Hodel said.

In a separate interview on ABC-TV’s ″Good Morning America,″ Hodel said the ″let burn″ approach toward naturally occurring forest fires did not work this season ″and to suggest that’s a sound policy just as it stands just doesn’t make sense.″

Hodel said that since July, when the policy was abandoned, the Forest Service and the Park Service agreed to treat every blaze in Yellowstone National Park as a wildfire, meaning it would be fought with every resource possible.

″There isn’t anybody today who wouldn’t tell me they would have fought every fire from the beginning of the season if they could have foreseen what would happen this year,″ Hodel said..

He said fires that have destroyed homes in California are coming at the beginning of the fire season there. ″We’re there where we were in July or early August in Yellowstone,″ he said.

President Reagan’s spokesman said Tuesday that no time should be wasted now arguing over the ″let burn″ policy and that the government’s attention will be focused on snuffing out blazes raging in eight states.

The comments came after Reagan was briefed at the White House on the fires, which have charred some 4 million acres this summer.

Reagan was told that there is no way to predict when the fires will be put out, but that the administration has dedicated ″every resource available″ to doing so, said spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.

Asked about the harsh criticism that has erupted over the Park Service policy of letting naturally occurring fires burn, Fitzwater contended it was not the time for such a debate.

He noted that the policy had been suspended in July and that any new fires that erupt will be fought for the remainder of this year’s fire season.

″It doesn’t serve anybody to get into discussions about policy disputes,″ he said, adding, ″We’re in the middle of a fire situation of serious proportion and we’re fighting it with everything at hand.″

Noting that the nation hasn’t seen such fires in its history, he did acknowledge that the situation calls ″for some review of the policy.″

″At this point, what’s clear is that the fires are out of control. ... There is no need to argue over policy differences until we come up with the next firefighting season next year. Right now, it’s all-out, fight-the- fires,″ he said.

Fitzwater briefed reporters after Reagan met with Hodel, Agriculture Secretary Richard Lyng and Deputy Defense Secretary William H. Taft.

Criticism of the government’s ″let-burn″ approach to the fires came from a usually strong Reagan administration supporter, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who called the situation ″a catastrophe.″

Hatch, speaking to reporters after visiting the White House, said, ″We all knew how dry it was and a lot of us were saying, ‘Hey, don’t let this burn,’ and they could have contained it at that time.″

Referring to the damage done to Yellowstone National Park, Hatch said, ″Now you have a million acres lost in one of the most important national park areas in the world. ... It’s a catastrophe.″

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