Minimizing California Wildfires

What’s Natural

Guest post by Jim Steele

How do we focus our resources to minimize the devastation caused by California’s wildfires? First, we can reduce ignitions. California’s deadliest fire, the Camp Fire and California’s 2nd largest fire, the Thomas Fire were ignited by faulty powerlines during high wind events. California’s sprawling power grid has rapidly expanded since 1970 to accommodate the influx of 20 million people. Accordingly, powerline-ignited fires increased area burnt by five times relative to the previous 20 years.

California’s largest fire (Mendocino Complex), its 3rd largest (Cedar Fire), 5th largest (Rim Fire), and 7th largest (Carr Fire), were all ignited by accidents or carelessness. Uncontrollably, more people cause more accidents, suggesting California’s wisest course of action requires creating more defensible space.

In contrast, the August 2020 fires, which will likely rank in the top 10 of burned area of California, were all naturally started by an onslaught of dry lighting. This prompted Governor Gavin Newsome to blindly blame climate change, implying we need to focus resources on minimizing CO2 concentrations to improve fire safety. But the science doesn’t support Newsome’s narrative.

Some researchers blame global warming, regardless of increased ignitions. They argue warmer temperatures dry out the vegetation more quickly, so more of California burns. Indeed, warmer drier weather creates a higher fire danger. But fire experts only found that correlation within forests. They found no such correlation along California’s central coast where the August 2020 lightning fires have been raging. The experts stated, as California’s summer drought proceeds, “grasslands and coastal chaparral are usually already hot, so they are not as sensitive to the extra heat from global warming.” And it was grasslands and chaparral the lightning ignited.

More resources must be focused on managing invasive grasses, or California will continue to experience larger fast-moving fires, regardless of climate change. Grasslands and chaparral provide an abundance of insensitive “fine fuels” that dry out within a day. Grasses grow quickly and unless managed provide more fuel for hotter fires. Fine fuels act as kindling that can ignite larger logs in cooler habitat. Invasive grasses increased ground fuels in desert regions, promoting more frequent fires that were once uncommon because the deserts’ lacked enough fuel. Along California’s coast invasive grasses have likewise usurped areas of  shrublands. Furthermore, grasses provide a corridor for grassland fires to spread into chaparral and forests. The greater the abundance of grasses the faster and further fires spread.

Finally does dry lightning increase with climate change? Dry lightning usually occurs when the lower 1000 feet of the atmosphere is warm and dry and is overlain by unstable air at mid-elevation between 1000 and 5000 feet. The greatest occurrence of dry lightning happens in New Mexico and Arizona. Moisture pumped northward from the Gulf of California and Mexico causes mid-elevation air to become unstable and turbulent, generating lightning and precipitation. However, while the lightning reaches the ground the precipitation doesn’t, evaporating in the dry desert air. In the Sierra Nevada, dry lightning causes 69% of the lightning fires, peaking in August. But lightning is uncommon along California’s coast because the ocean provides a cool marine layer that inhibits convective turbulence.

However, in August 2020 a high-pressure system centered over the Southwest pushed the marine layer offshore. Simultaneously the high-pressure system carried air northward along the California coast, while entraining a seasonally unusual layer of moisture from a decaying tropical storm and setting the stage for dry lightning.  Such coastal events are so uncommon and erratic weather models have great difficulty simulating and predicting them. Thus, it’s impossible to attribute coastal dry lightning to climate change and resources would be best spent on fuel management.

Published in the Pacifica Tribune September 2, 2020

Jim Steele is Director emeritus of San Francisco State’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus and authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

71 thoughts on “Minimizing California Wildfires

  1. Jim,
    How much effect does grazing restriction have on the spread of invasive grasses? Many areas along the Central Coast that were cattle operations in the past are now open space with no grazing allowed to lower fuel loads. I have seen numerous grass fires stop at the fence lines between state owned and private property where the private side was cropped low enough to stop or slow the fire line and make control easier!
    I guess it comes down to a choice between methane producing cows and CO2 producing wildfires; I know which one I prefer but I’m not sure of the data for each side.
    Thanks again for all your interesting posts!

  2. There is only one way mankind can reduce wildfires – reduce the fuel load.

    Off-season Burnoffs, fire breaks and allowing property owners to reduce their fuel loads will all help.

    Or you could try and reduce both ignition sources and weather patterns – assuming you have the godlike powers to change those.

    In Australia – we have invented a whole cottage industry regarding the aboriginal practice of indiscriminately setting fires, they call it ‘Indigenous Fire Management’.

    • “indiscriminately setting fires”

      Nothing could be further from the truth. Aboriginal fire management strategies in a fire prone landscape have been honed to a fine art over thousands of generations. All of a sudden fire authorities, farmers and other land managers are scrambling to learn how those practices could safely help reduce the fuel loads and the risk of the sort of devastating fires we saw last summer.

        • I am not a big Loydo fan, but it doesn’t matter who says a thing; what matters is if the statement makes sense or not.

          In this case (and it may be a rare one) Loydo’s statement is exactly correct. Indigenous burning was based on millennia of traditional knowledge and experience.

          Aboriginal peoples burned for a variety of survival reasons including hunting, fuel management, firewood creation, and enhancing post-fire plants for human and animal consumption.

          Aboriginals did patch burning which reduced the likelihood of devastating fires that could wipe out entire watersheds. While entire watersheds would recover after a few seasons, the hiatus in food production could starve the human inhabitants.

          Fuel management today has a slightly different goal. Losing entire watersheds to a single fire does not starve the residents, but it does do extreme damage to modern homes, water systems, power, and valuable vegetation. Patch burning, however, is not a viable modern fuel management technique.

          For one thing, patch burns can easily get out of control. For another, modern ownership patterns do not lend themselves to patchiness. Also the smoke from open broadcast burning can impair air quality.

          Grazing, mowing, and mulching are better modern techniques. Thinning forests to separate crowns can prevent crown fires. Where these techniques are used is important; in modern times reducing fuels around homes and along roads and powerline corridors is paramount.

          Access to treated areas is also important. Reducing fuels does not prevent fires, though it can minimize their severity. The ability to get fire engines quickly into fuel breaks can prevent fire spread. Fuel breaks also should be located where topography aids in fire control.

          In the case of the recent CA fires, if all those modern techniques had been applied, the fires would have been much smaller as well as cheaper and easier to control.

      • The land use has changed and we don’t really have any solid data but sure lets give them a go as it’s a nice politically correct feel good story. I always enjoy watching a slow moving train wreck so I am all for it. Meanwhile don’t mind me if I just continue protecting my property the same way we always have and withstood around 5 major fires.

      • Don’t know much about it but the aboriginals where I live (Karankawa) burned to get food or to thwart their enemies. Not very organized, no climate models, moved with the food, drought and flood. Not totally indiscriminate, but no settlements.

      • Loydo, as someone who lived with semi wild, full-blood aboriginals and familiar with their fire culture, I can advise that as they could not live in rainforest because they had no clothes or bedding to protect them from ticks, leeches etc. and couldn’t throw spears and boomerangs in those same areas to hunt and provide food, they simply had to remove this problem at every opportunity so they continually set fire to dry eucalypt forest alongside, when the wind was favourable, and tried to remove this problem.

        After 50,000 years they probably removed at least half the rainforest.

        They didn’t manage the “fire prone landscape”, they greatly contributed to it.

    • California should suppress the wildfire ignition by lightning using a proven method that worked for electric utilities – force them into bankruptcy. Sue St. Peter!

    • Indigenous Fire Management was not restricted to Australia. Just a bit north of California, in what is now British Columbia, First Nations have been using Tradition Burning from time immemorial.

      Community members with cultural burning knowledge are selected to be interviewed. In the past, these members burned areas in order to enhance berry-production and foraging for deer, medicine plants, etc. Each community will have different goals and objectives. Our research determined that burning for the reasons stated above is no longer done. \n
      The Indigenous cultural burning storytelling and practices project is a companion initiative to the Revitalizing traditional burning: Integrating Indigenous cultural values into wildfire management and climate change adaptation planning project.\n
      The Indigenous cultural burning storytelling and practices project facilitated an opportunity for the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society (FNESS) Forest Fuel Management Department to conduct spring cultural burns (March 2019) alongside Shackan Indian Band and Xwisten (Bridge River) First Nation respectively in collaboration with BC Wildfire Service (BCWS). \n
      Two videos were produced. Each video is approximately 8-12 minutes in length, and features interviews with representatives from FNESS, Shackan Indian Band, and Xwisten First Nation about the importance of cultural burning revitalization. \n
      In closing, the Indigenous cultural burning storytelling and practices project broadens learning opportunities about cultural burning revitalization to strategic partners across the various orders of government (e.g., provincial and federal governments) as stories/case studies on

  3. How about learning from Australia’s abhoriginals who have had 50,000 years to acquire and perfect their knowledge of ‘cool’ burns. They could be brought in to advise as it is apparent that teh Western US and Eastern Australia have similar ecologies because of the prevelance of fire resistant/tolerant flora. It is vital to learn how best to live within a wild landscape that has a tendancy to burn.

  4. Good posting, Jim, as usual. The problem of invasive grasses, especially cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), is serious in northern Nevada and central California. This grass, an invasive species imported from Asia, takes over grasslands, especially where some overgrazing may have occurred, and has two characteristics that are a problem: it grows really fast in wet spring conditions and it dries out quickly in early to mid-summer heat. Cattle eat it only in the spring, then can’t digest it when dry. Us geologists working in northern Nevada have problems with the seeds plugging up the lower part of vehicle radiators and don’t dare get caught in a down-wind canyon without exit when lightening is around, as the cheatgrass fires move with incredible speed. I see that Gov. Newsome has just signed a $B program to control fires in Kalifornia, let’s see how the money is spent.

    • I’ve watched a local hillside turn pink (cheat grass) over a period of a few years.
      The CG seems to have an advantage over the native grass. Recently a pair
      of Russian researchers were in the NW studying knapweed and how it
      has gained advantage over native foliage and what they found was
      that the knapweed uses native fungus via “fungal enthropy” . It
      involves the roots via the fungus producing something like 20 different
      chemical, two of which make the soil sterile to everything but the
      knapweed. It is believed that cheatgrass does something similar.

      Google cant find anything about this but IIRC these researchers have produce
      a GM fungus that makes the seeds sterile. I believe that is the direction that
      invasive weeds will go over time…

  5. From ProPublica …

    They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen?
    This is a story about frustration, about watching the West burn when you fully understand why it’s burning — and understand why it did not need to be this bad.
    [ … ]
    But we’ve had far too little “good fire,” as the Cassandras call it. Too little purposeful, healthy fire. Too few acres intentionally burned or corralled by certified “burn bosses” (yes, that’s the official term in the California Resources Code) to keep communities safe in weeks like this.

    “Academics believe that between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California. Between 1982 and 1998, California’s agency land managers burned, on average, about 30,000 acres a year. Between 1999 and 2017, that number dropped to an annual 13,000 acres. The state passed a few new laws in 2018 designed to facilitate more intentional burning. But few are optimistic this, alone, will lead to significant change. We live with a deathly backlog. In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.

    https://www.propublica.org/article/they-know-how-to-prevent-megafires-why-wont-anybody-listen

    California is not “following the science”.

  6. A public service message for California:
    How does one prevent accidental wildfires?
    Start them on purpose.

    Your welcome.

    They can manage their forests, shrub lands, and grass lands properly or they all can burn. And No, they cannot have a federal bailout.

    • “Start them on purpose.”

      Yes, the article asks the wrong question. The correct question is how can we maximize California widlfires? The recent lightning fires, considering the number, the area, and the benefits, were among the safest fires in years. The main reason was there wasn’t much wind. The fires were about 1/2 CalFire and 1/2 NFS. The NFS let theirs burn. They have that luxury with relatively few residents in their lands.

      CalFire used the ongoing fire loophole to set as many fires as they could. The media would show a picture of a “backfire” that was not a backfire. Some captions even told the truth and admitted they were setting “controlled fires”.

      Even the hapless Gavin Newsome admitted they needed more fire.

  7. Are there any natural causes of wildfire ignition other than lightening, volcanoes or asteroid strikes?

    • Spontaneous ignition, especially in wood chip piles, occurs frequently in lumber processing yards. I would imagine that it can happen in nature, though is probably rare. I suppose that sparks generated from collisions of falling rocks could act as ignition sources. All of these things would be rare compared to lightening.

      • As you acknowledge wood chip piles are not natural. The same applies to piles of manure and other similar human constructs. But spontaneous combustion in loose leaf litter on a forest floor- I don’t think so. The question of peat bog fires, for example in Scotland, is sometimes raised but even these I think are human influenced by the digging of drainage ditches, allowing the peat to dry sufficiently to burn.

    • It isn’t huge but in Australia “Fire hawks” .. Whistling Kites, Black Kites and Brown Falcons and a couple of others native birds. Originally thought an aboriginal myth it has been conclusively proved and photographed and is getting more common with the number of humans camping.

    • In the Great Plains, we sometimes have manure piles spontaneously combust.

      They truck loads from a feed yard and pile it up on the edge of a field (to be spread later as fertilizer). If the manure is too “raw” and the piles are too large, the heat from bacterial decomposition can reach combustion temperature.

      • Have seen that happen when dairy farmers pile manure for later spreading. Lots and lots of manure involved in dairy farming. lol

  8. “Thomas Fire were ignited by faulty powerlines during high wind events”
    How?
    My understanding was the proximity of tree limbs causing high voltage arching which was caused by the power company not being allowed to clear trees from the power line path.
    We setup 5 miles of ‘electric fence’ this summer to raise some ‘grass fed’ cows, once a week I ATV the fence line with a weed whacker…

      • Depends on the width you want to spray on either side of the fence ->Grew up with electric fences and livestock. Grass and weeds can reach quite a distance then fall over and hit the fence if only spraying a narrow band of roundup under the fence. So you either have to spray wide (and often in wet enviros), mechanically remove grass/weeds or use a combination of both. We mostly used mechanical removal with spraying just a narrow band directly under the fence. Spraying directly under the fence just made it easier because we didn’t have to spend the time working around poles and under wire.

        FYI roundup has it’s drawbacks which are really evident when trying to keep fencing clear. It’s a grass killer, not brush. It doesn’t sterilize the ground so you have constant regrowth. Like all chemicals it has to be applied properly or is ineffective. Livestock is to be kept clear for a period of time so they don’t ingest it (can you believe we had a horse that loved eating roundup flavored grass?). It can’t rain for a period of time after application or it’s washed off, real problem in my neck of the woods during spring time when the grass grows so fast your lawn needs to be mowed 3x week.

        That said the old weed burner fence chargers have not been sold for a long time. Those fence chargers were built to purposely burn weeds/grass off of the fence. What’s for sale today can blacken grass/weeds but are designed not to start a fire. Still a risk but not at the level it used to be, instead the fence grounds out and quits being effective so the cows walk right through it.

  9. It is not just the blanket clearing of vegetation.
    Individual risk assessment is needed for each community.
    Example
    The camp fire started about 6:30 am
    The sheriff started issuing evacuation orders about 7:30
    By 8:00 8 residents died near Concow when a tree blocked the road.
    About 80 residents died the the paradise area, mostly.
    Paradise and the surrounding area have a high percentage of elderly.
    Proper clearing of vulnerable components of the community and clearing of strategic roads ( for fire breaks and escape routes) is very important.
    The problem is environmentalists are are to all clearing no matter how small.

  10. I am just simply amazed that the power companies in CA are not required to keep trees trimmed back from high voltage power lines. Here in KS the power companies have to keep the trees back from the power line a distance equal to the height of the power line. In my younger days these were prime area for us to race our dirt bikes! Even in lower voltage areas, e.g. residential areas, they annually survey the lines and trim the trees back so that wind and ice loads on the trees won’t cause the trees to sag onto the lines and cause outages.

    Sounds to me like CA power companies are falling down on the job.

    • Regarding California power lines and resulting fires, keep in mind that the California government has arranged things so that 1/3 of California’s power comes from out of state over very long power lines. The new “renewable” power sources are from wind farms on mountain tops or solar farms in distant deserts far removed from coastal population centers — more power lines. Power plants conveniently located near the cities must be closed down, even non-polluting nuclear power. They intentionally maximize power lines, especially over sparsely occupied forested areas. Add to this the socialist regulators who attempt to modify the increasing electric costs to consumers by reducing the funds available to the power companies to perform maintenance along these extensive power lines, and guess what happens!

      • To give you a sense of major contributors to meeting the high 45.5 gigaWatt power demand at 7 PM Pacific Daylight Time tonight (on this first of 3 expected particularly hot days demanding air conditioning for many Californians), 25.5 gW were from good old natural gas fired power plants; 9.6 gW were being imported from out of state; 4.6 gW were from large hydroelectric dams; 2.3 gW were from nuclear power; and 2.5 gW from all ‘renewables’ (including a steady 0.9 gW geothermal all day; 0.5 gW from wind (which had declined from 2.0 gW the preceding midnight to 0.1 gW by 7 AM and stayed well below 1.0 gW all day until holding at 1.0 gW after 9 PM); and a 0.2 gW slight residual solar (which had peaked mid-day at 10.9 gW and would soon become a minus 0.03 gW for the rest of the night).

        Anybody else care to trade away traditional electric power generation resources for ethereal wind and solar ’cause you can’t imagine what could possibly go wrong?

    • Tim Gorman,
      The CA power companies have been forced by the state government to purchase large quantities of expensive Unreliable Energy from the wealthy wind and solar developers in recent years. Prior to the hysteria over CAGW, PG&E would spend a large amount of money trimming trees and removing fuel loads from under power lines. I would imagine there was a tacit agreement between them and the state officials that regulate them to concentrate on the Unreliable wind and solar power and not worry so much about the infrastructure. Now PG&E is bankrupt and Calizuela is trying to figure out how to produce enough electricity to keep from losing all their major industries and it’s tax revenue!

    • It’s more like they aren’t permitted to cut the trees. This is California after all. Can’t have those evil utility companies hurting the poor trees.

    • They do trim, every year, I watch them in my area. Just before the Paradise Camp fire a PG&E supervisor told me, on a survey visit, that they were expanding the width of space trimmed back from the power lines. Then the fire – obviously money tightened – back to usual trimming.
      PS, the camp fire came within 50 feet of my abode, which is where they were surveying when I was told about the plan.

      • I would add that the camp fire did not start in or near trees. The sparking power line was over an area of dry grass only. The wind fanned the flames and pushed them up the canyon wall into Paradise.

        • G Mawer,
          Weren’t the lines that sparked the fire close to 100 years old? That’d definitely be an infrastructure upgrade problem!
          Much of the PG&E and So Cal Edison dam and hydroelectric system was built in the 1920s and 30s so deferring maintenance and replacement for expensive Unreliables is a series of disasters waiting to happen!

          • It was not the age but a maintenance issue. The hooks/carriers that hung the lines from the tower cross arms wore out. That dropped a line so that the wind could cause the short – and resultant fire.

            This fire was horrific, but had nothing to do with climate change. Our climate has always been this way. The town has dogged the bullet year after year – but not that time!

      • Hence the use of convicts, cheap labor, tell unions to go f**k themselves, then drag them into the street and MAKE them f**k themselves.

  11. This is going to sound stupid, but would high pressure sprinkler systems have any applications in creating fire stops?

    • I’m sure others with more knowledge will educate us but if you are talking about forest fires, burning embers can travel long distances on the wind. Probably not much sprinklers could do about that.

    • pochas,

      For your house, a high pressure sprinkler system is capable of stopping a raging grass fire. (Assuming you don’t have 6′ tall big bluestem grass right up to your walls.)

      For forest management, it won’t work – the “problem” covers millions of acres.

    • What I had in mind is a system of high pressure nozzles mounted on a 50 ft pylon and capable of being automatically rotated in a 180 degree pattern. One of these could easily protect a 200 foot area. They could be positioned as fire stops to protect residential areas in specific situations.

  12. California grasses grow more quickly in the wetter winters, then dry efficiently in the dry summers. Thus providing fuel for larger blazes.

    And since we are talking grass, its clear that the idea that only lack of forest management is responsible for fires is nonsense.

    Of course its climate change burning California. You can’t all keep pretending it isn’t.

    • “the idea that only lack of forest management is responsible for fires is nonsense”
      Of course it’s not the entire problem – but it contributes to the problem. No problem anywhere has only one cause.

        • Fair to say that at zero percent CO2 there will in short order be no fires again. So yes CO2 is the problem.

          Not sure the solution is as good as just intelligent fire management as yet not in evidence.

    • ROFL it is the bogey man did it claim … so what do I do about climate change to stop the fires next year? Can you give me a plan, the cost and how soon I can expect until the wildfires will be under control?

      • Oh dat nasty Climate Change…
        Spank it and put it to bed with No Supper
        Put it in a round room and tell it to sit in the corner
        Lock it up in solitary confinement on just a bread and soda diet
        We’ll teach dat Climate Change a thing or two

    • Have you ever tried to extinguish a grass fire? Is it easier to fight than a forest fire? Do you believe that the Oakland Hills Fire in 1991 (over 3,000 homes destroyed) was caused by “climate change”?

      The Oakland Hills Fire was fueled by huge eucalyptus trees. Thirty years later they have grown back, and nature lovers are successfully preventing their elimination. It is impossible to obtain a fire insurance. Of course, griff will blame the fire when it happens on climate change. Very scientific. Amazing how many things can be scientific.

      • Curious George,
        I’ve tried to put out a few small grass fires in my time; mostly only succeeded in burning the hair off my arms and legs!
        The fires in the East Bay hills are a regular historical feature since the 19th Century. My favorite architect, Bernard Maybeck, had numerous houses he designed burn in fires in Berkeley and Oakland in the early 20th Century. He also designed an amazing castle for Phoebe Hearst on the McCloud River in NorCal that burned down from a kitchen fire. This may be why his later works tend use concrete and steel instead of the wood beams and shingles so common in his early designs! Some great examples of his designs are the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Berkeley and the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. The church in Berkeley is especially lovely in the spring when the wisteria is blooming!
        Having worked as a cabinet maker while attending an art and architecture school in Paris, his philosophy was that houses were pieces of furniture that people lived in. His designs often included fixtures and built-in furniture specific to each home; these were mostly lost in the wildfires that regularly sweep up the hills of Berkeley and Oakland where many of his pre-Craftsman houses were built. It was a great loss for the owners and for history but the current residents still encourage overgrowth of vegetation around their homes and leave the explosively flammable eucalyptus, too!

    • griff
      You apparently got nothing out of Steele’s article. You must be speaking from personal experience! How long have you lived in California?

      • To the extent that griff reads anything, it’s only to skim it looking for disjointed facts that he can use to support his religious beliefs.

    • “And since we are talking grass, its clear that the idea that only lack of forest management is responsible for fires is nonsense.”

      The notion that fire can’t be used for grass management is nonsense.

    • griff can’t help himself, she actually is that stupid.

      According to the article that you didn’t read, the grasses that grow fast then dry out are an invasive species. CO2 caused people to import seeds?

      Beyond that, forest management and grassland management are two entirely different things. Something that your small brain is apparently incapable of understanding.

      If it’s climate change that is causing these changes, I sure would like to see the evidence. And no, being different from last year is not evidence.
      California has always had a history of dry years followed by wet years. Today’s droughts are pikers compared to those a few hundred years ago.

  13. Forest management is absolutely the key to avoiding catastrophic wild fires.

    We burn at our farm twice a year. Disking (as shown is icisil’s video) creates almost 100% effective fire breaks. Our rule of thumb is fire break width is 10x the height of the burn material. When burning 2′ high wheat stubble, the break needs to be 20′ wide.

    However, we have some areas that are too rough or too remote to disc. (This is similar to typical forest management prescribed burns.) When planning big hot fires – you must burn in small fire breaks prior to the big fires. You can control almost any fuel material WHEN YOU PICK THE WEATHER CONDITIONS.

    I have put out break fires in the evening using only my drip torch. Use your periods of low winds and early morning or late evening high humidity to burn your fine fuels. Under ideal conditions, you can make the fire pull back in on itself. Under slightly tougher conditions, you can put out your controlled burns with a swatter and backpack sprayer. I have never had to utilize our fire trailer pump while burning in fire breaks under ideal conditions.

    Once you have created your initial fire breaks, then you can then safely do your hot burn on a day with drier and windier conditions. Likewise, for the forest, you could then control your late season forest fires.

    OTOH, I have been around several prairie wild fires that were loose under terrible conditions. When it is 100 degrees, with very low humidity and 35 MPH winds, an entire battalion of fire trucks cannot stop the blaze.

    I have asked an Oregon smoke jumper why they do not perform early season “safe” burns in California. He says they have tried, but are always denied permission due to air quality rules.

    • “Under ideal conditions, you can make the fire pull back in on itself”

      It’s not that difficult here in the east. Just wait for a light but steady wind and let the fire spread upwind. To do that you need dense enough surface material to burn steadily upwind. I’ve burned oak litter upwind into 20 mph winds which is a little dicey. You also have to make sure there are no large clumps of ladder fuels to light the trees.

  14. “creating more defensible space.” A goal which can be achieved by using the 100s of thousands of convicts Cali has to house and care for. Instead of jailing the non-violent you put them in work release programs and get the fuel load knocked down, first by clearing extensively around structures, then by creating fire breaks to limit how far and fast wildfires can move. It is how it used to be done, before environazis blocked people from doing such things. Oh, and round them up and put them to work, too. They are so concerned about the environment? Fine, they can spend 4 months out their year working to protect it. Unpaid.

  15. There will be fires. There have always been fires. They are unavoidable.
    Windmills and solar panels don’t fight fires. People fight fires and people cannot manage big fires.
    We decided to develop and live where we have not mitigated properly.

    Big fuel … big fire … big losses. Little fuel … little fire … little loss.

    Little fires are controllable. Big ones aren’t. Reduce the big fuel loads. Control the small fires. Then worry about everything else.

  16. It all comes down to proper stewardship, specifically lack of stewards.

    Until recently (1970’s), most of the scrub oak woodlands and chaparral in California were not the semi-developed bedroom communities they are today. These lands were grazing land for cattle and sheep, thus were more or less aggressively managed by farming families. Even if these families didn’t do much burning, the livestock did a lot of fuel reduction, and crunching down of brush to nibble at the grasses they wanted. The (very shy) Blacktail deer were much more numerous too. The deer provided some control on the chaparral. However development removed all of the cattle and sheep, and has stopped the annual Blacktail deer migration–their numbers have plummeted.

    The removal of proper stewards without replacement is the key here.

  17. Unfortunately, in the western USA, fuel build-up has gone on so long that the future will have very large fires {Megafires}. There is also the issue of mostly residential development in the wildland-urban-interface (WUI; woo’E).
    Background:
    https://www.north40productions.com/eom-home
    “The Era of Megafires, presented by Dr. Paul Hessburg and created in partnership with North 40 Productions, is a multimedia presentation on today’s wildfire situation, how we got here and what we can do about it.”

    There is also a TED talk that I have not watched, ’cause I attended one of the actual presentations:
    Paul Hessburg, TED, May 2017

  18. Since time began, nature has felt absolutely no obligation to provide “safe spaces” for Earth’s creatures.

    It’s up to us to create our own “safe spaces” by any means available to us.

    If flooding is your nemesis, you need a way to find shelter at a space higher than the waters;
    if wildfire is your nemesis, you need a way to find shelter at a fuel-free space;
    if high wind is your nemesis, you need a way to find shelter out of direct exposure to the wind;
    and so on, and so on, and so on . . .

    I can’t imagine that our Neanderthal ancestors reacted to blizzards by standing around on the plains making noises that could be taken to mean – “oh, what should we do, what should we do?”
    They had worked out that caves, fires and bear hides offered the best response to the blizzards that they would inevitably be hit with.

  19. Wow a whole article and dozens of comment and yet no mention of the elephant in the sky, geoengineering aka weather warfare. Those lightening storms were not from Mother Nature. Educate yourselves before it is too late: geoengineeringwatch dot org

  20. California currently has enough standing and dead wood in its forests to power the entire Californian electricity supply for more than 2 years using efficient combustion – some 500Mt.

    One of the many benefits of increasing atmospheric CO2 through burning fossilised forests is that it accelerates the growth of current forests. Recognising the fuel potential of managed forests provides the opportunity to use all that energy in a controlled way rather than releasing it uncontrollably resulting in widespread damage.

    The bushfires in Australia over the 2019/20 summer could nave powered the entire economy of the country for more than two years if released during efficient combustion for power generation and heating.

    Managed forests are the ONLY renewable energy technology currently available. The bushfires give a hint of the potential. At current levels of CO2, forest productivity is higher than in the entire human existence. Assuming humans can continue to contribute to the increasing level of CO2, the forest productivity will continue to climb.

    Finland is probably the only nation that is making good use of managed forests for energy production.

    The huge effort put into trying to reduce fuel loads and control wild fires would be better directed at mechanical collection of the dead wood and burning it efficiently for electricity generation.

    Early settlers removed the timber around their houses to provide fuel for heating. Collecting the wood for heating reduced the risk of property fire damage.

  21. Much of California does not have rain for 6 months. Not a drop. Then comes hot arid winds that further dry out all vegetation, grasslands or forests. It only takes a single spark from any source … any fire that results is not a gentle nice blaze good for warming hands. They are explosively fast, and can melt iron. One of my coworkers lived in a NorCal Bay Area city, when her area was swept by a firestorm. I happened to be siting with friends atop a hill, looking across at Oakland, on a dry windy, hot day. We noticed a little wisp of smoke across the Bay. Inside twenty minutes, a huge cloud of smoke arose, racing across the Bay, covering the sky, like a dark raging river. Then came ashes and papers dropping down from the sky, recipes, bills, letters, and then, silver drops of solder rained down, all the way, 8 miles, from across the Bay. This fire burned for days, very bright and intense. When my coworker returned home days later, her house was completely destroyed, and there were pools of melted metals on the concrete floor, the residue from their car and tools….that is all that remained of her house.
    Note that this firestorm, and the recent one in Santa Rosa, were inside cities.
    Stating that proper management will solve these super intense hot firestorms is wishful thinking. Massive firestorms sweep California, and they are very difficult to control. For example, the SCZ and LNU firestorms are now finally about 85% controlled, after burning for weeks, covering huge areas. It’s equivalent to stating that Florida will solve its hurricanes with good management. No, they won’t. And California’s firestorms are of the same magnitude as hurricanes.
    California needs better fire suppression, and more help from the Federal government.

    • California needs to get rid of all the regulations and laws blocking people from properly maintaining areas around structures and clearing fuel load/managing heavy growth. THAT would go a long way towards minimizing damage from wildfires. Got plenty of convicts, put their a$$es to work.

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