The ‘New Normal’ for Western Forest Fires – Not Necessarily

Dealing with Forest Fire Risk

Guest essay by Don Healy

Looking out on smoke and ash filled vistas while reading about the Carr, Mendocino and numerous other forest fires raging through the Western U.S. and British Columbia creates a great deal of concern and some physical discomfort. Fire is a natural component of our wild areas. Historically, the average acreages burned were much higher in the early 1900s, averaging about 25 million acres, maintaining relatively modest levels mid-century of about 4 million acres, and then trending upwards from the 1980s to the present time. Over recent years, the acreage burned by forest fires in the U.S. has fluctuated between and 3.5 million and 10 million acres per year. Obviously, climate change had nothing to do with much larger burns early in the 1900s, and is most likely a small factor currently.

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In recent years however, we are seeing much greater property destruction and loss of life as development continues to encroach on the wildland-urban interface. Each summer, we go into panic mode, but rather than trying to get to root of the problem, and reducing the likelihood of large conflagrations in the future, we are expending massive amounts of money trying to contain the fires that occur. Unfortunately, this is a battle that we cannot win with the current methodology. The reasons are as follows:

1. We all remember the fire triangle with the three legs of oxygen, heat (ignition) and fuel. In this case, the problem boils down to the fuel component; we have far too much of it and the quantity is growing quite rapidly, for primarily two reasons. We quit harvesting timber in the late 1970s on federal lands in the western United States, and currently have 57% more standing timber than we did in 1953. That is correct – 57% more; much of which is stagnated and impacted by insect and disease issues. This larger fuel supply will simply continue to grow unless we are willing to reengage in reasonable forestry practices such a selective cutting and thinning, which would necessitate the building of new sawmills and wood product plants and would provide thousands of jobs at the same time. Stand treatments to simply reduce the fuel load are very expensive and need to be combined with a revenue generating aspect if we wish to accomplish our goals in a timely fashion without bankrupting ourselves.

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It should be pointed out that this table includes only merchantable timber. The actual fuel load includes a large amount of smaller material that has probably increased even more rapidly.

2. Many point their fingers at the issue of temperature increase due to climate change, and while this does have a very modest contribution to fire risk, the biggest effect is actually a more hidden one. In fact, a major component of the current fire problem is that the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have two beneficial effects on both crop production and the same vegetation that fuel wild fires, such as trees, grasses and chaparral. The first beneficial effect is CO2 fertilization. A recent study by NASA shows a significant greening of the planet over the past years, which buttresses the laboratory studies on the effects of CO2 fertilization. (https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/carbon-dioxide-fertilization-greening-earth)

The second beneficial effect is that trees and plants become more drought resistant with increases in CO2 levels. This further compounds the issue of increasing fuel loads. The trees and plants become more drought resistant, but not necessarily more fire resistant.

Many articles claim that climate change is the driving force behind the increase in wild fires. However, I think we all realize that there are multiple factors at work here. Looking at the most accurate temperature record for the United States, the U. S. Climatological Research Network (USCRN), shows no significant trend for the 12 years since it went into service. This network is state of the art with excellent siting of stations coupled with triple redundancy.

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Other longer term records such as the UAH satellite record indicate a very slight increase in the temperature trend; about 0.4 degrees Centigrade from 1979 to the present. (http://www.drroyspencer.com/2018/08/uah-global-temperature-update-for-july-2018-0-32-deg-c/) While the mid-1980s to present trend line for fuel loads correlates with the trend line for acres burned in the U.S., the temperature record shows virtually no correlation.

As additional verification of the effects of CO2 fertilization at the most practical level, we can look at the yield per acre figures for some of our most common crops, as obtained from the USDA at https://www.nass.usda.gov/Charts_and_Maps/Field_Crops/.

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Looking at this situation in gross numbers, the western U.S. contains about 1,008,000,000 acres of land, with varying types of vegetative covering. Assuming that each acre is relatively uniform on average, the additional growth due of CO2 fertilization is equivalent to the total growth on 151,200,000 acres of land. (This is using a 15% rate of additional greening; the low end of the figures shown in the citation above.) Assuming the higher quantity of acres burned per year mentioned above, of 10,000,000 acres, we can see that we are gaining over 15 times the fuel load that we are losing to wild fires, and the situation will be most like get more dire over time, because for plants, we are still close to the low end of their preferred CO2 ranges, and will see even higher results from CO2 fertilization effect for at least another doubling of CO2. A quick review of this effect upon the fire problem will show that ignoring this problem will only make it worse, far worse.

In addition to implementing sustained-yield forest practices on our forest lands, we also need to address the effects of ourselves and our fellow humans’ desire to life within the bucolic beauty of the wildland-urban interface. This also has at least two aspects that must be addressed in these situations:

1. Building codes need to be modified to require that structures built in the wildland-urban interface be far more fire proof. Code should require:

A. Fire proof roofing such as steel and ceramic tile.

B. Siding of fireproof material such as brick or stone.

C. Roof venting either closeable or require mesh sufficient to prevent wind-blown embers from entering the attic space. (This was a major factor in the recent Santa Rosa, California fire.)

D. Removal of flammable vegetation and landscaping materials such a bark from areas near structures.

2. In the open areas in the wildland-urban interface, these steps should be implemented:

A. Thin natural vegetation and create fire breaks where necessary.

B. Limit or ban construction in areas of extreme vulnerability.

C. Construct water retention facilities such as ponds or reservoirs along with the necessary pumps, generators and hoses.

For both provisions 1 and 2 above, it will be necessary to have regular checks and inspections to insure that the appropriate conditions are maintained.

Some insurance companies are already taking steps to insure that some or all of these safeguards be taken if homeowners wish to obtain or continue coverage.

Conclusion: Time is of the essence in dealing with our wildlands fire dilemma. The crucial factor that needs to be addressed is the high and continually expanding fuel load in our wild areas. We have the means to deal with this issue and could commence in the very near future. It could also be accomplished in a way that would improve the health of our forests, provide jobs, provide revenue for our local counties for schools and roads, and other economic benefits. Also, we need to recognize that while the issue of climate change does bear upon this situation, we simply can’t wait to get started down that path to solve the fire problem. China, India and other nations are heading in a contrary direction and it will be decades at least before we will see a meaningful reduction in CO2 levels. We need to do immediately, what it is feasible to accomplish.

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96 thoughts on “The ‘New Normal’ for Western Forest Fires – Not Necessarily

  1. Good common sense suggestions to lessen the destruction of property from wildfires. I made similar suggestions in newspaper blogs, and was shouted down. It seems that some people will not take responsibility for their own decisions (poor building codes).

    The same could be said for the destruction in the wake of tornadoes and hurricanes, where most of the problem lies in poor construction, and building on flood plains. I was in the Philipines after Hainan, and all the concrete structures survived without any problem, even in the epicenter of the storm. And it cannot be that expensive to build in reinforced concrete, as all the poor nations around the Mediterranean can manage it, including Greece, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon. If they can afford concrete housing, why cannot America…?

    I predict many angry replies…..

    R

    • I agree ralf. See this post from 2017:

      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/08/25/its-over-4324-day-major-hurricane-drought-ends-harvey-lands-as-cat4/comment-page-1/#comment-2593562

      It amazes me that people in the hurricane and tornado areas of the USA continue to build with wood-frame construction, which is so easily destroyed by high winds and flooding.

      In the mid-1990’s, I designed and patented an Insulating Concrete Form (ICF) System called Advantage Wallsystems. http://www.advantageicf.com/

      I no longer have any interest, financial or otherwise, in this product or company, but want to point out the advantages of ICF Systems. An ICF structure can be built with concrete floor and ceiling decks and steel shutters to survive most natural disasters. The polystyrene foam is closed-cell, so it will also survive a flood – interior finishing materials such as drywall must of course be replaced. Moving valued possessions to the second floor should preserve them in most flood situations – if your second floor floods, you are building in the wrong location.

      The primary benefit of this particular ICF system is that it is stronger and can sustain much higher concrete pour heights than most other ICF products – it also has features than enable ease of use.

      When Texas rebuilds, will they simply use stick-built construction that will be destroyed by the next natural disaster, or will they employ ICF construction that can survive floods, hurricanes and tornadoes?

      • If a timber framed structure is properly designed, even if by codified means, it shouldn’t have too much to worry about! I have seen many a photograph where a melted light steel frame has “draped” itself over a timber sub-structure after a major fire, timber charrs as it burns, the layer of carbon coating the outer faces becomes resistant to the flames, & timber frames in the UK are designed to meet this charring, called the “charring resistance”, & is based on timber species, with hardwoods usually being better thsn softwoods. In the UK however, we fire-design in ALL materials to give time for people to escape safely, the structure is sacrificial in such circumstances for obvious reasons! BTW, as a structural engineer I am a big fan of ICF construction!

        • Sorry Alan, I don’t know what your definition of “major fire” is, but I wouldn’t express those sentiments too loudly in Oz or you might get laughed out of the room. You’re talking about the situation where an external flame source like a blow torch is applied to timber then removed, producing charring. That isn’t how a bushfire/forest fire works. In a real fire, the heat source just keeps on coming and once a timber structure starts to go it keeps going until extinguished, it doesn’t just char. I have yet to see a timber structure draped in melted steelwork. Your fires must be unique. What you normally see is twisted, intact steel amongst ashes.

          Fire from ember attacks can be controlled; up-slope fires under structures can be avoided, but there is no defence against the radiant heat of a really major fire. Trees and buildings flash into flames ahead of the fire front just from the radiant heat. In the 2009 Victorian fires even half-buried concrete fire bunkers were damaged. Their walls were too hot to get near on the inside during the worst of the fire. No timber will survive that.

        • In the napa California fire the glass and aluminum wheel rims on parked cars melted. No amount of charing is going to protect wood from that kind of heat. However many california homes now have tile roofs and stucco exteriors. Those don’t burn but in some cases the fire was hot enough that the radiant heat from the fire would pass through windows and ignite window curtains inside the home.

      • Allan. Yes, I have seen these concrete-pour houses in the uS, and there is good evidence they will withstand a tornado or hurricane quite easily. Other techniques include:

        Israel. Shuttering either side, and expanded polystyrene foam down the center, to form an insulating core. Then pour in the concrete.

        Greece. Reinforced concrete pillars and floors, but the walling inbetween pillars is blocked out with lightweight terracotta bricks.

        Switzerland. Huge teracotta bricks, that already come with insulating (and lightening) holes, and an integral handle so you can lift it up. Like building with giant leggo bricks – single course, but insulation is integral. Obviously strong, as it holds those heavy Swiss roofs, designed to take 3m of snow.

        UK. Outer brick and inner breeze-block walls, held together with metal ties. Seems to be strong enough for standard UK 90 mph winds, but not as strong as reinforced concrete.

        And the other thing is to stop building on flood plains. We do the same in the UK, then the authorities and media blame climate change. No – the clue is in the name…!! They then said that ancient parts of the town were also flooding. Yeah, because the housing estates on the flood plains stopped the river from expanding, and the constricted flow was deeper than before. (Most town councillors are brain-dead politico hacks, but you would have though that their town planners would know better and give better advice.)

        R

      • Flooding occurs regularly in Cambodia so everyone lives on stilts. The lower floor is were the boat is stored. I see stilted building made of concrete in Barbados so I suspect ‘the islands’ have a few things worked out.

        In Africa people build from cement in one way or another because of the ants and termites. The future is geopolymers, not cement. Cheaper, stronger, easy to work with and far less energy needed to make them. They are typically phosphate bonded materials. Ruddy amazing. They can often survive 1300 degrees C.

    • A well constructed home should have lower insurance premiums, that should compensate for much of the additional construction costs.

    • …yeah, but they leave rebar sticking out of the top on the building so they can claim it as “incomplete” and avoid higher taxes on completed structure.

  2. The Tasmanian 1967 Bushfires claimed 62 lives, 900 injured and left 7000 homeless.

    Many of the dead were found to have been boiled alive in their own water tanks.

    The buildings left standing did not have gutters.

    Empty your gutters, block them off, fill them with water & evacuate if you can- should a bushfire come calling.

  3. There is an excellent magazine, Fine Homebuilding, which has had many articles dealing with fire resistance. In particular there is a story about houses that survived the 1993 Laguna Beach fire storm. link

    The houses that survived did so because of many details. Many of those details were cheap to implement. Many of the details would improve the home’s insulation and save money by reducing heating and cooling loads. The bottom line is that there are lots of details and that requires builders, building inspectors, and planning departments who actually know what they’re doing.

    The thing about planning departments is crucial. It is very possible to have local building regulations that run counter to sensible fireproof construction. Municipalities that insist on aesthetic wood shake roofing would be an example of dangerous stupidity. Australian regulations that limit how far from your house you can clear brush are another example.

    Fireproof construction is practical and not that much more expensive. It mostly requires people who know what they’re doing. Sadly, that might entail taking a clue bat to some politicians and bureaucrats. That part can be really hard.

    • “Sadly, that might entail taking a clue bat to some politicians and bureaucrats. That part can be really hard.”

      Yes but oh so much fun!

  4. We do occasionally get 100mph+ winds in the UK, and they typically don’t do much damage. Reason is that our buildings, even the wooden ones, are much stronger than in the USA.

    • That depends on where in the US you are comparing to. In many places on the east cost you might be right. However in california building codes have been changed to accept for earthquakes. Home are bolted to the foundation Shear wallsstrhngthen the walls in side to side loads. And the roof and walls are connected with nailed in place steel plates. In Washington state they also occasionally get 100mph winds most wood homes there easily withstand those winds. Washington states building codes are note as though as california’s.

    • That us an amazing post.
      You really strike a chord in your post.
      The recent unhinged, disgusting behavior of the climate change extremists in blaming President Trump for hurricane Florence is even worse in the careful light you shine on the thinking process they are engaged in.
      +10

    • Agreed… weather events have been associated with mythical beings since before man invented religion…. bad weather became the whim of vindictive gods.

  5. We’re told that ‘fire is a natural process’
    Yeeeees it is, BUT, in very ancient landscapes that are dying. The metaphor with increasing disease in elderly people is nearly perfect –
    Fire is cancer.
    Fire is a complication of Type 2 diabetes, eg your feet falling off.
    Fire is liver disease in long term drinkers
    Fire is Alzheimers disease
    It is a signal that ‘The System’ is nearing its end so yes, it is normal and natural. Death is normal and natural.
    Hence many of the cures or remedies for fires are the equivalent of removing someone’s lungs to cure lung cancer, draining their blood to prevent diabetes, filling their skulls with surgical spirit or strong acetic acid as preservatives to prevent dementia. (Ain’t that crazy, that’s effectively what they do by eating carbohydrate and by drinking alcohol. Why do doctors recommend it I wonder?)
    That is what we’re looking at here with the fires. Melanomas showing up with increased regularity on an elderly person – someone who is NOT going to live forever and as the saying goes at funeral ceremonies everywhere ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The dust in this case being desert dust.

    We’re repeatedly told about CO2 fertilashion – a blatant appeal to (NASA) authority. Engaging with Warmists really does have a corrosive effect on real actual & original thought.

    We may visit and read the link provided to hear NASA saying (apart from very confusing things about Earth’s land area) – they say that they ‘thought’ CO2 was/is a fertiliser but just to be sure, fed this assumption into a computer model.
    Suuuuuuurprise surprise! The Computer agreed with them and was so bold as to put a figure on the effect. 70% of the greenery was due to CO2. Amazing what these computers know!
    Right. Do we see any data from OCO Sputnik showing all the CO2 to be in The Wrong Places?
    No
    Oddly, NASA tell us that the CO2 effect diminishes with increasing levels of this wonderful beneficial gas. Curious and curious
    This would obviously be based on recent data they have showing that the greenery effect is slowing as CO2 levels rise?
    Good grief. Does that not scream out loud that the CO2 was NOT the cause of the greening?
    Why do I assert that?
    Go out into the British countryside right now and talk to a farmer. (DEFRA will help you identify them -they drive (barely legal) beat-up old pickup trucks, leave epic trails of mud on the road, when not blasting every living critter into Kingdom Come with shotguns)
    They will all tell you that nowadays it has become essential to use fertilisers containing added sulphur. 25 years ago it was unheard of apart from folks growing oil-seeds.

    What happened = Smoke-stack scrubbing at power stations and low sulphur motor fuel.

    Bingo bingo bingo, OCO and Greenery Sputniks look down on China and see huuuuuge amounts of greenery AND huge amounts of CO2.
    Question, for how long have the Chinese been scrubbing their smokestacks?

    One suggestion was good = store water in the (burning) forest.
    Not only with ponds and lakes but by using the ‘extra’ growth the forest itself is supposedly making.
    Simply run it through big chipper machines and dump into holes in the ground and/or natural hollows. It will attract and store water – effectively making a peat bog.
    Water logged, anaerobic and highly acidic places that will have a natural cooling effect on the landscape. Import more beavers. They do that naturally.

    But DO NOT remove stuff from the affected forest, either by burning or forestry.
    Doing so is simply blood-letting on an already anaemic patient close (in a geologic time frame) to death and will hasten their demise.

    • But DO NOT remove stuff from the affected forest, either by burning or forestry.

      Viewed from one perspective, forestry is no different than agriculture. I agree with Freeman Dyson’s opinion.

      Since I was born and brought up in England, I spent my formative years in a land with great beauty and a rich ecology which is almost entirely man-made. The natural ecology of England was uninterrupted and rather boring forest. Humans replaced the forest with an artificial landscape of grassland and moorland, fields and farms, with a much richer variety of plant and animal species. Quite recently, only about a thousand years ago, we introduced rabbits, a non-native species which had a profound effect on the ecology. Rabbits opened glades in the forest where flowering plants now flourish. There is no wilderness in England, and yet there is plenty of room for wild-flowers and birds and butterflies as well as a high density of humans. Perhaps that is why I am a humanist. link

      Agriculture is not evil and forestry is not evil. Done correctly, they make everything better.

    • That CO2 encourages plant growth has been confirmed by dozens of laboratory experiments, and millions of greenhouse owners.

  6. Other longer term records such as the UAH satellite record indicate a very slight increase in the temperature trend; about 0.4 degrees Centigrade from 1979 to the present.

    UAH shows over 0.7°C warming from 1979 to present. A warming rate of 1.83°C / century over almost 40 years.

    • Bellman

      The warming that occurred during the satellite era (since 1979) was primarily caused by the shift in the PDO from cold mode to warm mode – the Great Pacific Climate Shift of 1977.

      Furthermore. much of the apparent warming in the satellite era after 1982 was the result of the natural recovery from two cooling volcanoes – El Chichon in 1982 and Pinatubo in 1991+.

      Notes:

      The Nino34 Area Sea Surface Temperature (the blue line in the following plot), adjusted by the Sato Global Mean Optical Depth Index (for major volcanoes – the yellow line), correlates quite well with the Global UAH LT temperature four months later (the red line).

      https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1527601687317388&set=a.1012901982120697.1073741826.100002027142240&type=3&theater

      It is clear from the divergence of the red line (Global UAH LT temperature) below the blue line that (Nino34 SST) that El Chichon and Pinatubo caused about 0.5C to 0.6C of global cooling that took about 5 years to fully dissipate (warm up) in each case.

      • Allan MacRae

        “The warming that occurred during the satellite era (since 1979) was primarily caused by the shift in the PDO from cold mode to warm mode – the Great Pacific Climate Shift of 1977.”

        All of which is completely irrelevant to the point I was making – the claim that there had only been 0.4°C warming in UAH US data, when it was over 0.7°C.

        • Hmm. The UAH chart that I see shows a rise of 0.13C per decade or 1.3C per century. Or at least that is what UAH says it is. Your eyes must be different from mine.

          • My eyes were looking at the USA48 temperatures. I assumed that”s what the OP was talking about, given that everything else was about the US.

            Even looking at global temps, the rise is more than 0.5c.

        • Bellman wrote”
          “All of which is completely irrelevant to the point I was making – the claim that there had only been 0.4°C warming in UAH US data, when it was over 0.7°C.”

          Thank you for clarifying. I don’t think your point is relevant either. There was no significant global warming or USA warming over the time period in question – warming is not a significant factor in the forest fire problem – that is what the author is saying and I think he is correct.

          I am saying that most of the global warming observed after 1982 is actually an artifact of two major volcanoes. The absolutely level Nino34 SST’s for the period prove that observation, because global temperatures closely follow four months after Nino34 SST’s, in the absence of major volcanoes. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but not much.

    • The linear trend of the UAH version 6 LT dataset for the whole period it covers is 0.0129 degree C / year, so it indicates a temperature increase of 0.503 degree C for the almost 40 years it covers, and 1.29 °C / century not 1.83 °C / century.

      • Y’all figure it out. Looks to me like it all started in a cool phase and we have gone into a warm phase the second half of the record. Interesting to me is the whole 40 year period falls within 1 deg C and we are currently but .2 deg C above the baseline ( and dropping ). I don’t think I would be too worried just yet. Don’t see a trend to +3 deg C anytime soon.

        http://www.drroyspencer.com/latest-global-temperatures/

      • Björn ,

        see above.

        I was talking about the UAS48 figure from UAH. I assumed that was the appropriate figure as the question was about US fires and the preceding paragraph was talking about US only temperature trends.

        Also the OP suggests it’s not just UAH, but other long term records “such as UAH”. But all other long term records show more warming since 1979.

          • DWR54, replying to Bellman

            In RSS the warming rate for “Continental United States” (from the ‘Region’ drop-down box in the link) is +3.1 deg C per century since 1979. A total warming of 1.2 C in the US since 1979.

            Right. So, how do you get 3.1 degree per century projected increase, when the actual global average MEASURED temperature for July-Aug 2018 was only 0.19 degree increase since the baseline in the 1970’s (44 years ago?) Is that not 0.43 degrees per century in the real world?

            Or is NASA-NOAA-RSS somehow claiming that there has been “massive cooling” the past few years – when CO2 levels have been at the highest levels recently measured – so that “only previous temperature spikes (1998, 2015) can be used to extrapolate future temperature increases”?

          • RACookPE1978

            “So, how do you get 3.1 degree per century projected increase…”
            __________________

            You download the RSS Continental United States data, put it on a spreadsheet and run a linear regression test (LINEST in Excel). Multiply by 1200 to get century scale.

            Or you could just look at the RSS cUSA chart on the link provided which says, in bold lettering right on the chart, “Trend = 0.307 K/decade” (which is the same as 3.1 C per century).

          • “Right. So, how do you get 3.1 degree per century projected increase, when the actual global average MEASURED temperature for July-Aug 2018 was only 0.19 degree increase since the baseline in the 1970’s (44 years ago?)”

            I’m not sure where you are getting that 0.19 figure from. It’s not an anomaly from the mid 70s as satellite data didn’t exist then.

            The actual RSS figure for the USA, Jul – Aug 2018 was 1.12°C above the late 20th century average. But the US temperature vary so much from month to month I wouldn’t try to use an individual month to estimate a rate of change.

  7. Looking at the most accurate temperature record for the United States, the U. S. Climatological Research Network (USCRN), shows no significant trend for the 12 years since it went into service.

    USCRN shows warming at the rate of 10°C / century. Not significant because it’s such a short period.

  8. I grew up in timber country in SW Oregon, and worked fighting fire, cutting trees, and in sawmills through high school and much of college. When the Spotted Owl issue came along Oregon stopped logging on Federal/State lands. Oregon is a green refuge and those loonies would rather let forests burn up than harvest them, even a harvest very selective and controlled. This increase of biomass in forests in Oregon is destined to burn up. There is continued logging on private lands in Oregon and this optimum habitat (open areas for food and standing forests for shelter) keeps the deer and elk populations at healthy levels.

  9. It is quite bizarre how the eco loons happily state as fact utter rubbish that publicly available, official data completely contradics. Huricane frequency/intensity and $damage data contradicts the CAGW caused propaganda assertions for example.

    Here in Oz the ‘endless drought’ , ‘the worst drought evah’ are typically cobntradicted by official rainfall data that shows no decrease in rainfall in fact more often a long term increase including in drough affected areas. Have a guess where in Ausralia the long term rainfall has reduced by 10% or so in a century. Why in our coldest, southernmost state which enjoys twice the national average rainfall of course, Tasmania!

    The last time we had a significant drought one Professor Tim “The Fool Man” Flannery called it as just the beginning of ‘endless drought’ and lo and hehold shortly after the skies opened up, the cyclones (hurricanes/typhoons) arrived and the dams filled. People were killed in floods!!

    Such is life I guess.

    • Significant to this discussion is the impact of beetle killed forests in the American west that have added to the fire load. One only has to drive through Rocky Mountain National Park to see the devastation wrought by the beetles. Thousands upon thousands of acres of dead trees ready to burn at the first spark.

      I remember discussions about eradicating the beetle in the middle 70’s using a major spray program. This was when the problem was containable. But the enviromentalists were more concerned about the other insect life and would not allow spraying. If a land owner found a tree (on his property only) that was dying of beetle infestation he was allowed to cut it down, cut it into sections, cover it with plastic and spray with an insecticide. That was the only mitigation allowed by the environmentalists.

      And look where we are now.

      • SMS, you are absolutely right. Now we have many thousands of acres of trees in the forests that have been dead for 10-15 years. Is it any wonder that forest fires have been filling the sky with smoke for the last couple of summers? It’s going to be a while before all that dead wood is gone.

    • Not everyone remembers the impact Tim Flannery had on Australian decisions. Australias “Man of the Year” is also responsible for the building of numerous billion dollar desal plants. All needed to provide water for the permanent drought that never came.

  10. Significant to this discussion is the impact of beetle killed forests in the American west that have added to the fire load. One only has to drive through Rocky Mountain National Park to see the devastation wrought by the beetles. Thousands upon thousands of acres of dead trees ready to burn at the first spark.

    I remember discussions about eradicating the beetle in the middle 70’s using a major spray program. This was when the problem was containable. But the enviromentalists were more concerned about the other insect life and would not allow spraying. If a land owner found a tree (on his property only) that was dying of beetle infestation he was allowed to cut it down, cut it into sections, cover it with plastic and spray with an insecticide. That was the only mitigation allowed by the environmentalists.

    And look where we are now.

    • Actual data shows that Mountain Pine Beetle killed trees are not more prone to forest fire. This had been fairly well studied now (https://www.kqed.org/science/994936/the-surprising-science-of-wildfires-and-tree-killing-beetles). Green trees give off volatile organic compounds that can cause green trees to burn explosively. This doesn’t happen with dead trees. MPB killed boles surprisingly do burn quite well after they become checked with the vertical cracks acting like chimneys. However, it is pretty difficult for dead trees without live crowns to sustain a crowning fire. In recent years densely stocked, young regenerating pine stands have been burning vigorously. Pine forests appear to have always burned on a large scale. Forestry practices that maintain much of the forest in early seral stages also maintain the conditions for large fires.

      • True, but a dead pine forest burns much hotter as the wood actually burns, as compared to a crown fire that is burning the green needles and dry branches, but not burning the green wet wood. When some of that dead pine beetle wood is already laying on the ground, then the fire is so hot, it burns the duff and soil and takes much longer to re-establish a healthy forest. Which is natural too, as is fire in general. We humans are just in the way.

        • There is a variable window between the time a bole falls and the time it becomes “punky” and capable of only sustaining a smoldering fire. The window is not long. Also, the area affected by downed wood only makes up a small portion of the area of forest floor. Based on many decades of observation, the hottest ground fires are under large live trees where forest floor accumulation is the deepest.

          • Maybe what you say is more true in the wet belt where high precipitation and high humidity tend to rot the bole quicker but out in the Chilcotin west of the Fraser River in BC where it is much drier and less humidity in the summer, huge swaths of mono pine that have been dead 20-30 years are finally falling down and leading to these massive fire complexes we read about and see on the news reports nightly. A lot of it should have been aggressively logged 20-25 years ago after the pine beetle really got going in the Tweedsmuir Park and spread east as the pine forest aged. Up until very recent, and still in some cases, the 20-25 year old dead pine out west is still being logged and milled because it isn’t rotting, only badly checked. Although the mills hate it. It is unfortunate the news media just shows the same video clips of a healthy green forest burning when in reality, a lot of the really large hundreds of thousands sq Ha massive wild fires are the dead and decadent pine forests that have been dead for 2-3 decades now. Once a fire gets going in that, especially with a 6-8 week fire window in a conducive weather patten favourable to burning, there isn’t much to do but try to back burn to alleviate losses to nearby communities and save what is possible elsewhere. Most if it is going to burn sooner or later, as it would have naturally had humans not been putting fires out the last 75 years. I know first hand being in the industry, fighting the fires and having been evacuated multiple times. But not burnt out yet…touch wood.

      • I followed up on a fire in the White River National Forest some years ago that burned a significant amount of acreage. As I drove through the burned out sections it was apparent the the beetle killed trees were quick burning but not completely burned. The trees were standing and the branches not burned. Only the needles. The fire flashed through the forest, moving quickly; too quickly to burn the bulk of the tree.

    • “If a land owner found a tree (on his property only) that was dying of beetle infestation he was allowed to cut it down, cut it into sections, cover it with plastic and spray with an insecticide. That was the only mitigation allowed by the environmentalists.”

      By the time you find a pine tree infected and dying from the pine beetle, you are already too late as that tree was attacked the year before from eggs laid the year before that. The only evidence there is, is the bore hole and subsequent pine pitch forthcoming from the tree bark. And the mature beetles have already flown and infected more live green trees elsewhere. So it is practically impossible to ever get on top of a pine beetle problem, unless you get 4-5 weeks of constant -35 degree temps every winter that kill off the beetle larvae. And those cold conditions haven’t been a regular occurrence since the LIA, and other subsequent cooler periods like the 1960’s and 1970’s that sometimes experienced longer term cold snaps, but that was abnormal weather too. It is well known by professional foresters that the mature pine forest creates the pine beetle, the same way you would get cabbage worms, if you planted your entire garden to cabbage. But of course, even this was co-opted by the CAGW crowd to try and prove global warming. The mature mono pine forest creates the pine beetle that kills the forest and the cure is a fire that re-starts the whole process as an evolved fire scape ecology. The problem is the humans that live in the way of this natural event.

  11. Another recommendation should be that all occupied buildings should have a nearby fire shelter much like the tornado shelters in the mid-west but capable of enabling people to survive the worst fires. Then people don’t have to risk their lives trying to escape a fire.

    • Yeah, just set the oven on broil and wait it out.

      A similar idea was tried with pyroclastic flow shelters. The first time it was put to use the occupants were broiled alive.

    • In california some people have taken shelter in swimming pools. The water protected them from the flames and heat. And some have survived. However some have died due to smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. So any shelter should also have air filtration system, cooling system and batteries to power it all. Power often fails in fires.

  12. Hmm. The UAH chart that I see shows a rise of 0.13C per decade or 1.3C per century. Or at least that is what UAH says it is. Your eyes must be different from mine.

  13. acreage burned by forest fires in the U.S. has fluctuated between and 3.5 million and 10 million acres per year.  –>

    acreage burned by forest fires in the U.S. has fluctuated between 3.5 million and 10 million acres per year. 

  14. Look at that fire acreage chart. If I cut it off at say 1958 and rescale it for the remaining data, it looks like a hockey stick. I bet I could scare a lot of people with a graph like that. It would be giving a completely false impression, but it would look scary.

  15. Once a forest is burned to the ground, it will take another 100 years of park service mismanagement to establish the conditions for another catastrophic fire. Because of that fact, catastrophic fires are essentially self limiting.

  16. A. Thin natural vegetation and create fire breaks where necessary.

    B. Limit or ban construction in areas of extreme vulnerability.

    C. Construct water retention facilities such as ponds or reservoirs along with the necessary pumps, generators and hoses.

    For both provisions 1 and 2 above, it will be necessary to have regular checks and inspections to insure that the appropriate conditions are maintained.
    ________________________________________________

    Therefore there’s chimneysweepers.

    Great compendium, Thx!

  17. In British Columbia, they have now said 2018 is the “worst in history” for forest fires. I checked the “history” and it goes all the way back to 1950. Maybe they should change it to “worst in memory for teenagers.”

  18. I am a firm believer in concrete construction. I was in the former Yugoslavia with IFOR and saw lots of buildings that had been set on fire. The old buildings with wood floors and roof structure were gutted. The modern buildings with concrete floors and roof structure were virtually undamaged, even a fire in one of the rooms had seldom spread to another and restoring them was a little more than replacing the windows and redecorating.

    The only down side I can see is that reducing the market for timber makes controlling the forests harder.

    Flood protection is simple enough, just build on stilts, basically an empty ground floor. Alternatively a sort of above ground basement is possible, i.e. a ground floor with no doors or windows to let in water, built of concrete.

  19. Isn’t it funny how we never see papers about studies on forest fires. In other words how to best manage our forests, best practices for building codes, etc. It seems like the environmentalists have convinced everyone that science is “settled” when it comes to this, especially politicians. In other words let the forests grow untouched until they burn trees, houses, and people.

  20. Looking at the first chart, Forest Areas Burned over time, it appears that since the Smokey Bear program was created in 1944-1952 indeed forest fires have declined. Yet at the same time we know, as has been discussed here, the amount of fuel has increased dramatically. We also know that private property owners in the West have been punished as criminals for doing control burns on their property primarily to avoid fire jumping from government lands not properly managed.

    The problem with excess fuel is not just the lack of timber harvesting but a build up of undergrowth where the fires actually start and rapidly spreads. Carefully planned and executed prescribed burns can mitigate that problem. Hand and machine clearing especially around structures certainly helps and should be a part of the building code and required by insurance companies. Certainly homes in fire prone areas could be built to a higher standard of fire protection. While not eliminating fire hazards it certainly would mitigate the problem.

    Still almost, if not all the policies that have led to recent “catastrophic” fires have been the result of naive even stupid so called “environmental” policies. Environmentalists either do not want homes built in or near forest so are not unhappy when structures burn or they fail to recognize and accept that many forest and woodlands, in the USA at least, are fire driven habitats, that is fire is necessary to maintain the ecosystem. These policies and laws are the product of the Democrat Party where environmentalists have become part of their base. Still the name of the game for Democrats and other leftists politicians is “never let a crisis go to waste.”

    • “Environmentalists either do not want homes built in or near forest ”

      Q: What’s the difference between an environmentalist and a developer?
      A: The environmentalist already has a house in the woods.

      • This is exactly right. Once an environmentalist builds in an area, they spend a lot of effort getting the local codes changed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for others to build nearby. I have a friend who has direct experience with this. Of course, the environmentalist was a hypocrite, following none of the new codes and regulations he pushed to get enacted. He was “grandfathered in”, of course.

  21. Conceded, the about .4 degree increase should be .5 degree C based on Dr. Roy Spencer’s most recent UAH satellite record. Harvesting of timber on federal lands essential ceased in 1980, so I was using that time frame to match to the temperature record. Sorry about the tenth of a degree or so.

    • A tenth of a degree here, and a tenth of a degree there, and pretty soon we are talking about a whole degree! 🙂

  22. The forest area burned is not a very good measure of how prone the forest is to burning due to weather. It depends on land use, population, fire-fighting and pre-emptive measures vs. purposeful burning / letting forest burn up.

    The thing is, many environmentalists WANT more forest fires.

  23. For those who want read more about the history of wild fires I suggest searching on one of the many digitized historic newspaper sites. Most have pay walls. However there is one very good free one fultonhistory.com . He claims to have 43 million pages digitized. I used the exact phrase “forest fire” to search. You get a clear picture of how extensive the fires were in the early 20th century

  24. We live in an area of wildland-urban interface (WUI) and have been actively engaged in working toward making our place “firewise”.
    WA state firewise

    Some of the recommendations in the post here at WUWT are both good and expensive (think metal roofs and stone/concrete siding).
    However, any healthy person with a rake and a handsaw can make their home and buildings safer.
    From the WA State link: “ Studies show that as many as 80 percent of homes lost to wildland fire may have been saved if brush around the homes were cleared and defensible space created around structures.

    Further, about 80% of landscape fires are related to human activities. Some of the causes are auto fires and the driver pulls to the side of the road, falling trees take a power line into dried grass, or smokers toss a lighted cigarette out a car window.
    Greater effort to reduce these human related fires needs to be done.

  25. This post makes a lot of good points. One of the misconceptions the general public has is that a forest is just static, and basically unchanging over time. But in my woodlot that I have been measuring the last 40+ years, is the fact that in this time span, the volume of the forest has actually doubled but the the forest litter, dead wood and brush has accumulated by at least a factor of 3-4 times what it was 40 years ago. Also, one of the features that I see the most is the vigorous growth of the ground brush and new seedlings that begin growing, of every species, which a lot of that dies naturally from competition and too high a density. This has led to a lot of fuel loading that is just bound to catch fire more easily and then burn very hot at ground level. CO2 is a plant food, and undoubtedly is helping things growing much faster. Which is good, but also has consequences for creating an additional greater fuel source. One thing that is abundantly clear, is that where we live, we need to have proactive forestry policies. We really need to intervene with all the recommendations in this post, and not to shy away from making use of this resource by harvesting it a timely matter. Forests are definitely a renewable resource.

  26. I gave a like to the post but want to emphasize the period of the twenties and thirties encompassed a time a severe droughts here in the west, which would contribute to increased incidents of fire.

  27. Completely ignored … ignition. In our highly evolved, technological society we should be able to virtually ELIMINATE all unnatural ignition sources (“heat” is a red herring). Clearing of all dry brush along roadways for a start … how does a “sparking axle” ignite a massive, uncontrolled fire … if not for lack of clearing roadways of easily ignitable vegetation? And who is ever PROSECUTED to the full extent of the law … for starting a fire ?

    And BTW … the State of CA ALREADY HAS multiple Wildfire Building codes, both at the “Urban interface” and in rural forest zones. In addition, multiple cities have their own Wildfire zones that carry with them multiple detailed building regulations. In many cases … these building codes overlap one-another. And if that isn’t enough … EVERY NEW HOME IN CA MUST BE FIRE SPRINKLERED! Every single one … no matter where it is located. So what the hell is this author talking about!? Read the damn building codes!! Every single one of his detailed proposals are ALREADY on the books!!

    Time to start prosecuting the fire bugs.

    • The reports I read regarding the Santa Rosa fire seem to indicate otherwise. Much of the roof venting allowed embers to be socked into the attics, leading to rapid and total destruction.

      • See, with image:
        http://www.bestmaterials.com/detail.aspx?ID=21031

        … coated with an intumescent coating from Firefree Coatings Inc. The coating swells up when exposed to high temperatures and closes off the cells, effectively blocking off fire & ember intrusion.

        Most older homes have screened vents in the soffit with too large of a hole size. Our house (1982) has about 100; 2″ diameter circles with screens that are a major pain to replace. And that is just one of the issues.

        • intumescent caulking is standard stuff in highrise building to seal pipe penetration of fire assemblies … however … caulking everyone’s attic vents will just cause the roof to rot and the ceilings to sweat.

      • Built PRIOR to the current codes … which is typical of ALL buildings in the State. D’ya wanna know how many single-family, wood-frame homes are not up-to current seismic codes ? We mandated RETROFITTING of Public Buildings … but not light wood frame, single-family homes with a low “Importance” Factor. These flexible light frame buildings ride out seismic events much better than rigid, heavy, construction.

        It would be economically infeasible to retrofit ALL the homes in Wildfire zones and Urban Wildfire Zones to include all the current code features. However, SIMPLE things can be done … defensible space and whatnot. But that requires somewhat draconian government inspection and oversight. I would prefer a RIGOROUS education campaign instead. After all … if you live in these zones … then it is in your OWN SELF INTEREST to take all precautions necessary. I prefer the invisible hand of the instinct for SURVIVAL … over any further government intervention.

    • z,smh of those fire codes are less than 20years old and mostly apply to new construction. Older construction does not meet the new codes. Also building codes require sprinklers inside buildings to stop interior fires before they kill sleeping people. Exterior sprinklers don’t work that well agains forest fires. Defensible space and and non combustable exteriors work a lot better.

    • I am no code expert but when I scanned the info you provided, I see a lot of “fire-retardant” wood construction being allowed. I suspect that a lot of this wood loses its ‘fire-retardant” ability after 5 or 10 years and what you end up with is pretty susceptible to real burning embers (not just charcoal looking briquettes).

      • Very true. However … now a question for you …? How many stucco homes with concrete tile roofs went up in flames as easily as wood sided homes ? Fact is … when you have a home in the midst of one of these MASSIVE conflagrations … any building material (other than a concrete pillbox) are useless.

        I rebuilt a home in one of the devastating Napa Fires about 30 years ago. When I visited my clients site shortly after the burn … they showed me where their abandoned car was parked. Literally … ALL that was left of this METAL automobile was a melted aluminum blob where the engine was and 4 black smudges on the ground where the tires were. Quite literally … everything else was gone. And their concrete foundations were busted to pieces wherein the steel rebar heated up to the point of spalling (busting out) the concrete covering the rebar. Nothing but a brick fireplace – badly damaged was left (somewhat) intact. Thinking that building materials will save anything when we allow these MASSIVE wildfires to get STARTED … and to be FUELED by eco-mandated-untouched landscape … is misplaced thinking.

  28. The intensity of recent fires can be blamed on how dry and hot it has been. But not the frequency. No one has mentioned the subject of a recent U.S. Forest Service conference on PYROTERRORISM. Look that up on Google. The Jihadists have plans on the internet for remote-controlled incendiary devices. The goal to to injure us infidels physically and financially. The main-stream press does not consider it politically correct to mention PYROTERRORISM as it my cause the public to panic. But it’s a reality to the Forest Service and other authorities. Be aware of any strange activity in Brush and Forest lands.

  29. You missed the obvious solution.
    That is to harvest/gather up surplus timber and use it as a fuel source (say creating electricity?), so removing the fuel source. (No waste/brash remaining).
    Kill two birds with one stone.

    They had this same problem in Australia where due to mismanagement, small fires were prevented which simply postponed the event to a much more severe fire later.

    • I agree. I mentioned re-establishing our forest products industry early in the post. There must be a revenue generating aspect to the solution or the cost will bankrupt us. The problem is that immense. Thanks

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