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Western Fires Spur Calls for Thinning Out Forests : Environment: Timber industry and Sierra Club say clearing undergrowth would save trees. At least 200,000 acres have been charred in five states.

From Associated Press

Timber interests and environmentalists say the 19 major wildfires charring brush and timber on thousands of acres in five Western states demonstrate the need to thin forests to prevent catastrophic fires.

The blazes have raced across at least 200,000 acres.

Critics say they have long argued that the U.S. Forest Service should conduct more controlled burns and cutting to clear undergrowth that fuels wildfires, making them so hot they kill large trees that otherwise would likely survive.

Years of aggressive firefighting have allowed brush to flourish that would have been cleared away by wildfires, said Michael Paparian, a Sierra Club senior representative in Sacramento, Calif.

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Dave Bischel, president of the California Forestry Assn., which represents the timber industry, said he agrees that the wildfires underscore the need for active forest management.

While the timber industry and environmentalists agree the forests need thinning, the timber companies want it to include more logging than the environmental groups want.

Federal policy calls for some brush and timber thinning, as well as prescribed burns.

“There’s no magic solution to the condition of the forests. Our forests have gotten into their current state during 150 years of human manipulation,” said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes.

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“It will take us many years of thinning and prescribed burning to get the forest back to where it would have been if humans had not intervened,” Mathes said.

Firefighters were making progress Saturday on blazes that have burned at least 200,000 acres, though hot weather and frequent lightning continued to pose threats.

“It seems like things are stabilizing,” said Janelle Smith, of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. “There are a lot of new lightning strikes, but we are getting to them as best we can.”

Nineteen large fires were burning Saturday in California, Nevada, Oregon and Texas, though nine were expected to be contained today. More than 12,000 firefighters equipped with at least 900 fire engines battled the wildfires, assisted by scores of helicopters and air tankers. Several of the fires were sparked by lightning, and some have been burning since last weekend.

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