Was Global Warming A Significant Factor in California’s Camp Fire? The Answer is Clearly No.

From Cliff Mass Weather and Climate Blog

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Camp Fire that struck the northern California town of Paradise and vicinity is a profoundly disturbing environmental disaster of first magnitude.  Nearly 100 people have lost their lives, approximately 10,000 homes have been lost, a major community has essentially been destroyed, and millions of people have been exposed to high concentrations of smoke.  Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and lives of millions substantially affected.


And beyond the heart-wrenching losses noted above, it is doubly tragic that this disaster was both foreseeable and avoidable, resulting from a series of errors, poor judgment, lack of use of available technology, and poor urban planning.
It is more than unfortunate that some politicians, environmental advocacy groups, and activist scientists are attempting to use this tragedy as a tool for their own agenda, make the claim that the Camp Fire was result of global warming.


As I will discuss below, this claim has little grounding in fact or science.  Global warming is a profoundly serious threat to mankind, but it has little impact the Camp Fire and many of the coastal California fires of the past few years (e.g., the Wine Country Fires of October 2017).  And blaming global warming takes attention away from the actions needed to prevent such  tragedies from happening again.
Analyzing the Origins of the Camp Fire
A central causative factor was the strong, offshore-directed, winds that both initiated the fire and drove it rapidly towards the town of Paradise.  These winds are known as Diablo winds, and are driven by the difference in pressure between the intermountain interior (e.g., Nevada) and the coast.
The easterly (from the east) winds that struck that day were not that unusual, something that is evident by looking at the wind climatology at the nearby Jarbo Gap USDA RAWS weather station.  The sustained winds on the day of the fire initiation (November 8) accelerated to 32 mph (with gusts to 52 mph), with peak winds at 4 AM that day.   Looking at the entire record at Jarbo (back to 2003), northeasterly winds of 30 mph or more have occurred 508 times in those 15 years–not an unusual event.  And my inspection of the individual records does not suggest an increasing trend.


Furthermore, there is no reason to expect that Diablo winds will increase under global warming; in fact, the opposite is the case.  Global warming preferentially warms the interior of the continent compared to the eastern Pacific.  Thus, human-caused warming would tend to weaken the interior high pressure, thus lessening a key driving force of the Diablo winds.   There are several studies in the peer-reviewed scientific literature  (e.g., this one) that show that global warming should weaken southern California’s Santa Ana winds, which are also driven by the pressure difference between the western interior and the coast.
Initiation of the fires
There is strong evidence that that Camp Fire was caused by failure of PG&E powerlines, not by any natural causes that could be linked to global warming.  In fact, nearly all wildfires in California are caused by human error or arson.  Increased population in California would clearly lead to more human fire initiation.  Thus, global warming is not a factor in fire initiation.

download (6).jpeg

Surface dry conditions
One of the most popular handwaving arguments about why global warming is enhancing wildfires is through temperature and precipitation changes.   It is argued that warming temperatures are causing more evaporation and thus drying the “fuels” at the surface.  And it is argued that global warming is causing increasing drought that dries fuels and encourages fires.
Now this sounds reasonable enough on the surface, but when you examine the facts more closely, it rapidly becomes clear that global warming has little role in producing the dry conditions that assisted  the Camp Fire, the wine country fires, or the fires in coastal southern CA.
The truth is that California is quite dry during nearly half of the year and that fuels such as grasses, bushes and small vegetation dry out during any typical summer.   Even more important, virtually all of the fires noted above (including the Camp Fire) were associated with offshore, downslope winds which rapidly dry out vegetation, even it is wet the day before!


A nearby landscape.  Note all the grass and small vegetation

The fire weather community divides fuels by how quickly they dry.  1-h fuels are less than 1/4 of an inch in diameter and can dry in LESS THAN AN HOUR.  This includes grass and small weeds/plants.  10-h fuels have diameters of 1/4 to 1 inch and dry in less than 10 hours, and include small bushes, branches, and the like.
In much of California, and particularly in the areas of the fires noted above, most of the fuels were grasses and small stuff–mainly 1 and 10-h fuels.    Thus, they dry very quickly, such as when Diablo winds start to blow.  This kind of small diameter fuels is known as chaparral in California, and there was a lot of such ground cover north and east of Paradise.
Now let me prove to you that global warming had nothing to do with the dry conditions near Paradise on the morning of November 8.  Below is a plot of the ten-hour fuel moisture at the nearby Jarbo Gap observation side, a site that was in the path of the fire, for the five years ending November 20.  You will note a repeatable pattern, with values reaching around 27% during the winter, but 3-8% every summer and early fall.  The fuels are not getting progressively drier.  I should note that I was told by local fire experts that values below approximately 10% are plenty dry enough to burn.


Looking at a blow-up image of the fuel moisture of the last 3/4 year you can see the summer drying clearly and something else very important….there are short dry periods even in the middle of winter when rain is falling occasionally.  Why?  Because there are diablo wind events that can dry out the vegetation even then.

g1wea (4)

The bottom line is that the vegetation is plenty dry enough to burn every summer right now…and has been like that forever.  Even if global warming is increasing temperatures a few degrees (and it probably is), IT DOESN’T MATTER.  The fuels are plenty dry enough to burn already.  That is why the handwaving argument that global warming is contributing to the fires simply don’t make sense.

Read the full post here.

HT/ D.F. Villeneuve

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Joel Snider
November 21, 2018 12:09 pm

Hasn’t stopped them from exploiting it, though, has it?

Reply to  Joel Snider
November 21, 2018 4:00 pm

Joel Snider

Exploitation of the fire is arguably a moral question.

Negligence contributing to the fire is another matter.

Had you or I been seen to accidentally drop a match that started the fire, I have no doubt we would be convicted of a crime, accidental though it was.

Yet the power companies, nor the politicians who neglected to take adequate precautions, whilst well aware of the risks and consequences, will never appear in court for this fire.

My concern is that politicians like Jerry Brown can call on public funds to defend decisions they make which prove contrary to the public good whilst there is sufficient evidence that they were well aware of the opinions of experts.

The Paradise fire was an accident waiting to happen. I believe Anthony Watts moved out the area for that very reason. I also believe forestry experts have been warning about the dangers of neglecting forestry husbandry for decades, yet the matter has been to a great extent neglected by a succession of politicians with no sanctions for their conduct.

I sincerely hope this is a wake up call for Californian residents. I sincerely hope they sue the government for the damage caused and I don’t believe Governor Brown nor his predecessors should be afforded the luxury of state funds to defend a case brought against them considering the evidence available that this fire was only a matter of time.

It is now a matter of routine that public servants can hide behind the democratic process whilst making irresponsible decisions, safe in the knowledge that the public suing them will pick up the tab for their defence.

There is therefore no risk whatsoever to public servants for incompetence.

Governor Brown will doubtless retire to his ranch and privileged lifestyle, whilst California continues to burn. I’m not sure of the route to a solution, but I’m certain that’s not right.

Reply to  Joel Snider
November 21, 2018 4:07 pm

Quote from the article:
“As I will discuss below, this claim has little grounding in fact or science. Global warming is a profoundly serious threat to mankind, but it has little impact the Camp Fire and many of the coastal California fires of the past few years…”

Parsing the above:
1) As I will discuss below, this claim has little grounding in fact or science. .TRUE.
2) Global warming is a profoundly serious threat to mankind, .FALSE. aka .TOTAL_PC_CLAPTRAP.
3) but it has little impact the Camp Fire and many of the coastal California fires of the past few years .TRUE.

Clause 2) could state with equal validity:
“Since frogs obviously now have wings, they no longer need to bounce around on their butts.”

Jim Whelan
November 22, 2018 11:22 am

I don’t know why there is this constant need to bow before the climate change gods. Clause 2 is of no consequence in the discussion and can only be there to satisfy warmunists that the article is not heretical.

Caligula Jones
Reply to  Joel Snider
November 22, 2018 6:18 am

Tentative movie title: Revenge of the Global Average…

Dodgy Geezer
November 21, 2018 12:12 pm

…One of the most popular handwaving arguments about why global warming is enhancing wildfires is through temperature and precipitation changes. It is argued that warming temperatures are causing more evaporation and thus drying the “fuels” at the surface. …

Er…they told me that Global Warming was started off by excess CO2, but then there would be excess humidity which would magnify the effect…..

If warming makes things dryer, according to that argument, things should get colder…. But then, I’m not a climate scientist/true believer…

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
November 21, 2018 3:27 pm

It would be nice if they could actually document that the temperature in this area has actually warmed in the last 50 years, instead of just assuming that it must have.

Reply to  MarkW
November 21, 2018 4:06 pm


It would be even better if they could provide empirical evidence from field studies that atmospheric CO2 affects global temperatures.

A global political, financial and social shift based on something that has never been seen. That is the true definition of insanity.

loren massie
Reply to  HotScot
November 23, 2018 10:37 am

Empirical evidence isn’t needed as it obvious to anyone that adding 1 molecule per 10,000 to the atmosphere will cause doom and destruction.

Jim Whelan
Reply to  MarkW
November 22, 2018 11:26 am

If anything bad happens then global warming is a contributing factor if not the main or only cause. Past conditions, actual measurements, any actual science is not significant. 97% say so.

November 21, 2018 12:14 pm

There is a NASA paper in 2014 that says the drought of 1934 was the worst in a 1000 years https://news.agu.org/press-release/1934-drought-was-worst-of-the-last-millennium-study-finds/ . As I posted earlier the 1930’s were dry and hot. A review of digitized NYT shows California and much of the west were battling forest fires much worse than today.

John Tillman
November 21, 2018 2:36 pm

Worst wildfire year in US since 1926 was 1930, but the decade thereafter was all bad. About five times the acreage burned as in the past decade.


As those of us born and raised in the PNW know, thanks to our parents showing us the repeatedly devastated Tillamook Burn (which launched Chet Huntley’s career when he was at KGW, IIRC).

Rud Istvan
November 21, 2018 12:22 pm

Dr. Cliff Mass is an interesting person. As faculty at University of Washington in Seattle, he probably has to espouse anthropogenic global warming beliefs to have any social acceptability. Yet in his individual blog writings, as here, he repeatedly debunks AGW causality ‘in the present’. He picked up on my ShellGames post over at Judiths on Pacific ousters and the Whiskey Creek Hatchery on Netarts Bay (PMEL ‘ocean acidification abomination of a paper), reblogged it, and made several followon posts about winds, Eckman transport currents, and seasonal upwelling. We have corresponded several times since on clisci matters like lake of funding for weather service computers compared to gross overfunding of clisci computers.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
November 21, 2018 2:04 pm

not sure if you saw one of Cliff’s earlier posts on the Camp Fire (Monday, 11/12/18) when it first went up on his blog, but the closing paragraph was quickly edited down. It initially referred to the harassment he and his family receives whenever a post appears minimizing the amount of warming and any effect on snow, fires, shellfish, etc. Some of the early comments address that part of the initial post. The effort by the CAGW to stamp out any alternate viewpoints, even by those who agree with AGW, is still alive and well. Professor Mass has probably been getting a heavy dose of it this week.

Reply to  Windsong
November 21, 2018 2:20 pm

He has. @SarahMeyre and her coven harass him unmercifully. They absolutely can’t stand it that he’s tenured.

Reply to  icisil
November 21, 2018 6:37 pm

“coven”. How apt!

November 21, 2018 12:24 pm

It’s pretty much normal weather for that part of California, so climate change hasn’t done much if anything. Not properly managing wildlands is the product of following green philosophy, which is something of a fantasy. If one just leaves “nature” alone, everything will be fine.

Steven Mosher
Reply to  Tom Halla
November 21, 2018 8:22 pm

Err no it was an outlier

matthew dalby
November 21, 2018 12:25 pm

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/06/how-forest-management-helps-lay-the-conditions-for-wildfires While the article doesn’t specifically mention California it talks about fires in temperate forests and Mediteranian type ecosystems, one or the other would include the area of the camp fire. Quoting scientific reports the article clearly states that lack of/bad management has increased fuel loads leading to more intense and harder to control fires. Seems to be pretty much what Trump has said recently. Funnily enough as soon as Trump says it the liberal press, including the Guardian, are only too quick to say he’s wrong. Trump agrees with the Guardian, but the Guardian can’t agree with Trump. There are a lot of examples to choose from, but I would say this is one of the worst cases of hypocrisy from the Guardian in recent years.

November 21, 2018 12:46 pm

The California politicians, green lobbyists organizations and certainly the government bureaucracies are all blaming global warming as a distraction. The old “Look over here there is nothing to see over there.” The national media enables their behavior. Heck, I don’t live in California but their wildfires have made the news every day on our local channels. California has been blundering down the naively idealistic “green road” for long decades. Almost, if not all, their problems can be directly linked to overregulation and illogical regulation. For example, why allow, probably promote, a community to develop in an area with high fire risk and then restrict that community and adjacent landowners from doing fire mitigation or even educating those living in that community of what to do before a fire. Yet Californians again elected politicians out of the same party that lead them where they are today.

Bruce Cobb
November 21, 2018 12:46 pm

The Climate Numptys just love the California wildfires, latching onto them like a drowning man onto a chunk of wood. The “global warming” angle is pretty lame, let’s face it, and well they know it. Temperatures just aren’t going up, well, much at all. It has fizzled out. So they need new ways of scaring the dumber clucks – the ones who just like to Believe, or are too lazy or brain-dead to look things up for themselves.
This morning, I was listening to NPR, and the newscaster (don’t care who he is), kept trying to insert the “climate change” angle into the story about the fires. Apparently, the person they were interviewing wasn’t exactly toeing the global warmunist line. I had to shut it off, or I would have thrown my radio out the window. Hard to do, because the window was shut tight against the early winter cold (no doubt caused by “climate change”).

November 21, 2018 12:54 pm

> “Global warming is a profoundly serious threat to mankind, but it has little impact the Camp Fire and many of the coastal California fires of the past few years (e.g., the Wine Country Fires of October 2017).”

Profoundly serious threat to mankind?!?

Slipping something like this into the mix taints everything else.

Bruce Cobb
November 21, 2018 1:10 pm

Indeed, “climate change” is the new witchcraft. No matter what it is, as long as it’s bad, “climate change” (witchcraft) had a hand in it. You can’t prove it didn’t, so ipso facto, “climate change”. And beware if you don’t Believe, because you just might be a witch Denier, and just try proving you’re not. Maybe if you float in oil, you’re not.

Curious George
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
November 21, 2018 1:39 pm

Before 1970 the climate has never changed. Don’t be fooled by skeptics repeating fake news about ice ages or medieval warm periods.

Reply to  Curious George
November 21, 2018 6:18 pm

Good one!

Reply to  Curious George
November 22, 2018 4:41 am

Curious George: I trust you’re joking. Just in case you’re not, do some research for yourself and find out what’s happened in ages past. Below is evidence for Alpine glacial advance and retreat – note the last sentence. It’s part of a summary from a 2016 paper by Albert Hafner and Christoph Schworer, which you can access on the internet.
‘Since 2003 a melting ice field on the Schnidejoch Pass (2756 m a.s.l.) has yielded several hundred objects from the Neolithic period, the Bronze and Iron Ages and from Roman and early medieval times. The oldest finds date from the beginning of the 5th millennium BC, whilst the most recent artefacts date from around AD 1000. Most of the objects belong to the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age and are of organic origin. A series of over 70 radiocarbon dates confirm that the Schnidejoch Pass, which linked the Bernese Oberland with the Rhône Valley, was frequented from no later than 4800–4500 BCE onwards. The pass was easily accessible when the glaciers descending from the nearby Wildhorn mountain range (summit at 3248 m a.s.l.) were in a retreating phase. On the other hand, the area was impassable during periods of glacial advances. ‘

Steve O
November 21, 2018 1:36 pm

If a changing climate has NOT affected the risk of catastrophic fires, then forestry management policies must change.

If a changing climate HAS affected the risk of fires, then forestry management policies need to change.

If those responsible for policy are too dumb to get this, then it’s no wonder so many people are dead.

November 21, 2018 1:37 pm

I’m convinced, but what is the solution?

Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
November 21, 2018 2:35 pm

Don’t build entire communities in pine forests. We had big fires in the mid eighties in WY in our forests. Poor forest management and the great idea to let”nature take its course” made things worse but then not many folks lives there so no real human disaster.

loren massie
Reply to  JimG1
November 23, 2018 10:52 am

Ever driven around the hills in the North Bay? Thousands of houses connected by goat trail roads. A real self satisfied lot they are too, after all each house is “worth” a million plus. Darwin Awards waiting to happen. Could not happen to a more deserving lot either.

Reply to  loren massie
November 23, 2018 10:56 am

A lot of the roads in the Oakland Hills fire of 1991 were also cattle tracks, laid out in the 1920’s for Model T’s.

Robert of Texas
November 21, 2018 1:49 pm

People need to feel they have some kind of control about natural events – this explains the birth of religion – ancient man needed ceremony and belief to reduce the stress and fear. It doesn’t matter that it actually doesn’t work or explain anything, the mere belief works to make people feel they have some control.

So, onto climate change, global warming, and yes, fires…people need explanations that make them feel in control – just sacrifice 10 tons of carbon (each) and Mother Nature will be appeased. Trying to actually understand why fires are occurring is too hard for many people, they need a simpler explanation.

Besides, fire breaks look awful… Pre-burning is dangerous and makes the landscape look blackened… Buried power lines are expensive… And I WANT to live out there on that hill surrounded by rocks, and grass, and other great fire fuels because…I want to. Don’t tell me I can’t, or that it will burn…I want to. Kind of like I want to live on the beach, or I want to live on the edge of that river.

So until people are willing to deal with reality, we will continue to have these terrible events…well, we will continue to have them anyway, but they would be a little less terrible.

We need stronger building codes for neighborhoods in fire-prone areas. Use more concrete and slate and rock, and less wood. Surround them with wide pebble barriers and water pipes that spray upwards, and have dedicated water towers for water. Bury the power lines, or at least improve them. Build in-place shelters where families can huddle while a fire burns past (we use closet tornado shelters in Texas, and those ought to be required in OUR building codes). Manage the excess fuel in these areas.

Evacuation is not enough…people just rebuild and wait for the next disaster. We need to either stay out of these areas or adapt to survive them.

Reply to  Robert of Texas
November 21, 2018 4:35 pm

What I noticed in a lot of images from after the fire is that everything on ground level had been burned but that higher trees still were green in the upper part. So the strong wind not only made the fire move fast but also very hot consuming all what could burn very fast and die before it could climb the tree. So if the fire would have found a clean area with brick houses it would maybe have died on its own.

Mark Whitney
Reply to  Robertvd
November 22, 2018 7:06 am

Not necessarily. Windblown embers can travel long distances.

Reply to  Mark Whitney
November 22, 2018 9:30 am

Commentary on the Camp Fire said that embers were traveling 2 miles ahead of the fire. Also the images showing completely destroyed houses among intact trees strongly suggest that it was the embers that ignited the houses not the fire in the trees. Clearly new regulations governing the materials and other aspects of reconstruction, (NJ did this after Sandy, for example).

Jim Mundy
November 21, 2018 2:31 pm

It’s interesting to note that many of California’s ecosystems depend on fire (see http://www.calfire.ca.gov/communications/downloads/live_w_fire.pdf), including the iconic Redwoods. Now some of the redwood trees are over 2,000 years old; are we to assume that these trees developed this adaptation to fire just since the advent of industry in California? Jerry Brown cannot possibly believe the claptrap he is spouting — he just wants to take political advantage of the situation. I personally am very happy to have recently escaped from California in the last year, after many years as a resident there.

John Tillman
Reply to  Jim Mundy
November 21, 2018 3:12 pm

The oak savannah in the Sacramento Valley was also maintained by fire. Indians annually burned off the excess duff and woody fuel, although of course not in the Diablo wind season. Then the Spanish and early Americanos grazed the grassland with cattle, achieving the same result.

Only when Homo progressivus idioticus invaded the region in recent decades was the duff and fine fuel allowed to accumulate, making possible catastrophic fire, devastation and death.

November 21, 2018 3:29 pm

O/T …a nice rain is now moving through my area. This will cross the valley eastward over to Paradise and the surriunding area. Forecast is for 2 more days of rain after this, and another storm 4 days later. This will finally end the Camp Fire.

November 21, 2018 3:32 pm

Yes — California forests and wild lands are hot, dry, and ready to burn every Autumn. If one looks at a map of the history of fires in California, such as this one (pdf), one can see that not only are they ready to burn, they do burn regularly.

Steven Mosher
November 21, 2018 4:07 pm

” Looking at the entire record at Jarbo (back to 2003), northeasterly winds of 30 mph or more have occurred 508 times in those 15 years–not an unusual event. And my inspection of the individual records does not suggest an increasing trend.”

data and code would be nice..

Na, nobody wants to see that.

What lesson did folks learn from the recent take down Nic Lewis did of the paper showing more warming?
What lesson? peer review is not enough. It takes other people looking at the data and methods to insure
that the work was done properly.
What lesson did folks learn from Mcintyre’s take down of Mann? Again, you need other people
looking at the code and data.

Bottom line. Unless code and data is supplied you can just assume the author isnt interested in having others check his work.


Nice article. code and data or it doesnt count for squat

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  Steven Mosher
November 21, 2018 5:22 pm

To be fair, Steven,
There are some studies that are complex enough to require a classic scientific paper. This is what should be supported by data and code, in large part because the interpretation of the data might be contestable.
There are other studies that are so simple and not candidates for argument, that can be stated baldly.
In the present case, the data are public and so those too lazy to grab it to play with might complain. Like reporters who seldom, seldon go back to data and code but happily reword and release to the public.
I have this running argument with our BOM. I send them a report and an elementary spreadsheet illustrating that they have made an error. They reply that they cannot consider submissions that are not peer-reviewed and published. I see it as debasing to science to publish a paper whose skills are no more than arithmetic addition and subtraction and making a canned graph in Excel.
So yes, as always, scientific reports that could be contested need code and data supplied. Simple arithmetic deductions that anyone can do, less so or not at all.

Steven Mosher
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
November 21, 2018 8:25 pm

No data. No code. Not science.
No post hoc exceptions.
You should know me after 11 years of saying the
Same thing to both sides

Steven Mosher
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
November 21, 2018 8:28 pm

Hint geoff.
He did a trend analysis.
No description of how

Reply to  Steven Mosher
November 21, 2018 5:25 pm

It was a blog post, not a paper. Cliff seems like a standup, professional guy, so I’m sure he would provide you with whatever data you would ask for.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
November 21, 2018 6:05 pm

Too lazy to get the daat yourself?

Steven Mosher
Reply to  eck
November 21, 2018 8:26 pm

To lazy to post it.
Nice try

Gerald Machnee
Reply to  Steven Mosher
November 21, 2018 6:34 pm

Well Steve, as they were telling McIntyre, “Where is your study?”
Do you have a problem reading graphs that clearly showed the humidity and that it was not any different this year?

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  Gerald Machnee
November 22, 2018 2:43 am


If true, it is trivial to show how the conclusion was reached. Willis has shown us repeatedly that one cannot eyeball a chart and get a trend or no-trend. Trends are mathematical creations. Subjective impressions are subjective and not amenable to representations through mathematics.

Either he should remove a claim for a trend (or not) or choose another phrase. To describe the trend all he has to say is, “I charted the available data and applied a second order polynomial trend function. The trend is less than xx per decade.”

Reply to  Steven Mosher
November 22, 2018 9:18 am

Bottom line. Unless code and data is supplied you can just assume the author isnt interested in having others check his work.
Like McKitrick when he hides behind Canadian Laws?
Or like Wegman’s failure to provide his code despite repeated requests?

Kristi Silber
November 21, 2018 4:10 pm

“This kind of small diameter fuels is known as chaparral in California, and there was a lot of such ground cover north and east of Paradise.”

This is just a detail, but I don’t think this area is chaparral. Much of the land to the east of Paradise is not currently forested because it’s been clear-cut. On some slopes there are areas of natural herbaceous/shrub mixture, but most of the land the fire passed through would have been forest had it not been cut. In satellite photos the forest roads and skid tracks can clearly be seen on the more recently cut land, along with patches of dead trees left behind either standing or on the ground. In other areas there is regrowth. To the north of Paradise one can clearly see where the forest has been cut.

I was trying to track down the data shown in the graphs to understand it better. I did find a page where you could look at average fuel moisture at Jarbo Gap at different times of day, over a period of years. I first looked at the most recent few years, when averages were a mix above and below 10%. Then I looked at the period between Sept ’04 and Nov ’08, and the averages were all above 10% moisture content. This is not conclusive evidence of anything, really, but it does suggest that average moisture content of vegetation does change over time.


Drought may not be important for how flammable living vegetation is at the end of summer, but it could affect how much dead vegetation there is. A forest of weak trees with sparse canopies could also encourage the growth of understory plants during wetter weather.

In short, it is very hard to “prove” that climate change had nothing to do with the Camp Fire. Maybe it didn’t. Land use and management were certainly factors, probably more important than climate change in this instance. But to dismiss climate change in the general discussion of California wildfire is not warranted even if it wasn’t a big factor in the Camp Fire (not that the OP does that, but some skeptics have).

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Kristi Silber
November 21, 2018 5:05 pm

Kristi, please keep coming here and commenting as just above. Your latish comment on my recent coral epigenetics post where you pointed to problematic aquarium studies was welcomed by me, noting an anxillary topic I chose not to cover in the main post.
Your just above point here is similar. The Camp fire was due mainly to forest mismanagement plus urban/forest interface ‘intrusion’, per Zinke and many others. But long term AGW cannot be ruled out (or in at present).
I have some potential guest posts in process with CtM upon which your prior input would be welcome. Please try to contact me directly via CtM discretion so your input canbe at least partly prebaked.
Highest regards.

Kristi Silber
Reply to  Rud Istvan
November 23, 2018 6:29 pm

Rud Istvan,

Thanks for your kind words. Sorry, but I don’t know what CtM is. Cliff Mass Weather and Science Blog?

Kristi Silber
Reply to  Rud Istvan
November 23, 2018 6:33 pm

Rud Istvan,

Oh! Duh! Charles the Moderator! Will see what I can do.

Reply to  Kristi Silber
November 21, 2018 5:15 pm

It’s not anyone’s responsibility to “prove” that climate change had nothing to do with the Camp Fire. It’s the responsibility of those who claim it did to prove it.

Reply to  icisil
November 21, 2018 6:15 pm


Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  Kristi Silber
November 21, 2018 6:42 pm

The Google Earth historic imagery does indeed show much felling east and north of Paradise. Yesterday I had a look at imagery around Deadwood and Concow. The seems to have been a burst of clearing effort after 2006, but there are other episodes best analysed by those who live there or are studying fires there.
That applies generally. Some reports not that this fire seems to have travelled in places in the low undergrowth while leaving treetops visually unaffected. How this relates to past clearing is not certain to me because I am not a fire expert looking at the detail needed with the knowledge needed.
So I am not nit-picking the observations of others here. Geoff.

Reply to  Kristi Silber
November 21, 2018 9:02 pm

Extreme fire seasons in California correlate with May-Oct rain and average summer temperature, less than 6″ and average temperature above 69ºF give the highest chance of severe fires. This year to now Oroville has had about half an inch since April, no rain since the end of September. The fire started in a grassy area on a rocky slope but the fire couldn’t be reached because of the state of the approach to it, so they called in the helicopters, however they couldn’t do it because of the conditions (lack of daylight and wind). Concow was already burning by the time the helicopters took off. The first structures were burning at 7:35 a.m. an hour after the fire started at 6:30 a.m.

Bruce Cobb
November 21, 2018 4:37 pm

It is also very hard to prove that witches had nothing to do with the Camp Fire. Or space aliens. But to dismiss them outright is not warranted, even if they weren’t a big factor.
The point is, there are two things responsible: fuel load, and weather conditions conducive for large fires. The weather conditions are those that can and do happen in that region, and are likely cyclical. We can’t control such conditions, but the other factor we most certainly can.

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
November 21, 2018 7:33 pm

Natural forest fire ignitions are, like weather events, stochastic. The actual occurrence of a fire can not be predicted (unless you plan to light one that is), just the conditions logged and described.

Same for stochastic earthquake probability ‘forecasts’. They describe the conditions and the effects of the past events and a-seismic creep on the present stress/tension regime in the crust.

It’s the same for thunderstorms. No one knows when, or where, or even if a capping inversion will be overcome by convection towers, to create thunderstorms. But the physically measured, modeled and verified preconditions for severe deep convection cells to form, are actually known, if such a freezing-layer caps are breached in those conditions. And thus to just what sort of storms and damage can result in the worst of known existing preconditions, on any particular day, in any particular location.

Stochastic yes, but a mystery no, but the actual trigger event is unknown in all cases, just the location can be determined.

So you can forecast how bad thunder storms can get in known observed conditions with quite good accuracy, but only >if< convection does break through a freezing layer.

You just can't predict which cloud will do it or when.

But you can predict when the clouds are more likely to successfully trigger a dangerous deep-convection cell development.

The same applies to fires, you just can't predict the spark, but you can and do know when the preconditions are worse, and what will likely occur if the combustion is triggered, and forecast severity.

The political-voodoo that fires are worse due to human induced climate-change is clearly not responding to the known, it is not scientific, it is completely asinine, and an example of willful ignoring of what is known, or knowable.

If you can mange the preconditions of severe fires then do so! DO SPECIFICALLY THAT!

Reduce the fuel, and reduce its ability to burn fast. That's the only effective path to reducing the severity when the preconditions are bad.

And that's infinitely more important than any ludicrous pointless arguable nonsense about contriving an absurd political farce of blaming human beings for fire conditions.

The humans can reduce the severity they can not control the occurrence.

Politicians are like toilet paper, use once and dispose of early–do not re-use, it’s just not worth it.

November 21, 2018 6:22 pm

excellent analysis
thank you
will cite

see also


“Trend analysis for each calendar month of more than 100 years of daily maximum (TMAX) and daily minimum (TMIN) temperatures show an overall warming trend in the data that is driven primarily by warming in the nighttime minimum TMIN and not by the daytime maximum TMAX; and mostly by warming in the colder winter months and not by warming in the hotter summer months. This pattern is seen in both hemispheres. These trends imply that the global warming trend is one of diminishing coldness rather than increasing warmness.”

John F. Hultquist
November 21, 2018 6:36 pm

While this is another good post –
hope Jerry Brown and friends {Jay Inslee} see it –
by Cliff Mass, I had to check the phrase “Diablo winds.”

My first visit to California was in summer 1963 and I was told then it rarely rains between June and November. At that time too, I heard of the Santa Ana winds: “…recognized and reported in English-language records as a weather phenomenon in Southern California since at least the mid-nineteenth century.” [Wikipedia]

Likewise, on the Wikipedia page for Diablo wind, there is this:

The term first appeared shortly after the 1991 Oakland firestorm, perhaps to distinguish it from the comparable, and more familiar, . . .

And, we also have Diablo Wind translating to Devil Wind. That’s nice.

There are many named winds. A few are: Bora, Chinook, Föhn, Harmattan, Mistral, . . ., Zonda.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  John F. Hultquist
November 21, 2018 8:40 pm

Oops! Needed to close the italics after the word familiar.

Mike the Forester
November 21, 2018 8:12 pm

The climate hasn’t changed but the vegetation certainly has: the plants grew. They grow every year. In the Sierra foothills net biomass growth (gross growth minus decay) is upwards of 2 tons per acre per year. Ten years of no treatment means 20 tons have accumulated. In 100 years as much as 200 tons per acre may be present.

It is wrong to assume that forests or chaparral are static over time. Even clearcuts grow new fuels. Today’s landscape is not the same as last year’s. Stewardship is not a one time event; instead it is a annual task.

The models used do not account for plant growth. They are thus deficient in that they do not use the key explanatory variable. Why analysts fail to account for plant (fuel) growth is a mystery to me. The statement “Global warming is a profoundly serious threat to mankind” shoots the entire post in the foot, but the lack of consideration of vegetation growth is a head shot.

Reply to  Mike the Forester
November 22, 2018 12:04 am

So their may be a direct effect of CO2 fertilization when the ‘climate change’ effect is improbable.

Rod Smith
Reply to  Jan
November 24, 2018 2:26 pm

see my post below

November 21, 2018 10:26 pm

Can anyone list the temperature history for this area please?


Reply to  LittleOil
November 22, 2018 4:48 am

Little Oil – this link shows the variability of temperatures and the types of climate in California.
Notice how much daily temperatures can vary – by as much as around 20C.

Roy Everett
November 22, 2018 1:56 am

But children in the UK are being told in schools and in their children’s news magazines[1] that Camp Fire IS what climate change looks like. Any school teacher who points out that this is a fraud is liable to dismissal.
[1] First News: this is what climate change looks like. http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=wc1zqe&s=9#.W_Z9F9SLQsa

November 22, 2018 1:59 am

During our trip last year from Anchorage to San Francisco we kept being told how the original inhabitants used to burn off the undergrowth every few years and this mostly prevented major fires from destroying the mature timber.
Now you can’t do that because …………… fill in the greenies latest mantra yourselves.

Fred Middleton
Reply to  Oldseadog
November 22, 2018 9:31 am

Sir Frances Drake commented on the hills-mountains burning in his log book. 1577-80 Around the world. Man started fire? Or natural? Both maybe.

November 22, 2018 3:01 am

On the otherside of the coin we had a lot of flooding in Somerset a few years ago. We were told ManBearPig was to blame but it turns out it was wetland mismanagement of course.

Rod Smith
November 22, 2018 1:12 pm

Who said “Never let a good tragedy go to waste?” Was it Rahm Emmanuel? Well, as despicable as it is to use such a great tragedy for political gain, Gov. Brown may be doing that. Or he’s just really ignorant.

After Pres. Obama;’s 2014 SOTU speech, in which he blamed California’s drought on AGW, even the alarmists NYT and Columbia Univ. “Earth Observatory” called him on it:

Seems to me that Obama and Brown miss the effects of high mountain ranges and conflate dry desert heat with general warm temps. IF GW is true, California should be getting WETTER. DUH. Just look at where the most solar heat is received: The tropics. Where does it rain the most? The tropics. For recent evidence, just look at the last El Nino: California was warmer and WETTER.

Obama and Brown: Great scientists. Maybe they should just stick with law? Or not. Maybe dogcatcher? Yes! The dogs would get away 🙂

Johann Wundersamer
December 1, 2018 4:52 am

The houses are built close to the tracks.

The inhabitants wished that the embankments were not mowed – dampening noise annoyance.

The arid stalks were fire-accelerators – the fire jumped BEFORE the train from one embankment to the other. Tinder.

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