Is climate change REALLY the culprit causing California’s wildfires?

We’re told that climate change caused or intensified California’s wildfires — and that such fires are getting worse. As usual for such scary stories, these claims are only weakly supported by science — except for the ones that are outright fabrications. See what scientists say and decide for yourself.

By Larry Kummer. From the Fabius Maximus website.

“If we keep fighting a war with fire, three things are going to happen. We’re going to spend a lot of money, we’re going to take a lot of casualties, and we’re going to lose.”

— Stephen Pyne, professor at Arizona State University (source: National Geographic).

Wildfire Earth

(1) Those California Wildfires!

NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of the Thomas Fire on December 13, 2017. Actively burning areas detected by MODIS’s thermal bands are outlined in red. Such hot spots are diagnostic for fire when they are accompanied by smoke. These hot spots are accompanied by copious amounts of smoke coming off the fire and trending northward. NASA image courtesy NASA Worldview application operated by the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) project.

“Gov. Jerry Brown surveyed the devastation Saturday in Ventura …calling it ‘the new normal.’ …“This could be something that happens every year or every few years.’” {Source: LAT.}

Climate change is causing more wildfires! Or so we are told. That is a zombie climate myths — repeatedly said, repeatedly debunked by scientists, but too useful to die. When Brown made this claim in 2015 even the LAT said that “Gov. Brown’s link between climate change and wildfires is unsupported, fire experts say.

“{C}limate scientists’ computer models show only that global warming will bring consistently hotter weather in future decades. Their predictions that warming will bring more forest fires — mostly in the Rockies and at other higher elevations, while fires may actually decrease in Southern California — also are for future decades. Even in a warmer world, they say, land management policies will have the greatest effect on the prevalence and intensity of fire. …

“‘There is insufficient data,’ said U.S. Forest Service ecologist Matt Jolly. His work shows that over the last 30 years, California has had an average of 18 additional days per year that are conducive to fire. …

“Today’s forest fires are indeed larger than those of the past, said National Park Service climate change scientist Patrick Gonzalez. At a symposium sponsored by Brown’s administration, Gonzalez presented research attributing that trend to policies of fighting the fires, which create thick underlayers of growth, rather than allowing them to burn. ‘We are living right now with a legacy of unnatural fire suppression of approximately a century,’ Gonzalez told attendees. …

“Fire behavior specialist Jeff Shelton, who provided daily forecasts for the Rocky fire and, later, the Jerusalem fire, said he could not attribute their behavior to climate change. He cited the summer’s dry weather, an abundance of fuel created by a lack of previous fires, and steep slopes that allowed the fires to spread quickly. Ecologists said their behavior was typical of natural chaparral fires, which burn infrequently but intensely. …

“‘They are more and more common because we have more and more fuels,’ said Joaquin Ramirez of Technosylva, an international fire modeling company based in San Diego. …

Bureau of Land Management fire manager Jeff Tunnell {said} ‘One hundred years of fire suppression is building fuel beds,’ Tunnell said. ‘Almost any year can produce a fire like this one.'”

See the current wildfire stats compared to recent years. For a detailed debunking see this analysis by Cliff Mass (great, as usual): “Are California Coastal Wildfires Connected With Global Warming: The Evidence Says No.” He is a Professor of Atmospheric Science at U WA.

A world on fire

(2) But US wildfires are getting worse! Unprecedented!

(a) See the graph that must not be seen, so journalists never show it.

This myth has repeatedly been debunked, but is too useful to die. David B. South, Emeritus Professor, of Forestry at Auburn U, showed the actual data in his Senate testimony on 3 June 2014 (page 2). Bjorn Lomborg posted an updated version of his graph, using the same sources. Click to enlarge graph. Excerpt…

“Fires in California and elsewhere are devastating. But US fires are nowhere near the record. More likely about one-fifth of the records in 1930 and 1931. Reuters (along with many others), tell us the current US fires are historic …

“Yet, the official historical data of the United States tells a different story. Look at the Historical Statistics of the United StatesColonial Times to 1970 (p537). There we have statistics for area burnt since 1926 and up to 1970. Reassuringly, the data for 1960-1970 *completely overlap* (that from the National Interagency Fire Center}. This is the same data series.

“And when you look at the whole data series, *every year* from 1926-1952 – over a quarter of a century – saw higher, and mostly much higher forest areas burnt than the modern record set in 2015.

“This is not (as some have suggested) an artifact of the US gradually being deforested (and hence having less land to burn). The USDA Forest Service in their Historical Overview (p7) finds that the US “forest area has been relatively stable since 1910” – if anything slightly increasing since 1910 (which would help push up the burnt area slightly).”

US acres burned 1926-2017

(b) Incidence of wildfires in North America 1600-2000. Peaked in mid-19th C.

Multiscale perspectives of fire, climate and humans in western North America and the Jemez Mountains, USA” by Thomas W. Swetnam et al. in Phil Trans B, 5 June 2016. Fires peaked in the mid-19th century! Click to enlarge the graph.

“The combined record of fire occurrence from more than 800 sites in western North America shows relatively high fire frequency prior to ca 1900, and a high degree of synchrony in both large and small fire years. The 15 largest and smallest fire years are labelled. A pronounced decrease in fire frequency occurred at the time of Euro-American settlement, coinciding approximately with the arrival of railroads, intensive livestock grazing, removal of many Native American populations, and subsequently organized and mechanized fire fighting by government agencies.”

Wildfires in North America 1600-2000

(c) A smaller and more precise record: fires in Yosemite National Park. Peaked in mid-19th C.

Climatic and human influences on fire regimes in mixed conifer forests in Yosemite National Park, USA” by Alan H. Taylor and Andrew E. Scholl in Forest Ecology and Management, 1 March 2012 (gated). Different data, same pattern — a peak in the mid-19th century, followed by a long decline. Click to enlarge.

Wildfires in Yosemite National Park: 1600-2000.

Wildfires in Yosemite National Park 1600-2000

(3) What about the rest of the world?

The rest of the world never shared our Smokey the Bear obsession about preventing forest fires. This study shows that the total global area burned per year is less today than centuries ago — and the area has declined during the past few decades. See “Global trends in wildfire and its impacts: perceptions versus realities in a changing world” by Stefan H. Doerr and Cristina Santín in Phil Trans B, 5 June 2016. Red emphasis added.

“Wildfire has been an important process affecting the Earth’s surface and atmosphere for over 350 million years and human societies have coexisted with fire since their emergence. Yet many consider wildfire as an accelerating problem, with widely held perceptions both in the media and scientific papers of increasing fire occurrence, severity and resulting losses.

“However, important exceptions aside, the quantitative evidence available does not support these perceived overall trends. Instead, global area burned appears to have overall declined over past decades, and there is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago.

“Regarding fire severity, limited data are available. For the western USA, they indicate little change overall, and also that area burned at high severity has overall declined compared to pre-European settlement. Direct fatalities from fire and economic losses also show no clear trends over the past three decades. Trends in indirect impacts, such as health problems from smoke or disruption to social functioning, remain insufficiently quantified to be examined.

“Global predictions for increased fire under a warming climate highlight the already urgent need for a more sustainable coexistence with fire. The data evaluation presented here aims to contribute to this by reducing misconceptions and facilitating a more informed understanding of the realities of global fire.”

Wildfire occurrence (a) & area burnt (b) in the European Mediterranean region during 1980–2010.

Phil TransB - long-term trend in wildfires

Phil TransB - long-term trend in wildfires

(4) Essential reading to understand the origins of these fires

(a) How Fire, Once a Friend of Forests, Became a Destroyer” by Michelle Nijhuis in National Geographic — “The roots of today’s massive wildfires, says historian and former firefighter Stephen Pyne, lie in the old misconception that all fire is bad.” Pyne is a professor at Arizona State University (see his website), studying the history of wildfire and wildland firefighting in the U.S. and the world. Here are two key points, looking at the results of a century of fire suppression in the US — and looking forward.

“There’s a huge cost to removing all fires from landscapes that have grown up accustomed to them. Fuels — dry wood, leaves, other materials — build up in the forest, and the whole ecological integrity of the system unravels. Simply trying to eliminate fire helps to promote conditions in most places that make for more severe fires with larger consequences and damages, making them more uncontrollable. It costs more and more money to try to keep a lid on the situation, so there’s an economic cost. There’s also a cost in lives — civilian lives, and firefighter lives. …

“Sustainability is an overused and sloppy term, but this is not a sustainable project. We cannot continue to do this. …

“We’re not helpless. We can keep these fires from burning prized assets if we wish. But I think managed wildfire is an acknowledgement that despite our bold talk, we’re not going to get ahead of the problem, and that we have to manage it. The climate, the fuels, the invasive species, the insect outbreaks, and whatever else is coming at us — there’s no way we’re going to get ahead of most of this stuff. We’re only going to do that very selectively.”

(b) The LAT discusses how we got here and how to better cope in the future: “California’s deadliest wildfires were decades in the making. ‘We have forgotten what we need to do to prevent it’.

(c) The same debate is taking place in Canada, with fires blamed on climate change, while most scientists disagree. Such as Blair King’s “We Can’t Blame Climate Change For The Fort McMurray Fires” at the HuffPost (he’s an environmental scientist) and “Science not there: global warming not fueling Alberta’s wildfire” by Thomas Richard at the Examiner.

(d) The NYT reviews two new books about wildfires, pointing to the obvious causes.

“As detailed in Michael Kodas’s bracing Megafire: The Race to Extinguish a Deadly Epidemic of Flame and Edward Struzik’s drier Firestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future, today’s forests are often clogged with desiccated vegetation because — unlike in countless millenniums past — they are seldom cleansed by naturally occurring blazes. With such an abundance of fuel to feast on, wildfires like those currently raging in California have become increasingly ruinous and intense.

“The bureaucrats and scientists who have tried to warn against the folly of treating every wildfire like a mortal foe have discovered their message is a nonstarter. That’s partly because so many businesses are keen to preserve the status quo: About 40% of America’s wildfire-fighting resources, from helicopters that can cost as much as $7,000 an hour to catering services that charge $100,000 a day, are now provided by private companies. ‘Most don’t get paid if they’re not actively fighting a fire,’ Kodas points out, ‘so they lobby to fight as many fires as they can.’ …

“But the most powerful constituency in favor of perpetuating the futile war on wildfires is the people who’ve chosen to inhabit risky terrain. According to a 2015 study, America’s 13 Western states contain 1.1 million homes deemed ‘highly vulnerable to wildfires’ because of their proximity to forests full of tinder. There is no easy way to convince the owners of those homes that a fire they can glimpse from their bedrooms should be allowed to burn for long-term strategic purposes. Nor have denizens of the so-called “wildland-urban interface” been receptive to the idea that controlled burns, set and supervised by government employees, are necessary to thin out cluttered woodlands. In fact, when the Forest Service attempted to burn off some high-risk brush near Prescott, Ariz., a few years ago, angry locals threatened to kill anyone involved in the operation.”

(5) A look at some of the peer-reviewed literature about fires

Red emphasis added.

(a) Always start with the IPCC: from Working Group 1 report of AR5, section 6.8.1. This does not support claims of increased fires today, or that we will see large increases in the near future.

“Models predict spatially variable responses in fire activity, including strong increases and decreases, due to regional variations in the climate–fire relationship, and anthropogenic interference. Wetter conditions can reduce fire activity, but increased biomass availability can increase fire emissions. Using a land surface model and future climate projections from two GCMs, Kloster et al. (2012) projected fire carbon emissions in 2075–2099 that exceed present-day emissions by 17 to 62% depending on scenario. Future fire activity will also depend on anthropogenic factors especially related to land use change.”

(b) Using Fire Return Interval Departure (FRID) Analysis to Map Spatial and Temporal Changes in Fire Frequency on National Forest Lands in California” by Hugh D. Safford and Kip M. Van de Water, US Forest Service research paper, January 2014. A detailed look at the fire history of Northern and Southern California.

(c) Examining Historical and Current Mixed-Severity Fire Regimes in Ponderosa Pine and Mixed-Conifer Forests of Western North America” by Dennis C. Odion et al. at PLoS ONE, 14 February 2014 — Abstract.

“There is widespread concern that fire exclusion has led to an unprecedented threat of uncharacteristically severe fires in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl. ex. Laws) and mixed-conifer forests of western North America. These extensive montane forests are considered to be adapted to a low/moderate-severity fire regime that maintained stands of relatively old trees.

“However, there is increasing recognition from landscape-scale assessments that, prior to any significant effects of fire exclusion, fires and forest structure were more variable in these forests. Biota in these forests are also dependent on the resources made available by higher-severity fire. A better understanding of historical fire regimes in the ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests of western North America is therefore needed to define reference conditions and help maintain characteristic ecological diversity of these systems.

“We compiled landscape-scale evidence of historical fire severity patterns in the ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests from published literature sources and stand ages available from the Forest Inventory and Analysis program in the USA. The consensus from this evidence is that the traditional reference conditions of low-severity fire regimes are inaccurate for most forests of western North America. Instead, most forests appear to have been characterized by mixed-severity fire that included ecologically significant amounts of weather-driven, high-severity fire.

“Diverse forests in different stages of succession, with a high proportion in relatively young stages, occurred prior to fire exclusion. Over the past century, successional diversity created by fire decreased. Our findings suggest that ecological management goals that incorporate successional diversity created by fire may support characteristic biodiversity, whereas current attempts to “restore” forests to open, low-severity fire conditions may not align with historical reference conditions in most ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests of western North America.”

(d) Extreme Fire Season in California: A Glimpse Into the Future?” by Jin-Ho Yoon et al. in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, December 2015 — Conclusion:

“Our result, based on the CESM1 outputs, indicates that man-made global warming is likely one of the causes that will exacerbate the areal extent and frequency of extreme fire risk, though the influence of internal climate variability on the 2014 and the future fire season is difficult to ascertain.”

(e) Impact of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire across western US forests” by John T. Abatzogloua and A. Park Williams in PNAS, 18 October 2016.

“Increased forest fire activity across the western United States in recent decades has contributed to widespread forest mortality, carbon emissions, periods of degraded air quality, and substantial fire suppression expenditures.

“Although numerous factors aided the recent rise in fire activity, observed warming and drying have significantly increased fire-season fuel aridity, fostering a more favorable fire environment across forested systems. We demonstrate that human-caused climate change caused over half of the documented increases in fuel aridity since the 1970s and doubled the cumulative forest fire area since 1984. This analysis suggests that anthropogenic climate change will continue to chronically enhance the potential for western US forest fire activity while fuels are not limiting.”

Although this is an outlier in the literature, it is endlessly cited. This study ignores the effect of “suppression and wildland fire use policies, ignitions, land cover (e.g., exurban development), and vegetation changes”, although they “have likely added to the area burned across the western US forests.”

(f) Human-started wildfires expand the fire niche across the United States” by Jennifer K. Balcha et al. in PNAS, 14 March 2017. See an interview with the lead author in “Who is starting all those wildfires? We are” by Warren Cornwall in Science, 12 September 2017. Abstract.

“The economic and ecological costs of wildfire in the United States have risen substantially in recent decades. Although climate change has likely enabled a portion of the increase in wildfire activity, the direct role of people in increasing wildfire activity has been largely overlooked. We evaluate over 1.5 million government records of wildfires that had to be extinguished or managed by state or federal agencies from 1992 to 2012, and examined geographic and seasonal extents of human-ignited wildfires relative to lightning-ignited wildfires.

“Humans have vastly expanded the spatial and seasonal “fire niche” in the coterminous United States, accounting for 84% of all wildfires and 44% of total area burned. During the 21-y time period, the 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 than lightning-started fires, thereby helping expand the geographic and seasonal niche of wildfire. 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 , primarily in sparsely populated areas of the mountainous western United States.

Ignitions caused by human activities are a substantial driver of overall fire risk to ecosystems and economies. Actions to raise awareness and increase management in regions prone to human-started wildfires should be a focus of United States policy to reduce fire risk and associated hazards.”

(6) For More Information

For more information see posts about the keys to understanding climate change, about droughts, and especially these…

  1. Key facts about the drought that’s reshaping California.
  2. The Texas drought ends; climate alarmists wrong again!
  3. Are 30 thousand species going extinct every year?
  4. Lessons learned from the end of California’s “permanent drought”.
  5. What you need to know about hurricanes and their trends.
  6. Good news about CO2 emissions. Progress to a better world.
  7. A story showing why America’s forests are burning.

Added after publication by Anthony:

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Earthling2

These current fires in California are the direct result of an extremely wet spring that saw such rapid growth this spring/summer in ladder fuels, like grasses and shrubs. And topped off by decades of fire mismanagement policies in general.

kenji

Bullshit! The current fires are a direct result of someone with a Bic lighter STARTING THEM !!! Stop being STUPID !!!

Lightning causes more wildfires than people.

Latitude

I thought they said it was a group of homeless people’s cooking fire….

nc

Kenji even so the fires are worse because of mismanagement, people moving into risk prone areas.

Bryan A

Interesting point. Does the data allow for the separation of naturally occuring fires from Arson related fires?
I believe that both mentioned Northern Ca. fires, the Jerusalem Fire and the Rocky Fire were both arson related.

Edwin

Kenji and Earthling2 are both correct. Most wild fires in California and elsewhere are started by arsonists or by stupidity. California has long suppressed fire. In spite of policies to the contrary Florida also did until 1993 when the state burned. In Florida environmental and forest lands that were under management were not properly controlled burned as required by their official and relatively expensive management plans. Excess fuel had built up, partially because of wetter than normal conditions but basically due fire suppression, so when the fires burned they burned extremely hot. Biggest reason managers didn’t do properly timed control burns to prevent fuel build up, they were required to hold public hearings.

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

Tirupathi-Thirumala a temple town In the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, is rich with sandle wood trees — to serve the God –. Lacks of pilgrims visit the temple town everyday. In recent years, on one side smugglers are cutting the trees and on the other side real estate mafia putting on fire the forest so that they can encroach the land and use for real estate ventures. Easy money like “Green Fund”. So we can attribute this to global warming???

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

hanson807

Kenji you are talking about something that he is not talking about which is what started the fire. He is talking about the amount of fuel for the fire, So, quit being an a hole.

G Mawer

Don’t forget the Santa Anna winds. Every year!?

Bryan A

Or those Santana Winds

Walter Sobchak

“Here come those Santa Ana winds again”

Latitude

“result of an extremely wet spring”….exactly right

No.

Mike Bromley the Kurd

“Ecologists said their behavior was typical of natural chaparral fires, which burn infrequently but intensely.”

Chaparral being a drought-resistant (it is California) shrub, which is high in hot-burning resins. Funny how most discussions fail to mention the “drought resistant” bit. I guess it doesn’t fit the fantasy narrative of California the Lush.

Alan Robertson

Well… the Chaparral mentioned in the article, refers to the common designation of the entire plant community which covers the coastal mountain and hillsides, now ablaze.
The specific long- lived and flammable Chaparral plant you spoke of, more frequently known as the Creosote Bush, Larrea tridentata, really isn’t involved in the fires, since it’s range is not in the thick chaparral forests of the coast, but the desert regions, on the other side of the mountain ranges where the fires now burn. Think Victorville and Bakersfield and Lancaster areas.

Alan Robertson

That isn’t to say that the Chaparral areas aren’t chock full of highly flammable evergreens and drought resistant species, as is now obvious.
Next up: mudslides.

kenji

Rubbish! What you post is patently UNTRUE. Baccharis pilularis … Coyote Brush … Chaparral Broom … is widely distributed across the Coastal Strand. Occurring both naturally and as a cultivated plant. Both drought tolerant and fire resistant.

Alan Robertson

What part is untrue?
1) Chaparral is the name given to the entire ecosystem of the area in flames.
2) Creosote Bush, commonly known as Chaparral, is flammable, but doesn’t grow in the fire area.
3) A number of plants of the region have “Chaparral” as part of their name.

Put up or shut up.

JBK

I have read that is was illegal in California to clear brush on your land without a very expensive environmental impact study. Not sure if that is still the case since I see articles, at least in San Diego where the government is demanding a 100 ft clear zone. The EnviroNazis are fighting it in court tho.

JBK —

No, it’s not. See the “Homeowner’s Summary of Fire Prevention Laws’ by Cal Fire.

http://www.fire.ca.gov/about/downloads/preventionlaws.pdf

Edwin

Note at the bottom of the Homeowner’s summary it specifically says that counties can develop their own rules. which I imagine could include getting some form of permit.

Edwin,

Yes, requiring a permit is possible. That’s a step to prevent people from doing stupid or illegal things. Like by “clearing brush” they illegally chop down protected trees.

But it’s not illegal to clear brush. In many areas it is required to do so.

Stories about outright destructive laws are usually urban legends.

Griff

yes it is. Drought, extreme rain, drought again. climate change

Gabro

Griff,

There is zero evidence that man-made “climate change” has anything at all to do with CA wildfires, and all the evidence in the world that it doesn’t.

However CA’s idiotic attempts to combat non-existent CACA have made things worse.

CA always has droughts and heavy rains. They were more extreme by far in the past.

Tom O

He didn’t say man made climate change, he said climate change, which, for the record, it certain seems to be to me as well. Climate change doesn’t require 30 years, it requires conditions to change for a period of time, and going from drought, to rains, to drought is not merely weather. How it impacts the ground is climate, too. Why not read what is said instead of who said it?

Latitude

“and going from drought, to rains, to drought is”..weather

icisil

Tom O, in today’s public dialog climate change means man-made climate change.

Bryan A

Drought (La Nina), Extreme Rain (El Nino), Drought again (La Nina again) climate change
Naturally occurring weather patterns through Pacific temperature oscillations

Griff,

Suggestion: please read what actual experts say before giving us your answer.

Tom O

I suggest you read what is said too, not just who is saying it.

Tom O,

“yes it is. Drought, extreme rain, drought again. climate change”

OK, what’s your point?

(a) The consensus of experts who have written about this is clear: climate change did not cause these fires. Griff’s assertion is, to be kind, unsupported.

(b) The only one of those three things that experts say is a major factor is rain.

(c) The sequence of “drought, extreme rain, drought again” does not describe the sequence of events before the fire.

Also — This LAT article makes the same points as in this post: “Wind is the culprit in 2017’s horrific wildfire season” by Bettina Boxall.

AndyG55

griff is just describing the NATURAL form of weather/climate for California.

Nothing has changed. The natural climate progression has not changed.

Drought intensity has been far greater in the past.

If the climate is changing, its is FOR THE BETTER. !!

Gunga Din

Weather change. Normal for areas of CA.

Sunsettommy

Griff, you are again not trying to make an honest debate here,since you just ignored a lot of data based evidence in the post.

What about that data based chart covering burned acres from 1926-2017?

What do you have in reply?

Grif[f]:
The climate has been changing for 4.5 billion years.
Therefore, everything that ever happened,
was accompanied by climate change,
Which proves that climate change causes everything !
According to the Grif[f],
whose comedic posts,
really liven up this website!.

[Let’s just use each person’s chosen handle. No need to modify them into insulting names. -mod]

Mr. Mod
always spoiling our fun!

kenji

My immediate family has lived in CA since my Great Grandparents drove their Model A Ford cross country in 1917. The directly observed and oral history that my family shares PROVES that our current climate is NO DIFFERENT from what it was when my family first arrived in CA. And in fact, the State was MUCH hotter and WETTER through the 1930’s. I am 62 years old … and still remember playing in the CA hills as a kid with grasses and mustard grown so high from the MASSIVE rains that they were over my head. We built forts and had a great time having MUD wars where we scooped-up mud balls and threw them at each other until someone got beaned with one that had a hard rock embedded in it. These DIRECT experiences with “EXTREME” weather took place multiple times through the 1960’s and 1970’s. We even had a massive Mud slide down my Lafayette, CA street in 1966 (or 67, I can’t recall which year). JUST STOP IT with all this “EXTREME” weather, “EXTREME” drought nonsense. It is all LIES !! by the Global Warming Industrial Complex. There are THOUSANDS of Global Warming bureaucrats employed by your CA tax dollars. And they are all DESPERATE to remain employed.

JBK

And here is the quote from the book, referring to Santa Barbara:

“The town is certainly finely situated, with a bay in front, and an amphitheatre of hills behind. The only thing which diminishes its beauty is, that the hills have no large trees upon them, they having been all burnt by a great fire which swept them off about a dozen years before, and they had not yet grown up again. The fire was described to me by an inhabitant, as having been a very terrible and magnificent sight. The air of the whole valley was so heated that the people were obliged to leave the town and take up their quarters for several days upon the beach. “

Bryan A

My family too has lived in Ca since 1865. I lived in Simi Valley in the early 60’s during the Topanga Canyon Fire. The entire valley was ringed with fire, North South East and West. Looked like armageddon. Lots of acres burned back then.

Ian L. McQueen

Kenji, your postings are usually very good, but the information on Model A’s was out of date since Ford didn’t sell them until late 1927…..

Ian

Kenji

Oops … you are correct, Ian. It was a Model T … I just reread my Grandmothers journal.

LdB

The CAGW is strong with this one. I find that answer vague and unconvincing.

Steve Keppel-Jones

Let me fix that for you Griff. “Extreme drought, extreme rain, extreme drought” – there, see how much scarier it sounds now? You have to keep sprinkling in the word “extreme” as often as possible if you want to scare people properly.

icisil

“yes it is. Drought, extreme rain, drought again. climate change”

That’s not climate change, that’s California climate.

icisil

For example, during the Great Flood of 1862 the entire Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys were flooded turning them into an inland sea. Worst flood in CA history. Yet there were droughts in both 1861 and 1863.

TC in the OC

Yes fires are bad when you get lots of moisture to grow underbrush and then drought and then high winds. Climate change…not so sure.

Was it climate change that caused this fire in 1910 that burnt about 3 million acres?

It was well before I was born but my uncles told me how the smoke went all the way to where they lived in Minnesota. Unfortunately certain areas that do not burn regularly that are in drought areas tend to have very explosive fires when the conditions are right.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Fire_of_1910

It never rains in California
But Oh, don’t they warn ya,
It pours.Lord, it pours.

Gunga Din

They must have written that last line before the “permanent drought” set in. 😎

I arrived in California in December 1982 and experienced one of the rainiest winters on record. By April I was convinced all the talk about California sunshine was sheer hype.

kenji

The forest service reports that 90% of all wildfires are STARTED by humans. Global Warming doesn’t START fires … homeless encampments of illegal aliens do. The Sonoma Fire – illegal homeless man started it. Bel Air Fire – illegal homeless “cooking” fire started it. A large number of fires; urban, suburban, and rural have been started by Eco-Terrorists. I would dare say that the MORE (lying) politicians like Jerry (senile) Brown keep insisting that “Global Warming” is the CAUSE of wild FIRES in CA … the MORE incentive there is for Eco-Terrorists to START FIRES !!! ALL that matters is the CAUSE of fires … not whether there is more brush to burn (although forest and chaparral management is essential). Why does the mass media NEVER ask Fire fighting officials about the IGNITION … the CAUSE of Fires. I haven’t heard a single media talker/writer EVER ask about the Arson behind these CA fires. The CA fires are NOT being spontaneously combusted as Jerry Brown would have you believe. Geeze … our world has become a sickening caldron of stupidity. Wake UP people … you are being LIED TO.

Kinchee:
60% to 90% of wildfires are caused by humans.
Depending on who you ask.
My intuition suggests the higher end of the range.
I don’t know about “Eco-terrorists” though.

kenji

http://www.cbs8.com/story/24876946/ucsd-arson-suspects-accused-of-eco-terrorism

I can find MORE … if you like. And I would also like to know the number of fires that NEVER have their ignition causes ever discovered … or the Fire Officials simply don’t want to reveal. Sorry … but current revelations about just how DEEP are the depths of the DEEP State run … is making me SICK to my stomach. The LEFTISTS have overrun every “Official” institution in America. Even the FBI.

TC in the OC

Sometimes they are caused by human stupidity and a lack of adequate follow through.

This article states the cause of the two fires in my area called the canyon and canyon 2 fire. The first was caused by a motorist hitting a Caltrans flare (why it was there on a windy dry day is another story) and the second more destructive fire was caused by an ember from the first fire a couple of weeks earlier that wasn’t properly mopped up.

https://www.scpr.org/news/2017/11/06/77437/canyon-fires-were-caused-by-accidental-shrub-fire/

Stevan Reddish

“(lying) politicians like Jerry (senile) Brown”

In the 1st news reports of Gov. Brown’s recent press conference about the Calif. fires he was quoted as saying the fires were “unprecedented” and “the new normal”. The unprecedented quote has been dropped from the articles, perhaps because there is unarguably a long history of wildfires in Calif.
I was struck by the contradicted presented by the proximity of those 2 terms, since something cannot be normal if it is unprecedented.

Gov. Brown, as is true of many others, seems to have little understanding of the actual meaning of the words he speaks.

SR

Steven,

Thank you for the reminder about Brown saying these fires were “unprecedented.” That quote was supposed to begin section (2), but I forgot about it when writing. I’ve added it to the original post at the FM website.

Jeff Alberts

Washington State governor Jay Inslee spouts the same nonsense. Apparently he’s unaware of why Washington is the Evergreen state.

icisil

I read that in one location a person dressed in black (anitfa) was apprehended by two citizens after they observed him starting a fire.

joelobryan

“Impact of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire across western US forests” by John T. Abatzogloua and A. Park Williams in PNAS, 18 October 2016.

Although this is an outlier in the literature, it is endlessly cited.

One publishes in PNAS when one doesn’t expect to pass a peer review in a journal with a tough standard of peer review. Or as more likely, your manuscript has already been rejected by several of those journals, then either you’re a National Academy member or you get a member to submit it to PNAS where the Good ‘ole boy network gives it a Pal Review.

Stop planting Eucalyptus trees!

AndyG55

Trouble is, once there, they will plant themselves. !!

Gunga Din

Import a bunch of koala bears.

brians356

My father, born in 1925, lived through the 1931 – 1933 fires. The worst were in N. Idaho (he grew up in Elk River) and Montana. He said they didn’t see the sun for weeks, and only the fall snowfall finally put out the fires. But I believe an even worse year (not on the graph starting 1926) was the summer of 1910, also in Idaho and Montana.

Gabro

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tillamook_Burn

You want 1930s forest fires, we got 1930s forest fires!

Gabro

PS: Reporting on the Burn for radio station KGW is how Chet Huntley got his start.

The LAT has run an article about the 2017 fires making points similar to those in this post: “Wind is the culprit in 2017’s horrific wildfire season” by Bettina Boxall. Excerpt:

As for why this Santa Ana season is ramping up after several years of calm, Rolinski says the answer lies in sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. In the last six months, that part of the sea has cooled, influencing weather patterns conducive to Santa Anas. The cooler sea temperatures can cause high-pressure systems that push storms to the north and then down into the Great Basin east of California.

The air in the higher-elevation interior is colder than at the coast, creating a pressure gradient that pulls air masses west. As they blow downslope to the coastal areas, they pick up speed, dry out and sometimes heat up. …

The current prolonged Santa Ana event is a function of the high-pressure ridge that is sitting over California, said atmospheric scientist Scott Capps, the principal of Atmospheric Data Solutions. …

As for whether climate change will diminish or strengthen Santa Ana seasons, there is conflicting research. “It’s a tough question,” Capps said. “I could see it going either way.”

Just ask UCLA atmospheric sciences professor Alex Hall, who participated in studies that arrived at contradictory conclusions. “I would say there’s not high confidence in any of these results because they do conflict…”

Extreme Hiatus

No.

The reason for the more intense fires is fuel buildup. Period. No fuel no fire no matter how hot, dry and windy it is.

The Native Americans who lived in huge numbers in California for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the Spanish knew about fire risk and how to manage it. That is one of the (many) reasons why burning was their first and foremost land management tool.

AndyG55

Same with Australian Aboriginals..

Tom Halla

Yes, the purportedly “wild” land Europeans encountered had been actively managed. The Native Americans had been there since the end of the last ice age, and modifying the terrain for their own purposes.

Extreme Hiatus

This book is a good basic reference for North America.

Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness
by Omer C. Stewart (Author),‎ Henry T. Lewis (Editor),‎ M. Kat Anderson (Editor)

John M. Ware

In one of the earliest graphs in the article, the last year shown had a figure of 9 million; the highest year had 54 million; the ratio is 6 to 1, not 5 to 1 as stated in the graph.

Excellent article! The longer certain areas go without a cleansing fire, the worse the fire will be when it comes.

Jim Mundy

Doesn’t it seem odd to anyone (particularly Jerry Brown) that much of the California ecology, particularly that in areas dominated by the Giant Sequoia, an iconic California tree, actually evolved to use fire as a mechanism for spreading the species? From the National Park Service:

“The Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is truly the most awesome species in the Sierra Nevada ecosystem. As in other living communities, sequoia groves – and the mixed conifer forests that contain them – have evolved with and adapted to natural processes that must continue if the community is to remain healthy. Fire is one of the major processes essential to the health of giant sequoia groves.

In the early 1960s, Dr. Richard Hartesveldt explored the connection between fire and sequoia regeneration. His small-scale prescribed fires followed nearly a century of fire suppression, and resulted in the germination of sequoia seeds and the recruitment of sequoia seedlings – something that had not occurred in the absence of fire.

Since those first experiments, researchers have further shown the benefits to sequoias from fire. Dendrochronology has determined that low intensity surface fires swept through the big trees approximately every 5 to 15 years. Sequoias rely on fire to release most seeds from their cones, to expose bare mineral soil in which seedlings can take root, to recycle nutrients into the soil, and to open holes in the forest canopy through which sunlight can reach young seedlings.

Sequoias also need fire to reduce competition from species such as white fir (Abies concolor) and Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), which are shade-tolerant and able to recruit seedlings in heavy litter and duff. Fire suppression has resulted in heavy accumulation of forest litter and the encroachment of thick stands of white fir and incense cedar, both of which compete with sequoias for water and nutrients. A natural fire cycle thins these competing species, and provides suitable conditions for sequoia growth.”

These trees, some of which predate Christ, evolved to take advantage of conditions prevalent at and before their birth, well before man-caused ANYTHING was a factor. So how can we say that conditions are worse now?

GregK

Eucalypts have also evolved to rely on fires for reproduction.
Fire opens up the “gum nuts” which release seeds to germinate in the ash beds from the fires.

So humans can be blamed for some of the [increased?] fire risk in California
https://ww2.kqed.org/science/2013/06/12/eucalyptus-california-icon-fire-hazard-and-invasive-species/

Similarly in Spain and Portugal where eucalypts are well established
http://articles.latimes.com/1990-12-04/news/wr-5993_1_eucalyptus-plantation

The article asks, Is climate change REALLY the culprit causing California’s wildfires?

The answer seems to be more obvious than some people might want to admit. That answer is, “Hell no — Humans and their poor decisions and carelessness are REALLY the culprit.”

What is California fairly well known for? — lots of people, right? They keep going there, keep crowding into the landscape, keep building more structures. More people show up to go camping and build campfires. City planners keep building more residential areas near fire-prone areas. More power lines are probably going up and probably causing problems with the trees.

I just think it is funny how people can blame themselves for climate change, and yet they cannot blame themselves for more wildfires. THAT would be too direct, I guess. There has to be a general myth to take the blame and to diffuse contradictions.

tony mcleod

“Is climate change REALLY the culprit causing California’s wildfires?”

No researcher thinks that, but your goal seems to be; make people believe they do.
[Snip. Let’s try that again…no need to impugn someone’s motives here. -mod]

Latitude

“Is climate change REALLY the culprit causing California’s wildfires?”
No researcher thinks that………….

Tony, you didn’t read this article, did you?….look up and read it

“two GCMs, Kloster et al. (2012) projected fire carbon emissions in 2075–2099 that exceed present-day emissions by 17 to 62%”

“Our result, based on the CESM1 outputs, indicates that man-made global warming is likely one of the causes that will exacerbate the areal extent and frequency of extreme fire risk”

“We demonstrate that human-caused climate change caused over half of the documented increases in fuel aridity since the 1970s and doubled the cumulative forest fire area since 1984. This analysis suggests that anthropogenic climate change will continue to chronically enhance the potential for western US forest fire activity while fuels are not limiting.”

tony mcleod

Latitude, what I read was “exacerbate” and “enhance”, a bit different from the patently refuteable “causing”. You do see the difference don’t you?

Splashing “causing” into the headline and then “See what scientists say and decide for yourself” is disingenuous. No scientists would ever say that… but it appears they don’t need to when Larry can say it for them.

Latitude

Am I not reading this correctly?…..they just said that human “caused” climate change……”caused” the cumulative forest fire area to double since the 1970’s..they are scientists too right?
..chronically enhance…..is to cause something to enhance

“We demonstrate that human-caused climate change caused over half of the documented increases in fuel aridity since the 1970s and doubled the cumulative forest fire area since 1984. This analysis suggests that anthropogenic climate change will continue to chronically enhance the potential for western US forest fire activity while fuels are not limiting.”

tony mcleod

No. You seem desparate to claim that they are saying x causes y so you can knock down the straw man.
Enhances, exacerbates, even “caused half the increases” is not the same as saying Californian fires are caused by the “culprit” climate change.

Saying cold weather exacerbated the flu epidemic is not the same as saying is was caused by it.

Tony,

“Splashing “causing” into the headline”

Quite bizarre. Attracting readers attention in 12 relevant words is difficult. “Caused” is a valid summary of Brown’s belief that climate change has made these devastating fires “the new normal.”

“See what scientists say and decide for yourself” is disingenuous.”

Disingenuous means “not candid or sincere.” Unless you are Professor Xavier, a telepath, you don’t know what I’m thinking. In fact your statement is false. I said exactly what I mean. Public policy in America is made by citizens becoming informed and deciding for themselves.

“No scientists would ever say that”

Many, perhaps most, scientists believe citizens should become informed and then decide for themselves. It’s a common sentiment expressed for the general public.

tony mcleod

Let me rephrase your question:

“Are wildfires caused by (anthropogenic) climate change and nothing else?

That’s what: “Is climate change REALLY the culprit…” means isn’t it?

Given wildfires existed long before homo sapiens evolved, to pose that question in the headline, insinuating anyone – let alone climate scientists – believes it, does nothing but further politicize and polarize the discussion.
From Anthony’s little preamble under the headline:
“We’re told that climate change caused… California’s wildfires”. Are we? Who actually said that? Who actually believes the only thing that causes wildfires is anthropocentric CO2 emission?

I see he is doubling-down today: “While California Governor Jerry Brown wants to blame “climate change” for the fire…” https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/12/17/california-sets-new-record-for-longest-ever-wildfire-warning/

“California Governor Jerry Brown blamed climate change for the California fires” from Breitbart…
Really? Did he actually say those words? Does he actually believe the only thing that causes wildfires is anthropocentric CO2 emission?

You can choose to throw a bit of light on the issues instead of shadows.

tony mcleod

If impugning someone’s motives is not needed (permitted) you are going to be busy. There are pages of straight impugning: from fraud to deceit, to conspiracy, to downright evil. I get impugned here every day that hasn’t seemed to bother you much. As does Griff, et al.
So no impugning Griff, Al Gore or Michael Mann? Yeah right.

[You’re correct. It’s a near impossible task. And one subject to…well…subjectivity. My “line” might be quite different than yours. But, yes, to the extent feasible, this is the goal. Believe it or not, the opinions of dissenters here are as equally (and sometimes more) important that those of the many that agree. Just keep it civil. And dispassionate. -mod]

AndyG55

No need, They6 impugn themselves. !

Lil Fella from OZ

I could prevent wildfires doing so much damage. The same non effort in prevention is occurring down under. I live near an area where it is only when not if. It is only a matter of time before it gets decimated.
I have seen green trees go dry because of fire, at midnight!! One fire captain used a fire lighter most effectively. But that was many years ago. Now we have non volunteers making ‘decisions.’
They wonder why fires are getting worse.
Nothing to do with Climate Change!

Don K

A pronounced decrease in fire frequency occurred at the time of Euro-American settlement, coinciding approximately with the arrival of railroads, intensive livestock grazing, removal of many Native American populations …

Well, there’s the answer right there. Give California back to the Indians and the wildfire problem will be solved

GregB

Robert Kernodle – How can people blame themselves for more fires if there are less?

Lil Fella from Oz – They don’t wonder if fires are getting worse if they’re not!

Did either of you read the article or is it poor wording? Articles showing less fires with less burnt but both comments say opposite.

2hotel9

“Is climate change REALLY the culprit causing California’s wildfires?” No. Environmental “regulation” is the cause of these fires. Clear the underbrush, clear the deadwood, tell Democrat Party SNIP.

markl

Governor Brown is pushing a “new natural” in California to spread the fear. He should be ashamed of himself.

Kathryn Hayhoe (whom some of you may have heard of) tweeted this Santa Ana winds study a few days back during the height of this December’s CA fires.

https://twitter.com/khayhoe/status/938951040631787522

She quotes the paper’s abstract that points out higher occurrences of SA wind events in December due to Climate Change and consequently larger areas burnt…except that won’t be the case (according to the paper’s model) until the period 2070-99.

The paper shows a *drop* in December SA wind events for 2005-34. Nevertheless, Hayhoe tweeted this out during all the discussions about these fires we’re having now being abnormally large/numerous for December. BTW she contributed modelling data to the study (see acknowledgements).

So I replied with this:

https://twitter.com/scute1133/status/939592908927307776

As of now her tweet is still up with an extra 28 retweets and two (of 14) replies from people saying essentially, “so this shows that models work”.

ClarkWGriswold

Does anyone want to mention that ignition/fires this time of year are all human caused? Anyone? Without ignition, it’s just another dry and windy period for SoCal. Anyone? Anyone?

Earthling2

I thought PG&E were on the hook for a few of these blazing fires, at least a few months back, due to wind blowing over power lines and transformers etc. Is there any update on this? Of course, these would be considered human induced as well. Yes, it looks like it is going to be an eternal problem with humans casing fires, either by accident or by design. What’s the solution to that?

NW sage

Since we currently burn only 20% of the record acres burned in the early 1930s that means that 4/5ths of the CO2 that would otherwise have been produced has NOT been generated. THAT is an anthropogenic triumph! The weather is therefore MUCH cooler than it would have been.
The US should take full credit at the Climate Conference! All that CO2 saved! Congratulations all!

willhaas

Such fires have been quite common in California for ages. Apparenlty one of the current fires was started by an illegal cooking fire. Another may have been started by downed power lines. Last years wetter than usual rainy season added more fuel to burn. The currentl dry and windy spell is quite comon here in California even in December. More care needs to be taken in making structures that are less likely to be damaged by such fires in fire prone areas. We may not get tornadoes and hurricanes that other places get but we are still subject to our share of natural desasters. Maybe reducing CO2 emmissions will reduce our vulnerability to earth quakes.

ratuma

is it possible to plant a grove of oaks in California ? (chêne liège) ? They are not burning easily

Davies

Oakland?

Caligula Jones

Coulda sworn that the fires are actually caused by confused polar bears…or something.

Have to lay off the eggnog…

Unlikely, at least as regards global cimate change and global events, nut just fruit and nut land. Evidence here. Forgetaboutut, it’s all easy to expose propaganda, to anyone who cares not to believe what they are told by snake oil salesmen, that is. Whu knew? Well, anyone who cared to check. Why are people so lazy minded and gullible? Is it just too hard to understand stuff and easier to be conned by snake oil cures than think?
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Chris Thorne

Another factor contributing to high residential structure losses in California due to wildfire is not wild nature, but human nature. To wit, the mulish resistance to adopting building standards suitable for wildfire zones. It’s not complicated stuff either to design into new structures or to retrofit onto existing ones. Noncombustible roofs and siding materials. Boxed eaves or no eaves. Attic vents set up to prevent ember entry.

Davies

As a professional forester told me years ago, a mature forest has to be cut down, or it burns down. Forests are not continuous, they are born, live and die then the cycle repeats.

My comment re Kathrine Hayhoe and her tweet about Santa Ana winds didn’t make it through. Any idea why?