With fires whipping across the interior West at a record rate this year, the U.S. Forest Service this week is proposing to Congress a $12 billion plan to use controlled burns and extensive tree thinning to remove thick, fire-prone underbrush out of 40 million acres of forest from Montana to California. The fire prevention effort would affect 3 million acres a year, far exceeding current logging levels. Increasingly, scientists are saying that unless such steps are taken, wildfires could sweep through most of the fuel-filled forests of the West in the coming decades. But the USFS ran into trouble this year when a preventive burn meant to reduce the risk of wildfires got out of control, threatening the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and causing $1 billion in damages. Meanwhile, many locals and state officials in Montana and Idaho, as well as the timber industry, are blaming environmental protections and reduced logging levels for the current wave of fires.