While the last of the fire smolders on Pilot Mountain, the time for investigating what happened, why, and what could have been done differently is at hand.
North Carolina Parks and Recreation officials said Monday night there will be an in-depth investigation into what happened, how the controlled burn managed to get out of control, and what could have been done differently once the fire escaped its planned boundaries.
Those officials are correct in that it’s hard to give definitive answers now, while the last of the fire-fighting is still under way. And no matter what the findings, someone will find fault with the process because, as the old saying goes, hindsight is always 20-20.
Even now, though, it’s clear some things were mishandled, and we’d like to suggest that the state parks and recreation service make a few changes, not just locally but statewide.
• Let the public know when a prescribed burn is going to take place. Several local residents suggested this during a public meeting with parks officials Monday night, and the response was that the planned burn was on the park service website.
Sorry, that’s not good enough. We would hazard a guess that 90 percent of the people in this community don’t know what that agency’s website address is. Tree-quarters of the local population probably doesn’t even know the park service has a website. Posting on an obscure website is not informing the public.
There was a time not so long ago when the park service informed local media of these sorts of burns, in advance, and then the media would let readers and listeners know the burn was going to take place. Perhaps this is a practice the park service could resume.
• Don’t try to minimize what’s going on, particularly when the public can plainly see the situation is worse than being reported. What we’re talking about here is the insistence, in the first couple of days, that only a couple of hundred acres were being burned. At one point park officials said roughly 100 acres had burned. Two days into the fire official estimates were still at 150 or so, when anyone who could see the mountain understood far more had been burned.
• Use available resources early on in the fire-fighting effort. Conflicting reports about how local firefighters were used, or not used, have been floating around the community since the first night.
What we do know is that firefighters from eight different departments were on the scene Thursday, helping to fight the planned prescribed burn that had gotten out of control. By Friday, state park officials said, “The North Carolina Forestry Service is taking over the situation,” and went on to say “the fire is now moving hardly at all, just smoldering.”
Again, hindsight is always 20-20, but we hope one lesson to take away from this is that all available resources, including local fire departments, should be used to ensure a fire is out. Much better to trouble firefighters for a few hours, even a day, to stop a small fire than to back off and allow a blaze to get out of control.
Other lessons will hopefully come from the investigation, including finding things the park service did right. But in the end, we hope what can be learned from this fire will help minimize damage to other state park land, and keep the public better informed about what is going on.