Deconstructing the Climate Demagoguery of the Wine Country Wildfire Tragedies

Guest essay by Jim Steele

Director emeritus Sierra Nevada Field Campus, San Francisco State University and author of Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism


As sure as the winds will blow, climate demagogues hijack every human tragedy to amplify fears of rising CO2 concentrations. Despite that fact other critical factors were keys to understanding the devastation of the Wine Country fires, politicians like Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and Governor Jerry Brown were quick to proclaim climate change had made the fires worse than they would have been.

Climate researcher Kevin Trenberth has long tried to undermine the foundations of science by discarding the null hypothesis. Without formal testing whether a tornado, hurricane or wildfire event is within the expectations of natural variability, Trenberth simply asserts every tragedy is made worse by rising CO2. Accordingly, he is interviewed by climate change propagandists after every weather tragedy. In an interview with InsideClimateNews a few months before the Wine Country wildfires Trenberth continued to proselytize his views, “Whatever conditions exists, they’re always exacerbated by climate change. There’s always that heat variable, the increased risk.”

Indeed heat is always a variable, but usually it has nothing to do with CO2. Sadly, due to his extreme beliefs Trenberth often confuses climate with weather.

Similarly, Daniel Swain who authors a good California Weather Blog, unfortunately strays when he tries to interject CO2-climate change into an otherwise good weather analysis. Writing the fires should also be looked at from “the long-term climate context,” he argued the “record-hottest summer” dried out the vegetation exacerbating the fire conditions. But he too failed to separate natural climate and weather events from his hypothesized contributions from CO2. As will become clear from a more detailed analysis, climate change played no part in the wildfire devastation.

The Ignition Component

Fire danger rating systems analyze 1) an ignition component, 2) a fuel component and 3) a spread component to determine how to allocate fire-fighting resources and when to issue public alerts. Natural fires are caused by lightning, and so good weather models can forecast the short-term probability of lightning fires. Lightning fires are also more likely during warm and moist seasons enhancing their window of predictability. Unfortunately, Cal Fire reports 95% of California fires are unpredictably ignited by humans.

Climate alarmists like Dr. Trenberth have blithely suggested global warming is increasing the fire season stating, “In the West, they used to talk about a fire season, the fire season used to be 60 days, then 90 days, and now they think it’s year-round. There’s no pause.” Tragically that uncritical belief in a climate-related extended fire season has been parroted by lay person and scientists alike. But the facts show the observed extended fire season is due to human ignitions. Blaming climate change is fake news!

In a 2017 paper researchers reported that across the USA from 1992 to 2012, “human-caused fire season was three times longer than the lightning-caused fire season and added an average of 40,000 wildfires per year across the United States. Human-started wildfires disproportionally occurred where fuel moisture was higher.” Furthermore “Human-started wildfires were dominant (>80% of ignitions) in over 5.1 million km2, the vast majority of the United States, whereas lightning-started fires were dominant in only 0.7 million km2.”

We can reduce some human caused ignitions. The Wine Country fires were not ignited by lightning but all observations suggest they were started by downed power lines in high winds. A year ago, California legislators introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at reducing wildfire ignitions from powerlines. Although governor Brown hypes the unsubstantiated dangers of climate change, he vetoed the bill which would have promoted real action to prevent well-known human causes of wildfires. Preventing powerline ignition could have prevent the Wine Country tragedy.

The Fuel Component

Fire ecologist will estimate a fire’s potential intensity by calculating the Energy Release Component (ERC), a measure of the potential heat energy per square foot. ERC is a function of the biomass both dead and alive, and the biomass moisture content. As fuels increase and as fuels dry the ERC increases. Live fuels are modeled such that maximum moisture content coincides with the peak growing season, and declines thereafter as the plants go dormant. Moisture content of dead fuels are modeled according to their diameters.

Depending on their diameters, dead fuels will lose moisture as they equilibrate with their dry surroundings at rates that vary from 1 hour to 1000 hours or more. To aid in firefighting management decisions, fuels are categorized into 4 groups as described in Gaining an Understanding of the National Fire Danger Rating System published by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group

1-Hour Time-lag Fuels “consist of herbaceous plants or round wood less than one-quarter inch in diameter. Also included is the uppermost layer of litter on the forest floor.” The ERC of these fuels and thus the fire danger, can change throughout the day. Dead grass as well as twigs and small stems of chaparral shrubs are 1-hour fuels, and those fine fuels sustained the rapid spread of the Wine Country fires. Assertions that recent and past summer droughts or decades of climate change had dried the fuels and exacerbated the Wine Country fire danger have absolutely no scientific basis. The approach of the hot, bone-dry Diablo Winds would have extracted all the possible moisture from the dead grasses and chaparral twigs within hours, regardless of past temperatures. Trenberth and Swain simply confused rapid weather changes with climate change.

The critical “long-term context” they never discussed is that a century of fire suppression allowed destructive levels of fuel loads to develop, increasing the biomass component of the ERC estimate. As populations grew, so did the demand to suppress every small fire that could threaten a building. Natural small fires reduce the fuel lad, whereas fire suppression allows fast drying fuels to accumulate. Unfortunately, fire suppression only delays the inevitable while stocking more fuel for a much more intense blaze. Local officials and preservationists have long been aware of this problem, and controlled burns to reduce those fuels were being increasingly prescribed. Tragically, it was too little too late.


Figure 1: A prescribed control burn in Wine Country

10-Hour Time-lag Fuels are “dead fuels consisting of round wood in the size range of one quarter to one inch in diameter and, very roughly, the layer of litter extending from just below the surface to three-quarters of an inch below the surface.” The fuel moisture of these fuels vary from day to day and modeled moisture content is based on length of day, cloud cover or solar radiation, temperature and relative humidity.

100-Hour Time-lag Fuels are “dead fuels consisting of round wood in the size range of 1 to 3 inches in diameter and, very roughly, the forest floor from three quarters of an inch to four inches below the surface.” Moisture content of these fuels are also a function of length of day (as influenced by latitude and calendar date), maximum and minimum temperature and relative humidity, and precipitation duration in the previous 24 hours.

Much of the chaparral shrubs produce twigs and stems in size ranges of the 1-hr, 10-hr and 100-hr fuels. These fuels were most likely the source of burning embers that high winds propelled into the devastated residential areas. Again, these dried out fuels are the result of a natural California summer drought and short term weather conditions such as the bone-dry Diablo Winds that arrive every year.


Figure 2 Moisture content of 3-8 inch diameter fuels from March to December

1000-Hour Time-lag Fuels are “dead fuels consisting of round wood 3 to 8 inches in diameter or the layer of the forest floor more than about four inches below the surface or both”. These larger fuels are more sensitive to drought conditions that existed months earlier, so it could be rightfully argued that a hotter drier July and August made these fuels more flammable in October and exacerbated the fires.

Fire ecologists planning prescribed burns to reduce fuel loads, wait until the 1000-Hr fuels’ moisture content is reduced to 12% or lower. If these larger fuels are dry, it is certain the smaller fuel categories are dry as well, so that all fuels will be highly flammable. As seen in the graph above (Figure 2) 1000-hr fuels reach that critical dryness threshold by July 1st and remain below that threshold until mid-October when the rains begin to return. Contrary to Trenberth’s blather, California’s fire season has always lasted 90+ days. Undoubtedly the unusually hot and dry 2017 summer would have lowered 1000-hr fuel moisture content even further. Nonetheless those fuels become naturally flammable every summer. Furthermore, these larger fuels were less often burned and thus insignificant factors regards the fires rapid spread. The rapid spread of the fires was due to consumption of the rapidly drying fuels.

Swain is fond of finding a “record setting” metric to bolster his climate change assertions. As such, he noted the “record-hot summer had dried out vegetation to record levels” and linked to a graph tweeted by John Badoglio showing October ERC values for the past 30 years were at a record high in 2017 (in part because of delayed rains). However, that “record” was also largely irrelevant. The ERC calculation is heavily biased by the greater biomass of the larger 1000-hr fuels that would indeed get drier as the autumn continued without rain. Still those larger fuels were insignificant contributors to the rapidly spreading fire. As seen below (Figure 3), the grasses have been entirely burnt while the larger shrubs and trees, as well as the woody debris near the base of the trees (in the upper left) have not been consumed. In fact many of the trees are still alive. The potential energy estimated by the “record ERC” was only partially realized. It was the fast-drying dead grass and chaparral shrubs that turned potential ERC into meaningful fiery heat.


Figure 3

The Spread Component

“The spread component is defined as “the theoretical ideal rate of spread expressed in feet-

per-minute.” Wind speed, slope and fine fuel moisture are key inputs in the calculation of the spread component, thus accounting for a high variability from day-to-day.” Thus, a combination of dry fuels and high winds typically result in fire-watch and red-flag warnings one day and no warnings days later as the winds subside. Forest rangers are well aware that September and October bring the powerful Diablo Winds of Santa Rosa as well as the Santa Annas of southern California, and with those winds comes the highest fire danger.

Cliff Mass is an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington and author of the superb Cliff Mass Weather and Climate blogs. An October 16th post provides an excellent summary of the metorological conditions that created the fierce winds driving the Wine Country fires. In essence, a strong approaching wind flow (the Diablo Winds) coupled with a thermal inversion near the top of the mountains that border the Santa Rosa valley, accelerated winds into a 60 to 90 mile per hour downslope wind event, a phenomenon known as a mountain wave. Those high winds snapped power line poles and ignited fires. The regional topography also funneled the winds and fire down the valley, taking dead aim at the heart of Santa Rosa. The topography had guided a similar fire in 1964, the Hanley fire, which was started by a carelessly discarded cigarette. Unfortunately without much concern, most of the burnt homes in the Tubbs fire had been built on top of the burnt grounds of that previous Hanley fire, despite public protests.

Were those high winds perhaps exacerbated by climate change? Highly unlikely!

The Diablo Winds affecting Santa Rosa or the Santa Annas of southern California are driven by cooling seasonal temperatures in the high deserts to the east. The inner continent cools faster than the oceans, setting up a pressure gradient driving the winds toward the coast. The winds then heat adiabatically rising 5 degrees Celsius for every 1000 feet of elevation descent. An adiabatic rise in temperature means no added heat from any source and basic physics tells us temperatures can rise adiabatically simply due to compression. Thus an air mass that originated near Flagstaff Arizona at a 6900 foot elevation, could adiabatically warm by 30 degrees as it reaches sea level.

The flow direction of winds are largely driven by unequal seasonal changes in temperatures. During the summer the interior heats faster than the oceans, such that a cooling onshore wind reduces interior temperatures. This pattern reverses in the autumn as the interior lands cool faster than the ocean creating an inland high pressure that drives the Diablo and Santa Anna winds toward the coast. Despite declining solar insolation, this autmn wind flow causes coastal California to experience some of its hottest days of the year in September and October, commonly referred to as Indian summer. Similarly a pressure system that inhibited the cooling onshore winds around San Francisco, resulted in a record hot summer temperature. By simultaneously opposing cooling sea breezes while bringing warm winds that were adiabatically 5 to 10 degrees warmer, temperatures rise and relative humidity falls. The result is bone-dry hot Diablo winds that suck the moisture from land and vegetation where ever the winds pass.

To restate the forces driving the winds, the Diablo winds are the result of a pressure gradient resulting from an interior that cools cooler faster than the ocean. If CO2 is warming the earth to any significant extent, then we would expect that warming to prevent the inner continent from cooling as quickly as it did decades ago. Thus CO2-global warming would predict a decline in that presure gradient and a weakening of these winds.


To summarize, none of the fire components- ignition, fuels, or spread – had been affected by climate changes.

Finally, keen observers will notice that entire blocks of houses, and entire neighborhoods were completely burnt to the ground, in contrast to neighborhood trees that often remained relatively unscathed. This suggests that the high winds rapidly carried burning embers from the grassland and chaparral into these developments. While the trees did not trap the embers, the buildings did. I would expect we will soon hear about investigations inquiring into why these residences were not required to erect more fire safe structures, especially when built in a known fire-prone habitat in a high wind corridor. The simple requirement of constructing eaves in such a manner that prevents the trapping of burning embers and fire-proof roofs may have saved many homes.

Indeed there are many lessons that will allow us to prevent such a wildfire disasters in the future if we have accurately determined the causes of these fires. Cliff Mass notes that our short-term weather models had accurately predicted the time and place of the fiercest winds. That information could be used to temporarily shut down the electrical grid where power lines are likely to ignite fires. We can bury power lines below ground. We can remove the high fuels loads that accumulated during a century of misguided fire suppression. Insurance companies can demand higher rates unless proven precautions are undertaken. It is those lessons that Gore, Clinton, Brown should be promoting to inform the public. Trenberth and Swain should be informing the people of the natural weather dangers that are inevitable. There is no evidence that climate change, whether natural or anthropogenic, exacerbated the ignition, fuels or spread components of these deadly fires. And worse their obsessed belief that rising CO2 concentrations worsen every tragedy only distracts our focus from real life-saving solutions.

clip_image012Jim Steele is author of Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

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October 26, 2017 8:31 pm

Why doesn’t Trump deport criminal immigrants Trenberth and Schmidt back to their small island nation homelands, along with MS-13 gang members to El Salvador?

Tom Halla
October 26, 2017 9:00 pm

I lived in northern California for nearly 50 years, and most of the problem is bad forest/scrub management in rural residential areas. While there were rules on clearing brush and high grass on private property near houses, the publicly owned areas adjoining or interspersing the residences were left untended, with both high grass or very flammable shrubs.
If the state or county government does not want to use fire to keep the small fuel load down, perhaps using goats or prisoners would work.

Reply to  Tom Halla
October 26, 2017 9:23 pm

In Australia we call it bushland fuel load and we have the same issues as suburbia spreads into what was just natural landscape.

Reply to  Tom Halla
October 26, 2017 9:52 pm

How much grass and shrubbery can prisoners eat in a day?

Reply to  ferdberple
October 26, 2017 11:08 pm

Prisoners instead of goats? Ah guys you have to be kidding.

Moderately Cross of East Anglia
Reply to  ferdberple
October 27, 2017 1:49 am

Ha ha ha- excellent!

Reply to  Tom Halla
October 27, 2017 12:41 am

I lived in northern California and had the thankless task of removing dried out vegetation from the wilder parts of my property. I certainly would not have wanted criminals roaming in my neighbourhood. Even goats would turn rogue and devour the watered green parts of my garden in preference to the straw-like coverage of the drier parts.
Couldn’t Silicon Valley develop fuel-load consuming robots?

BTW. A truly fascinating and informative read. Many thanks.

Reply to  Tom Halla
October 27, 2017 8:25 pm

That has very serious implications since government ‘owns’ 50% of all land west of the Mississippi.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Wally
October 27, 2017 8:38 pm

That sort of neglect on public land was something that i noticed about the 1991 Oakland Hills fire.

October 26, 2017 9:03 pm

More nonsense to support the AGW ‘theory’ that doesn’t meet the criteria to be considered a theory.

Reply to  markl
October 27, 2017 3:46 pm

Only people who still believe in the AGW theory are readers of The New Yorker. The rest of us are out driving our Ford F-somethings through the mud! Grinning and Winning!

October 26, 2017 9:08 pm

There are present two not mutually exclusive good explanations for the fires.

1) Illegal aliens trying to burn out the competition to Mexican marijuana.

2) Weak electric power infrastructure left unstrengthened by Gov. Moonbeam’s own order.

Either way, CA Democrats are to blame.

October 26, 2017 9:30 pm

“Similarly, Daniel Swain who authors a good California Weather Blog, unfortunately strays when he tries to interject CO2-climate change into an otherwise good weather analysis. “

I read the link. I saw no mention of CO2 at all.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
October 26, 2017 10:11 pm

I am banned from Daniel Swain’s website for daring to challenge his superstition.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
October 26, 2017 10:20 pm

True! Swain never used the word “CO2”. And I never quoted him doing so.

But Swain’s past assertions, publications and blog posts make it absolutely clear when he talks about climate change, he assumes and advocates it is driven by CO2.

Are you suggesting Swain’s “long term climate context” is referring to natural climate change???

Is that the only criticism of this essay?

Reply to  Jim Steele
October 26, 2017 10:32 pm

“And I never quoted him doing so.”
You said it again
“But he too failed to separate natural climate and weather events from his hypothesized contributions from CO2.”
In fact all he said was that the fires were made worse by a hot summer. The hot summer is a matter of fact, and the link to worse fires is hardly a stretch.

You say you’re deconstructing climate demagoguery, and give two examples. One has no demagoguery at all.

Reply to  Jim Steele
October 26, 2017 10:37 pm

So NIck , are you arguing that Swain agrees with me that the hot weather was all natural?

Reply to  Jim Steele
October 26, 2017 10:42 pm

Jim, I’m saying that he didn’t raise the issue at all. But you said demagoguery.

Reply to  Jim Steele
October 26, 2017 11:07 pm


As you well know, references to climate change is confusing to the public. To some like Swain, climate change is driven by CO2. To me climate change is natural. So a distinction needs to be made. I refer to Swain’s comments as “CO2 driven” to make clear his school of thought. Swain’s “climate context” has always been the CO2-driven variety, unless he specifically says otherwise.

So if you are arguing that Swain was really suggesting natural climate change was the issue, then I’ll accept your criticism I misunderstood him.

Are you also arguing that Clinton, Gore, Brown and Trenberth were not demagoguing CO2 climate change?

It appears you are just trolling and trying to distract the attention from the real issues.

Reply to  Jim Steele
October 26, 2017 11:17 pm

I don’t understand how the fires could be made worse by a hot summer. Sure, fires will be made worse by a dry summer, but summers in California are ALWAYS dry. Please explain how browned grasses will be somehow more prone to fire if warmed a couple degrees more during the summer. You can’t make dead, dry grass more dead and dry by warming it slightly.

Now it was also a very wet cold winter here, so the grasses could have grown more than previous years due to the extra precipitation in the winter/spring, but that has nothing to do with the hot summer. So we are back to alarmists blaming both more rain, less rain, hot, cold, everything and anything, on the CO2 boogie man.

Reply to  Jim Steele
October 26, 2017 11:23 pm

“I don’t understand how the fires could be made worse by a hot summer.”
Quoting from Jim’s article
“These larger fuels are more sensitive to drought conditions that existed months earlier, so it could be rightfully argued that a hotter drier July and August made these fuels more flammable in October and exacerbated the fires.”

I Came I Saw I Left
Reply to  Jim Steele
October 26, 2017 11:36 pm

A couple of degrees hotter is insignificant. Dryness and wind are the main drivers of wildfires.

Reply to  Jim Steele
October 27, 2017 6:03 am

The spring rains in the spring had more to do with a very significant growth in both grasses and shrubs which when dried out were incredible ladder fuels to support getting a good hot fire going that then spreads with the winds and then the firestorm burns into the timber and/or susceptible neighbourhoods and housing. When the drying out happens every summer and fall as it almost always does, then fires are much easier to start and grow. So now the skeptics will say then that the spring rains were caused by CAGW. The fact that 95% of ‘wild’ fires are human caused is the root problem. It appears the power lines may have caused some of the fires, and if so, then failed CA Gov’t policies to veto a bipartisan bill aimed at reducing wildfire ignitions from powerlines are directly to blame for the death and destruction in the wine country fires. What a shame to have such a corrupt and inept Gov’t.

Andrew Cooke
Reply to  Jim Steele
October 27, 2017 6:52 am

Unfortunately Jim, Nick’s methodology has always been to find something wrong with the article and thus he can mentally invalidate everything else you say. No matter how logical, well thought out or accurate you might be, one small issue gives him “moral” high ground to ignore all of it.

Reply to  Jim Steele
October 27, 2017 1:22 pm

Swain is just plain wrong about Californian temperatures.

Regarding max temps 2017 summer months ranks as follows
Adjusted monthly = 8th
Raw monthly = 13th
Raw daily = 24th

October 26, 2017 9:37 pm

The fire may have had a natural origin but the land-ownership-taxation situation in California makes me think the scale and scope of the “wild fire” was driven by those setting their home on fire to collect FEMA disaster money and avoid California and Federal taxes.

Reply to  JBom
October 26, 2017 9:59 pm

That’s a ridiculous and insulting assertion. Do you have anything to base it on? I know of no one who would purposely torch their home and lose everything, including irreplaceable items like photos simply to collect FEMA money or avoid taxes. The fires moved through the residential areas so quickly that people had no time to take anything with them, and many lost their lives. California property taxes are regulated by Proposition 13 which has been an excellent system to keep people from losing their homes to excess taxation, the only reasonable tax that exits in California. That’s why the Democrat controlled State government is so eager to get rid of Prop 13.

Reply to  oneblockwonderwoman
October 27, 2017 6:59 am

Years back, we had a woman put all her valuable items in the garage and car, then set the house on fire and drive to town to call in the fire. She was convicted of arson. So there was at least one person who did this. You didn’t know her, but your circle of aquaintences and town residents may not be representative of the rest of the world.

Reply to  Sheri
October 27, 2017 6:33 pm

Sheri, the rare exception doesn’t make it a common occurrence. I was wondering what basis he had for stating that that happened. And he offered none.

Reply to  oneblockwonderwoman
October 27, 2017 8:42 am

Surely that arsonist lady did it to collect insurance money, not FEMA money. In 1991 FEMA offered money to rebuild at 20% of market price.

Reply to  oneblockwonderwoman
October 27, 2017 8:50 am

Curious: It was for insurance money. I have no idea how much. Enough that she thought it was worth it.
If I limit motivation to collecting FEMA money or avoiding taxes, then I can’t say I know anyone who burned their house down for those reasons.

Reply to  oneblockwonderwoman
October 27, 2017 6:40 pm

yes, absoluting insulting. especially
with no evidence whatsoever.


I Came I Saw I Left
Reply to  JBom
October 26, 2017 11:27 pm

There may be some truth to that, but to what degree I have no idea. I saw a picture of a burned down house sitting in a several acre open area that was mostly grass with a few trees. Not a single burn mark on the grass or trees, yet the house was a pile of ash.

Reply to  JBom
October 27, 2017 6:42 pm

JBom – btw, you just made
this blog libel

way to go

October 26, 2017 9:50 pm

Land managers are caught in a no-win situation if they try to act to reduce fuel loads on their managed lands.

– Do something like controlled burns to reduce fuel, and they get criticized by the locals for destroying pretty stuff they like (like bird habitat) and also there’s a small, but real, chance it gets away from control and starts the wildfire intended to prevent.

– Do nothing, and then after enough time a wildfire burns everything to a crisp and then get blamed for letting fuel build-up.

Climate Change has now offered the Get Out of Jail Free card for mismanagement. Just blame CC and man’s CO2.

Reply to  joelobryan
October 26, 2017 11:01 pm

Don’t forget prescribed burns produce a lot of smoke that travels a long way. I live in Oregon and in the fall every two bit federal agency does prescribed burns and all they accomplish is ruining the the air quality. The burns are too small to make a difference in wildfires in a forest habitat.

Anyway, prescribed burns in an urban environment is a non starter because of the smoke issue.

Reply to  Archie
October 27, 2017 12:06 pm

I’ve been in the Campania region of Italy in the fall. It’s an area around Naples where they grow a lot of hazelnuts (which used to end up in Nutella, but now those come cheaper from Turkey). Anyway, to facilitate the harvest, they first clear the land surrounding the trees with controlled burns, then lay down tarps to catch the falling hazelnuts. It was amazing how thick the smoke got in that region. Kind of got in the way of hunting for the truffles.

October 26, 2017 10:06 pm

Mistletoe fireballs. I live in Santa Rosa. There was a nearly identical fire that developed east of Calistoga in 1964. It burned all the way to Petaluma. Santa Rosa in its then much smaller footprint might well have suffered a similar trajedy in 1964, had not a ballsack fire chief stolen a bulldozer and cut fire lines. People knew how to get shoot done back then. He had the advantage of daylight.

Reply to  gymnosperm
October 27, 2017 3:18 am

Local fire history is one aspect to a beginning platform for legislation/fire/ high density urban development. Today was far to late for the Tubbs Fire. October 2017 Tubbs Fire, Sept 1964 Hanly Firecomment image?oh=72c07b84a6f850974ef8a5d9d002f0fa&oe=5A74456E

Reply to  Frederic
October 27, 2017 8:32 am

Thanks for the graphic. Hadn’t seen that. Telling that human reduction of atmospheric Oxygen and increase in CO2 since 1964 had so little effect in reducing the shape of the fire…ah, the addition of flammable houses exactly offset the more fire suppressive atmosphere (wink).

Reply to  Frederic
October 27, 2017 6:43 pm

humans have
reduced o2?

I Came I Saw I Left
October 26, 2017 11:18 pm

“The simple requirement of constructing eaves in such a manner that prevents the trapping of burning embers and fire-proof roofs may have saved many homes.”

I wonder which is the larger hazard – flammable eaves or flammable roofs? In those neighborhoods with those winds, though, I don’t think it really matters because of how close together they build houses. Once one ignites they’ll all burn just from radiant heat setting the house next door on fire. That’s a California-caused problem.

October 26, 2017 11:48 pm

I was in the region a week ago dealing with people who have some knowledge. From my understanding the discussion of cause of ignition is that a tree was blown over in gusty winds, bringing down power lines causing ignition.

There remains a reluctance to deal with fuel accumulation in most communities due to resources and other influences.

Erik Magnuson
Reply to  ozonebust
October 28, 2017 10:07 am

If true, this could have some interesting twists to the liability issue depending on whether the tree was or was not in the zone around the power lines that PG&E was required to keep clear of vegetation. I know that a fair number of landowners are reluctant to have their tees trimmed. I’ve also had the experience if being next door to a conductor power line (distribution) falling to ground after being weakened from coming in contact with a growing palm tree.

October 26, 2017 11:49 pm

The only way to prevent high winds from causing power lines to spark or topple is to bury all of them underground. Or ban electricity. Neither are practical.

Reply to  stinkerp
October 27, 2017 12:50 am

There is a more practical way, they should be cleared far enough back so that they will not come into contact under any circumstances.

Back home in Canterbury, New Zealand, riding along back country roads they were doing just that.

What is the saying, you make your own luck.

Reply to  stinkerp
October 27, 2017 4:00 am

Undergrounding power lines, at least in critical areas, is surely not only practical it is also economically prudent.

The one off cost of undergrounding would be dwarfed by the ongoing cost of vast fires ignited by fallen overhead lines.

Don K
Reply to  stinkerp
October 27, 2017 4:23 am

It’s perfectly possible to bury power lines. I live in a neighborhood with underground utilities. But maintenance when underground wires fail for some reason is time consuming and very expensive.

Ian W
Reply to  stinkerp
October 27, 2017 5:53 am

Florida power companies spend a lot of time ensuring that powerlines are not at risk from trees see If California utilities are not actively doing the same then they should be called to account.

Rod Everson
Reply to  stinkerp
October 27, 2017 7:38 am

California has regulations for everything and spends money indiscriminately on green projects. Burying power lines is budgeted for by many power companies as is clearing trees and brush in a reasonably wide lane underneath them. Both are practical solutions but California seems more concerned with the impractical than the practical when it comes to regulatory matters.

Still, I don’t live there. Perhaps residents feel differently?

Reply to  Rod Everson
October 27, 2017 1:56 pm

The level of practicality for burying power lines depends on several factors, including distance between users, whether the population in the area will remain stable (both in size and location of buildings), soil stability and depth to rock. Underground power is effectively impossible to re-size for changes in capacity requirement, and much more expensive for adding loads after the fact. It is very practical in pre-planned or strictly zoned communities. In rural areas and / or those with relatively frequent new construction and shallow soil, it can be very impractical, and that is the situation near Santa Rosa.

Reply to  stinkerp
October 27, 2017 6:44 pm

stinkerp commented – “The only way to prevent high winds from causing power lines to spark or topple is to bury all of them underground. Or ban electricity.”


John Coghlan
October 27, 2017 12:53 am

I occasionally wonder how much of the cold spell in the early to mid 20th century was due to rising air pollution blocking solar and how much of the warming from the 70’s to late 90’s was caused by pollution control efforts ? anyone able to point me to a study or calculation attempt ??? even a rough guess would be appreciated !! I keep thinking that the result might be to flatten the curve and allow for more realistic information, perhaps it would make it more likely what impact we are truly having ??? population curve, pollution effect at various levels, pollution measurement readings with estimates where no data exists ??

Ian W
Reply to  John Coghlan
October 27, 2017 6:00 am

Do an Internet search on Global Dimming – that was the buzz word used for that hypothesis. There are many many papers and articles with that hypothesis. However, the last London smog was in 1952 and that led to ‘Clean Air Act’ and requirements for smoke free fuels. The fogs did clear after that but the temperatures did not soar and 1963 was a severe winter regardless of cleaner air.

October 27, 2017 2:31 am

[BLOCKQUOTE ]”The winds then heat adiabatically rising 5 degrees Celsius for every 1000 feet of elevation descent.”[/BLOCKQUOTE ]

The dry adiabatic lapse rate is 3 degrees Celsius not 5, so approx 5 (5.4) degrees F.

Reply to  acementhead
October 27, 2017 3:31 am

I’ll try English. the directive opens with less than Caret closes with greater than Caret bloquote is lower case.

Reply to  neutronman2014
October 27, 2017 10:25 pm
Reply to  acementhead
October 27, 2017 7:50 am


Good catch. That should have been 5 degrees Fahrenheit (not Celsius) for every 1000 feet.

October 27, 2017 3:32 am

“A year ago, California legislators introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at reducing wildfire ignitions from powerlines. Although governor Brown hypes the unsubstantiated dangers of climate change, he vetoed the bill which would have promoted real action to prevent well-known human causes of wildfires.”

It is my understanding the bill was vetoed simply because what it was proposing was already covered/underway

Rod Everson
Reply to  Griff
October 27, 2017 7:33 am

What, then, did the veto accomplish, other than to irritate the legislature? And why did the legislature feel the need to act in the first place if it wasn’t needed?

Reply to  Griff
October 27, 2017 10:03 am

“It is my understanding …”

This phrase qualifies the value follow-up statement and, depending upon the speaker, can mean very very different things.

I would recommend that you know longer qualify your statements with “it is my understanding …” when you are addressing people that have come to understand you.

Reply to  Griff
October 27, 2017 1:14 pm

“It is my understanding……….”


that is funny, griff. in a bizarre kind of way.! 🙂

Roger Knights
Reply to  Griff
October 27, 2017 9:16 pm

Brown claimed it was duplicative. But maybe he didn’t like it because it would have raised the amount of spending in the budget and made it harder to fund his toy train.

Bruce Cobb
October 27, 2017 4:19 am

Climatists love the “made worse by” meme, because it is so vague as to be meaningless, yet they know John Q. sheeple will ascribe the “manmade climate” myth to it. It is done deliberately, and is just one of the miriad ways they have of lying.

October 27, 2017 5:04 am

Good article. Thanks. I left Santa Clara Valley in 1969. Served briefly on county fire.

October 27, 2017 7:24 am

Wind was and is the driver. Years ago in Jones Valley (northern California) a fire started near Lake Shasta and the north 30+ mph wind blew it south. One local had cut grass fields that included dry stubble that was being irrigated (but not the day of the fire). The wind blew the fire through the dry stubble and burned his entire place (house and out building down) – he fortunately survived. 100-foot required clear space can help until the fire burns into the upper portions of the trees. I’m not sure much would have stopped this conflagration.

Rod Everson
October 27, 2017 7:30 am

I was in wine country in early July this year. All of the rangeland was covered by dry grasses that were quite tall. A resident told me that the rains persisted later this spring and that the grasses did exceptionally well compared to most years. When the rains stopped, as they do each year, the grasses died. (Wine grapes don’t like summer rains so if the rains didn’t stop each year it wouldn’t have developed into “wine country.”) In other words, compared to most years, there was apparently a considerably larger fuel load in the open fields by the end of July.

In fact, while we were driving toward wine country I saw a strange sight. A couple of what looked like county workers, or highway maintenance people, were at a roadside pullout standing by a field that went on for miles, covered in tall brown grass. All of a sudden one of the men went running for the truck. I didn’t know why at first, but within seconds the grass by the second man exploded in flames several feet high. Apparently one of them had done something to ignite a fire. The man running for the truck had gone to grab an extinguisher and had the fire out in seconds. There’s no doubt in my mind that entire field would have quickly gone up in flames had they not acted so quickly, as it laid downwind of a pretty stiff wind at the time.

October 27, 2017 7:56 am

There was a fire of a similar size in October 1991 in Oakland Hills. It destroyed over 3,000 homes.

Reply to  Curious George
October 27, 2017 8:04 am

That fire was fueled mostly by nonnative eucalyptus trees. A plan to limit the re-grows of eucalyptus has been successfully derailed by the Hills Conservation Network.

Bill Murphy
October 27, 2017 8:11 am

An excellent article, Dr. Steele. An extreme fire season often follows when a drought is followed by a very wet winter. Reason is the drought kills off a lot of the 10 and 100 hour fuels and the rain causes an explosion of 1 hour fuels (grasses at tons/acre above normal) all of which then dry quickly during the summer. I worked fires a few seasons like that in Arizona and So. Cal. when desert areas that “never” had fires burned thousands of acres.

As for Moonbeam Brown et al, they remind me of the Elliot Gould line in the original MASH movie referring to “Frank Burns” — “every time a patient croaks it’s God’s will or somebody else’s fault.” For that crowd, everything bad that happens is “…climate change or somebody else’s (Trump’s) fault.”

Snarling Dolphin
October 27, 2017 8:25 am

Probably too busy with the Oroville spillway/dam repairs to focus much on wildfire mitigation. Governor Brown’s only human after all.

Roger Knights
October 27, 2017 9:20 am

The simple requirement of constructing eaves in such a manner that prevents the trapping of burning embers and fire-proof roofs may have saved many homes.

Requiring metal roofs would also increase a building’s resistance to earthquake damage. And save money in the long run by reducing re-roofing expenses.

October 27, 2017 10:58 am

Good stuff. Maybe need an edit here….
“Natural small fires reduce the fuel lad, whereas fire suppression allows fast drying fuels to ………….”

Reply to  Greytide
October 27, 2017 12:48 pm

Indeed Greytide there are a few typos I did not catch despite several re-reading. The corrected version has been posted to my website.

Reply to  Jim Steele
October 27, 2017 10:30 pm

A super-minor typo is in “Despite declining solar insolation, this autmn wind flow causes coastal California …”

autmn -> autumn

Several re-readings is never nearly enough!

Gerald Machnee
October 27, 2017 11:36 am

the climate alarmists like to say that the fires are increasing. But they cherry pick, usually the last 30 years or so. Why? Because in the early 1900’s and the 1930’s there were may more fires as shown in Tony Heller’s blog. But you will not hear that from Trenberth, Stokes, etc.

Svend Ferdinandsen
October 27, 2017 2:05 pm

Fires happens everytime and verywhere, so to blame it on warming (how small it may be) is alarmisme.

John F. Hultquist
October 27, 2017 2:23 pm

I stated in a comment a week or so ago that interesting things would come from investigating the fires.
Jim Steele has presented a few of these from the early stages of these discussions. So thanks, Jim.
Watch for more insights.
Meanwhile, investigate the FireWise programs, and note the multimedia presentation about wildfire: Era Of Mega-Fires

We went to this presentation a year ago and know a couple of the folks that made minor contributions to it. The notion of a wildland-urban interface — that’s us & wine country too — is considered in the presentation. Our local Conservation District, with a State of WA grant, helped us clear brush and trees, and chip it all. We aren’t “firewise” yet, but hope to be sometime next year.
Looking for our check from Big Oil and Dirty Coal so we can put fire resistant siding on the wood house.

October 27, 2017 2:46 pm

A local Napa Valley resident and witness to many fires the last 50 years, the areas that were involved have a long fire history. Nunn’s Canyon, one of the recent destructive fires, has such a history. In 1902 it was one of five simultaneous fires in the Sonoma area hundreds of acres up in a flash.. In 1923 another major fire in the canyon, so serious it prompted the creation of Glen Ellen Fire Station. There was a large fire in Nunn’s Canyon again in the 1930’s In 1964, 72000 acres burned in the Napa/Sonoma hillsides, part of which was in this same Nunn’s Canyon. All the fires started in the early to late Fall with dry north winds common to all the fires. Five miles away, in 1981, a fire burnt 20,000 acres in Soda Canyon / Atlas Peak and what is now, or more accurately, was (before the recent fire), Silverado Highlands where hundreds of homes were lost. Now, I read that Napa County is clearing administrative hurdles to enable those who lost homes in these areas to re-build quickly. You would think that if fire danger is increasing due to global warming any return of construction in these areas would be foolish, or at least under heightened scrutiny. I guess our collective memory is at best about 35 years.

Donald Kasper
October 28, 2017 2:58 am

Two years ago, nursery plants brought in contaminated with a fungus got into the coastal oaks west of Santa Rosa, started to spread, and the state decided not to stop the infection. Thousands of square miles of oaks died. Then the fire came. Guess what happened next.

Solomon Green
October 28, 2017 5:28 am

Thanks Dr. Steele Dr. Steele for a most informative article and my thanks also to all those who have added to this thread from their personal experiences of “wildfires” and their sources.

Kurt in Switzerland
October 28, 2017 6:38 am


Devastating retort to Trenberth, Guv Brown et al.

That should be required reading for every Californian: teachers, students, voters, politicians and administrators. But mostly climate alarmists.

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