Preventing future forest infernos

Getting past the climate scapegoat, and taking steps that could actually make a difference 

Paul Driessen

The 2020 fire season is nearing its end. But monstrous wildfires continue to rage across America’s western states, devastating towns and habitats, and killing hundreds of people and millions of animals. Politicians and environmentalists continue to rage that climate change is the primary factor, allowing few responsible, commonsense forest management actions that could actually reduce the risks.

Manmade climate change is a convenient scapegoat, but it cannot be separated from natural climate fluctuations and effects. Moreover, even assuming fossil fuel emissions play a dominant role in the human portion of this equation – and even if the Pacific Northwest or entire USA eliminated coal, oil and natural gas – China, India and scores of other nations will not do so anytime soon.

And they will certainly be using fossil fuels to manufacture the wind turbines, solar panels and batteries envisioned by Green New Dealers – and to mine and process the raw materials those technologies require.

The key ingredient in these monstrous, devastating forest fires is fuel. A century of Smokey the Bear fire suppression, coupled with half-century bans on timber harvesting, tree thinning and even insect control has filled western forests with dense concentrations of brush, fallen branches, needles and leaves, skinny young trees and huge older trees – many of them dead or dying – ready to be turned into conflagrations under hot, dry summer and autumn conditions that prevail most years in California and other western states.

It’s a recipe for disasters like the 1871 Peshtigo Fire, 20 miles north of where I grew up in northeastern Wisconsin, on the very same day as the Great Chicago Fire. Blistering flames a mile high moved south at 100 mph, creating “fire tornados” that threw houses and rail cars into the air. Over a million acres of forest were obliterated in two days; up to 2,500 people died, many of them cremated into little piles of ash.

I also recall how American and British bombers deliberately turned Hamburg, Germany into an inferno in July 1943. The first waves of planes dropped “blockbuster” bombs that leveled arms factories and parts of the city known to have mostly wooden structures. They were followed in subsequent days by attacks with incendiary bombs, which turned the wood debris into a firestorm, with tornado winds up to 150 mph, and temperatures of nearly 1500 F. Operation Gomorrah killed over 40,000 people.

A few days ago, I picked up my latest issue of Wired magazine. Daniel Duane’s 12-page article “The fires next time” made a couple now-obligatory references to climate change, but was one of the most detailed and insightful articles I’ve read on the causes and nature of these horrific wildfires. He vividly explains why we are witnessing a “trend toward fires dramatically more catastrophic” than in the past.

Above all, the reason is fuel buildup. CalFire, he notes, has some 75 aircraft and 700 fire engines, and is very good at extinguishing thousands of wild-land fires annually. But CalFire has virtually no fuel-management authority and must simply watch the trees and other fuel get “more and more dense,” creating prime conditions for ever-worsening crown fires that US Forest Service scientist Mark Finney says are big because landscapes are full of tinder and long-burning, heavy fuels. Ditto in other states.

More trees of course generate more roots competing for the same water, further drying everything out. In California alone, this and the 2011-2016 drought and pine bark beetles killed 150 million trees!

Another key ingredient, Duane writes, is the simultaneous burning of many small fires (caused by multiple lightning strikes, eg) that combine light and heavy fuels over a large area, amid mild ambient winds. “As that broad area continues to burn with glowing and smoldering embers over many hours, the separate convective columns of all those many little fires begin to join into a single, giant plume.”

As hot air in the plume rises, air at its base is replaced by air “sucked in from all directions. This can create a 360-degree field of wind howling directly into the blaze … oxygenating the fire and pushing temperatures high enough to flip even … giant construction timbers and mature trees into full-blown flaming combustion. Those heavy fuels then pump still more heat into the convective column…. [which] rises ever faster and sucks in more wind, as if the fire has found a way to stoke itself.” The timbers, branches and entire trees become “firebrands” that can be carried high into the air, a mile or more from the primary fire, then dropped into timber stands and homes, igniting still more firestorms.

Smaller blazes can be controlled, even extinguished. But massive firestorms can be impossible to suppress, saving homes equally hopeless. The primary order of business with mass fires is getting people out of harm’s way, before escape routes are clogged, cars run out of gas, and walls of flame close in.

That means building more escape roads from communities through forests to safety, even in the face of environmentalist opposition and lawsuits. Roads are far less intrusive or harmful than conflagrations. Yet radical greens battle these roads, while praising these unnatural conflagrations as “nature’s way.”

People lived in these areas long before pressure groups, politicians and courts made conflagration conditions this horrific. Actions need to be taken now to prevent more deadly fire cataclysms. That has to begin with removal of diseased, dead and excessive trees and brush. It will take years, decades even, and a lot of effort and money. But failure to halt and reverse the buildup of fuel in our forests is undeniably irresponsible – and deadly. Apache Indian forestry programs prove sound management saves forests.

Blaming climate change is useless and irresponsible. It means waiting 30-50 years or more, just to see if China and India finally replace fossil fuels, perhaps with nuclear power – in the hope that reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide actually reduces climate change, droughts, extreme weather and infernos.

Policymakers, land management agencies and regulators, Native tribes, community associations, industry groups and less obdurate environmental groups should seek collaboration and cooperation, especially on forest management and tree thinning. This is already happening but needs to be expanded greatly.

Educational programs should teach homeowners how to harden and fireproof houses and other buildings against small to midsized fires – and teach judges and politicians the hard realities of modern fires. Above all, those with ultimately life-or-death decision-making authority must understand that the price of bans on timber harvesting and responsible forest management is too often measured in homes and habitats obliterated, wildlife and humans killed, soil organisms incinerated, soils washed away by rainstorms and snowmelts, and millions of acres denuded and desolate for decades.

Tougher building codes for new construction in these areas would save homes, heirlooms and lives. Roofs especially should be made of fireproof or fire-resistant materials. Special financing and low-interest loans would make such new homes and hardened existing homes and buildings more affordable.

Local, state and federal budgets are already stretched to their limits. Funding will have to be redirected from other programs. Another approach could require forestry work for welfare checks. Besides saving habitats and lives, that would build skills, self-esteem and strong work ethics, improve physical fitness, replace a sense of entitlement with a sense of accomplishment, and create connections and opportunities

Another source of funds could be billionaires like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who recently gave $791 million to climate activist groups, as part of his commitment to his $10-billion Earth Fund. Certainly, helping to stop these deadly fires – and the incalculable air pollution, soil erosion, and habitat and wildlife destruction they cause – would be one of the boldest and most effective actions anyone could take to protect Earth’s future, including the majestic at-risk forests in his own backyard.

The bottom line is so simple we shouldn’t even have to state it.

If we don’t act, nature will. We have created this massive fuel-for-fires problem. We can and must fix it. Either we thin out trees, or nature will – with devastating consequences. For people who claim to care deeply about saving our forests for Bambi, spotted owls and other beloved creatures, guaranteeing horrific infernos is quite literally a hellish way to demonstrate our love for Mother Earth.

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of books and articles on energy, environment, climate and human rights issues.

0 0 vote
Article Rating
50 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Al Miller
November 22, 2020 10:11 pm

Well said and I agree it is high time we as a people started using the energy and money being currently wasted on the polititcal game of Klimate and put it into making people’s lives better while restoring honor to people actually practicing scince.

Greg
Reply to  Al Miller
November 23, 2020 3:38 pm

With it now looking increasingly likely that Trump will fail to mount an effective challenge to the wide scale voter fraud and ballot manipulation, don’t hold you breath on a return to reason. This will get a lot worse before it gets better. Sadly Trump was the last hope for sanity on the AGW front.

With Pres. Alzheimer “in charge” I do not even want to imagine what we are in for.

Allencic
Reply to  Greg
November 23, 2020 6:20 pm

Within a very few months after his inauguration. Maybe by Easter. The citizens of this nation, and indeed the world, will wish they never heard the names: Biden, Harris, and Democrat.

Stan Sexton
November 22, 2020 10:52 pm

Global Warming and Forest Neglect explains the increased intensity of the fires but not the increased frequency. Most fires are man-made, but the U.S. Forest Service had a conference on a cause called “PyroTerrorism”. There are instructions on the Internet on how to build remote-controlled incendiary devices. I encourage everyone to Google “Pyroterrorism”. I don’t think it’s Politically Correct for Cal Fire or the USFS to talk about it. But the public should be on the watch for unusual activity in the Forest Lands.

LdB
Reply to  Stan Sexton
November 23, 2020 12:12 am

As per the post you are just playing a different blame game and hoping some action will reduce the fires. There is no guarantee of that and so the more prudent action is be prepared to deal with the fires as and when they occur.

Oldseadog
Reply to  Stan Sexton
November 23, 2020 2:14 am

You may be right, Stan, but I’m not going to use Google to find out, I’ll use a search engine that doesn’t have a pro AGW agenda.

Waza
November 22, 2020 11:52 pm

Good article.
IMO just about every fire prone jurisdiction in either USA or Australia has adequate fire risk plan and adequate knowledge what to do.
It’s just the green infestation in all levels of government that will not allow the appropriate actions to take place.
Examples of fire risk plans for just about every NSW municipalities
https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/plan-and-prepare/know-your-risk/bush-fire-risk-management-plans

I can guarantee that if a municipality doesn’t or can’t carry out clearing as per it’s risk plan, the reason will be because of the reluctance of its own staff.

robl
November 23, 2020 12:03 am

A fire went thru here 23 Jan. I ran away. House ok. Sheds gone. I have a beautiful new shed now. For people living in fire prone areas this link may help.
http://firecom.com.au/bulletin/Calculating%20Forest%20FDI.htm

Steve Case
November 23, 2020 12:12 am

The fuel load problem isn’t anything new. In 1958 forest rangers in Sequoia National Park told visitors that the forest of lesser trees that grew up around the giants courtesy of fire control weren’t natural and represented a fire threat to the park. Sequoias in the park have lots of fire scars from centuries of fires that kept the understories in check.

Doug Huffman
Reply to  Steve Case
November 23, 2020 3:53 am

Similarly in Yosemite NP. There I saw excess fuel gathered into thousands of piles waiting cool moist days to burn. Small Slow Low Cool keeps the fire out of the crowns where it becomes Large Fast High Hot.

It is unfortunate that this fuel is not transported to Glacier Point to reinstitute the Firefall, ended in 1968. LET THE FIRE FALL!

Waza
November 23, 2020 12:17 am

In Victoria Australia
1. Section 43 of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 requires municipalities to keep roads clear for fire safety.
2. Many municipalities have fire risk plans the highlight which roads are to be cleared.
3. After the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, many municipalities complained to the Royal Commission that their was too much environmental red tape to clear roads.
4. The Royal Commission under recommendation 60 required the legislation to be amended to reduce red tape.
5.The states planning law now provide exemptions for municipalities to clear roadside vegetation for fire protection.
6. Even though many municipalities have actions in the risk plans to clear high risk roads, I am unaware of ANY municipality actually using this exemption.

I have to inform people that there is a real disconnect between the fire management experts, the environmentalists, and the engineers within each municipality ( and probably every other authority) in Australia.

I am also very confident the same applies to all authorities in USA.

In summary
There is no need to come up with more plans or strategies.
What is needed is direct confrontation with the green entities stopping the required actions.

John in Oz
Reply to  Waza
November 23, 2020 1:05 am

In the Adelaide Hills where I live (Mount Barker) there are rules that specify that houses in high fire risk areas MUST have 5,000 gallon (~25,000l) water tanks for fire fighting purposes but only for the house owner to use to fight fires.
– no rule for keeping it full
– no requirement to have a fire fighting pump
– can be a plastic tank
– no requirement to have a standard fitting for the fire service to connect to it

We are also told to leave our homes early rather than stay to fight fires, leaving the tank to put itself out when it catches fire and/or melts.

This has meant home-owners are paying several $000’s to put the tank in and, in all probability, never be used.

Waza
Reply to  John in Oz
November 23, 2020 3:16 am

Mount Barker is a beautiful part of the world.
We visited Adelaide before the lockdown.

The 19 year old India MacDonell’s video is unbelievable.
It shows how you can save even a mountain home.
It also shows the problems with tanks and hoses.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-03/indiavision/11915176?nw=0

Annie
Reply to  John in Oz
November 23, 2020 4:17 pm

In our part of Victoria (near Marysville), when we rebuilt we were required to have 10,000litres of water for the CFA to use, complete with the required fitting. We have a large metal tank that can top up our old underground tank for the house. We have a 1,000litre tank for the trailer with a fire pump. Metal (Colorbond) roof on the house also.
We’ve worked our socks off trying to clear flammable rubbish around the home paddock with bonfires during the winter. It’s helped to keep us fit over the winter and topped up our supplies of firewood for the future! Some of the plantings of trees by the previous owners have become large and have diseases in them and are dropping a frightful flammable mess of dead leaves, twigs and branches. We had all our paddocks slashed recently as the growth after a very wet winter was astonishing. Now I hope that a few steers will thrive on the fresh regrowth and keep it down over the summer.
It will soon be tbe 12th anniversary of Black Saturday; the roadsides around here are appallingly overgrown with highly flammable brush…it’s a disgrace. The greenies whinge about clearing ‘habitat’ but don’t seem to have the brains to see that far more wildlife is lost when there is a Black Saturday type firestorm and the soil in some places sterilised to a depth of a metre. They are either utterly clueless or evil, wilfully ignorant.
Excellent article by Paul Driessen btw.

Steve Case
November 23, 2020 12:43 am

Waza November 23, 2020 at 12:17 am
What is needed is direct confrontation with the green entities stopping the required actions.

Not exactly the same, but I am reminded of Aesop’s fable about the mice wanting to put a bell on the cat. The Green Entities are more than an elephant in the living room, they constitute a fire breathing monster.

But yeah, that’s what’s needed.

DavidF
November 23, 2020 1:05 am

“Sigh”

Wildfire has very little to do with temperature. Overiding factors are fuel loading, and moisture content.

Moisture content has very little to do with temperature. It is controlled by air humidity, and rainfall.

The two driest areas on Earth are Antarctica, and the Sahara. (OK, there may be somewhere drier than the Sahara, other than Antarctica, but you get the gist). The coldest, and hottest areas on Earth (for the pedants, see previous comment).

Dry areas are generally due to 2 factors
1. Are you in one of the atmospheric cell dry areas (think Australia, Sahara etc)
2. Are you in the rain shadow of some geologic feature (think Alpine range) of the prevailing wind, and thereby subject to Foehn winds (think Santa Ana winds). For extra credit, go away and look up Temperature Lapse.

This stuff is as old as time, and well understood by those that may well have their asses on the line, when the wildfire that surely will eventuate happens, because the REMFs prevent competent land managers from doing basic sensible stuff to stop the friggin fuel from building up.

Jeez, this pisses me off!!!

MatthewSykes
November 23, 2020 1:22 am

CO2 puts out fires. The obvious solution is more CO2.

boffin77
Reply to  MatthewSykes
November 24, 2020 2:49 pm

Ha!

Vincent
November 23, 2020 2:00 am

Good article! I agree with everything I read. So often in Australia, in the outer suburbs of the city, when I go for a walk along tracks in the ‘natural forest’ areas, or ‘Bushland Conservation’ areas, I see lots of dead branches and fallen tree trunks by the side of the tracks, and the thought immediately springs to mind, ‘What a lot of fuel for a fire’.

Forest fires, storms, floods, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, heat waves, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on, are all natural events which would occur even if humans did not exist.

The problem is, that we don’t learn from ‘History’. The History taught in schools tends to focus on political events and culture in past years and past civilizations, wars, discovery of new continents, and so on. We need to include in History the teaching of past climatic events in the world, that are known, and the role of climate change in the destruction of certain ancient civilizations, even as recent as the 14th century A.D. when the Khmer Civilization in Cambodia (Angkor Wat) was destroyed by several years of severe droughts followed by a few years of massive flooding.

The economic drive to prosperity results in people building cities, towns and houses in areas that are fertile and/or attractive, such as areas close to a river bank with a view of the river, which is very nice, or near or inside a forest, which is very nice, or close to the sea coast, which is very nice.

Preparation for a likely recurrence of previous, extreme weather events, whether bush fires, hurricanes, tsunamis or floods, would not only add to the construction cost, but would deter economic development in the area.

In the interests of economic development, the strategy appears to be, ‘Let’s ignore the history of past weather events and climate trends, and when such events occur, blame them on climate change due to anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

Instead of requiring that huge amounts of resources are spent on building sturdy infrastructure and homes which can resist the effects of the extreme weather events, which certain government authorities such as the BOM know have occurred in the past, Governments continue to encourage economic development as usual, occasionally contribute funds to the rebuilding of infrastructure and homes that are destroyed by extreme weather events, excuse themselves of any blame and incompetence for approving the initial construction of such inadequate infrastructure and homes by blaming the event on AGW, and create a new industry of renewable energy to create the illusion they are tackling the problem.

mike macray
Reply to  Vincent
November 23, 2020 6:38 am

Vincent:
..”..Forest fires, storms, floods, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, heat waves, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on, are all natural events which would occur even if humans did not exist.”

We all have different ‘risk temperatures’ when choosing where to live.
Choosing to live on a Barrier Island in SW Florida, Hurricanes are the main threat, and flood Insurance alas is mandatory with a Fannie or Freddie backed mortgage for most folks.
However, Insurance pays out around 30% on the premium dollar.
A good bookie pays 80 -90% on the premium dollar, no deductables no appraisals no arguments. It’s a no brainer.
Moral of the story: It’s better to Bet on the storm than Insure against it.
Cheers
Mike

Vincent
Reply to  mike macray
November 23, 2020 7:38 am

Mike,
Of course, different areas have different risk factors. Droughts, floods and bush fires are the main concerns over most of Australia. Cyclones tend to be confined to the north and northeast coasts of Australia where severe damage occasionally takes place. On Christmas day in 1974, the city of Darwin on the north coast was almost completely destroyed by a category 4 cyclone. The damage was so extensive it was initially thought there would be no point in rebuilding the city because it might be hit again by a similar cyclone. However, it was eventually agreed that the many destroyed homes could be rebuilt using a more rigorous building code which ensured the buildings could withstand a category 4 cyclone. That was a very sensible decision.

Mickey Reno
November 23, 2020 2:24 am

Hopefully, some of the cry babies and scaredy-cats pimping CO2 caused CAGW will read your extremely sensible article and wake up.

John Pickens
November 23, 2020 2:45 am

While I agree with much of the author’s recommendations about forest management, the rhetoric has issues.

“Hundreds” of deaths in 2020 fire season?
My quick check of Western US fire deaths looks to be closer to 40. Off by a factor of five at least.

And the statement: “He vividly explains why we are witnessing a “trend toward fires dramatically more catastrophic” than in the past.”

This gives the impression that wide ranging fired have never been as common as we are currently experiencing. Not true, geological evidence shows much more extreme fire and drought periods have occurred, just not in the era of 24-7 news reporting, cameras, and, most importantly, higher human inhabitation of wildlands areas.

From a study way back in 2007:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222529083_Prehistoric_fire_area_and_emissions_from_California's_forests_woodlands_shrublands_and_grasslands

From the abstract:

The idea that US wildfire area of approximately two million ha annually is extreme is certainly a 20th or 21st century perspective. Skies were likely smoky much of the summer and fall in California during the prehistoric period. Increasing the spatial extent of fire in California is an important management objective. The best methods to significantly increase the area burned is to increase the use of wildland fire use (WFU) and appropriate management response (AMR) suppression fire in remote areas. Political support for increased use of WFU and AMR needs to occur at local, state, and federal levels because increasing the spatial scale of fire will increase smoke and inevitability, a few WFU or AMR fires will escape their predefined boundaries.

pochas94
Reply to  John Pickens
November 23, 2020 9:42 am

I notice one of the tribes did not want the fires interfered with on their reservation. Their thoughts on this subject would be interesting.

Speed
November 23, 2020 4:01 am

Despite what the logging industry says, cutting down trees isn’t stopping catastrophic wildfires
For decades, Oregon’s timber industry has promoted the idea that private, logged lands are less prone to wildfires. The problem? Science doesn’t support that.

As fires continue to threaten communities from California to Colorado, state and federal lawmakers have prioritized logging ahead of methods scientists say provide the best chance for limiting damage from wildfires, including prescribed use of fire to clear brush and programs that could help make homes like Drevo’s more resistant to wildfire.

“This country has a huge amount of money,” Cohen said, noting that annual firefighting costs have surpassed $3 billion nationally. “But if you have a misperception of what the problem is, if you continually define it as a wildfire control problem, then that money largely goes into ineffective kinds of uses.”

https://www.opb.org/article/2020/10/31/logging-wildfire-forest-management/

November 23, 2020 5:04 am

Anecdotal evidence that reason won’t work with Californians. A friend of mine left my hometown in Upstate New York soon after graduation many years ago. This year’s Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center came from home and there was a special interest angle because they inadvertently brought an owl down with the tree. My friend posted an article with pictures of the owl. There was more than one comment on the post about the cruelty of chopping down a tree for Christmas because of the effect on wildlife. No wonder they won’t allow forest management.

Steve Case
November 23, 2020 6:02 am

Nowhere in the article or comments are fire breaks mentioned. Seems to me that roads, that were mentioned, if sufficiently cleared on either side would then double as firebreaks. As I recall, one of the criticisms of logging is they leave enough forest on either side of the road to effectively hide what’s going on. These days it should be the other way around. Being “Green” means good forest management – or at least it should.

Steve Case
November 23, 2020 6:21 am

Here’s an interesting September 2020 link from some outfit that calls itself the California Policy Center, I’m sure the Greens & Liberals (Is there a difference?) aren’t exactly fans, that says much the same as the Paul Driessen article says:

Environmentalists Destroyed California’s Forests

pochas94
November 23, 2020 6:26 am

Firebreaks, clearcuts, thinning, all useful. But if you want to live in a cabin in the woods, be prepared. Store your valuables elsewhere. Be sure you have a secure path of escape and a vehicle with enough fuel to use it. And enough money so you can afford to move elsewhere at a moments notice. If you lose your cabin you don’t want to be homeless in LA.

RB
November 23, 2020 7:35 am

To contradict the article, CalFire DOES have the mandate to manage the forests and brushlands as well as fight fires. It is much more sexy to come rushing in to fight the fires and save the day than it is to unobtrusively clear brush and remove dead trees, so it throws nearly all of its budget into fighting fires. Besides, how can the left claim this is all the fault of man-made global warming if they can remove the actual cause of the fires?

Dan-O
November 23, 2020 8:18 am

Well done article. To the point of excess fuel it needs to be pointed out that
to manage anything such as a large forest system there need to be the
proper tools available. In my state, MT, we lost a critical tool back in 2010,
our pulp mill. A huge loss for the area.
It should have been converted to a bio fuel plant
but politics got in the way and it was scrapped out and sent to China as
scrap. There have been several other attempts to do something with the excess/dead
timber but as I understand it, the Wood Products Association would have to approve it
and they won’t. That was told to me personally by our local district ranger.
So at the present the only thing going is a chipper operation , which is not making
a dent in the problem. When the beetle kill hit and the needle fell off, it exposed the
ground to sunlight. With the trees not using water , springs began to flow and within
a year or so grass came up, chest high. with jackstrawed lodgepole all around. The forest
is literally a death trap in late summer, for miles. I won’t go into the forest
during that time, if a fire gets going you will not make it out alive.

Literally every proposed management project
has been litigated by a few radical enviro groups for years.
They have two federal judges that basically rubber stamp
most of their lawsuits. Our forests are being managed
out of a Washington DC Ivory Tower and it’s a mess.
These lawsuits seldom if ever have to prove their complaint.
They are ruled on generally on some procedural grounds. The
greens are throwing a bunch of mud at the wall and seeing what
will stick..They make enough money to have private biologists working
for them financed by well heeled donors. The forest need to go back to
being locally managed and have some protections put in place to stop the
legal abuse by the greens, such as posting bonds on timber values.

Hoyt Clagwell
November 23, 2020 9:04 am

In California it seems that fire fighting in the last several years has changed from its 20th century concept of “put it out as fast as possible” to now keeping the fire away from inhabited areas, and let the fire burn through the unpopulated areas to eat up the fuel. Unfortunately, the public notices only that the acreage and duration of fires has increased, and therefore the fires must be “worse than ever.” The acreage and duration of fires is directly tied to how you choose to fight them. There were a “record” 4.35 million acres burned in California so far this year, but historians believe that in prehistoric California there were between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned by wildfires every year. And that is without mankind being responsible for 84% of the fires.

Sara
November 23, 2020 10:45 am

Reading the linked “Wired” article, the description of those fires don’t seem a whole lot different than the fires of the Carboniferous epoch – too much fuel, too high an oxygen content (which was left out of the article) and too easy for something to start and just keep going.

Too much heavy unthinned woodland around my area, and the owners don’t think anything about it because they just love the trees so much.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Sara
November 23, 2020 1:35 pm

“Too much heavy unthinned woodland around my area, and the owners don’t think anything about it because they just love the trees so much.”

Properly thinned forests look much nicer than unthinned forests. The remaining trees will “fatten up” much faster and it will be better wildlife habitat. Your neighbors need to understand this.

Sara
Reply to  Sara
November 23, 2020 8:49 pm

Absolutely, JZ. Right on the money, but they do not understand that all those saplings crowding in under the “adult” trees are starving for water, plant-friendly gases like CO2 and nitrogen, and they can’t get that stuff when they have no room under the canopy. I have photos that show skinny maples surrounding an “adult” maple in a heavily-wooded forest preserve, and they look weedy and thin. But no one will dig them out, move them away from the larger trees and give them some real room to grow.

Tombstone Gabby
November 23, 2020 10:50 am

If you want a vivid description of a city on fire read “A Torch To The Enemy” By Martin Caidin. It deals with the incendiary raids on Tokyo, World War 2.

Peter
November 23, 2020 12:08 pm

A question for politicians, journalists and climate activists.

“Given Climate Change is to blame for increased wild fires and given no proposed actions will ever decrease temperatures (only cap increases), the current wild fire levels will therefore never decrease. What , in addition to the essential climate actions , will you do to reduce wild fire impacts since climate action clearly wont reduce wild fire occurences from current levels”.

Substitute Tornadoes/Hurricanes/SLR etc and you have an interesting way to move the deabate.

olddigger
November 23, 2020 1:27 pm

A thought from England, not knowing the terrain, Why is there no collection of all fallen timber undergrowth or other fallen materials in the forest and converted to biomass to utilise the combustion and provide power alleviating the blackouts? The natural source of wildfires would then be reduced, and the same could be applied to the bushfire areas in Australia. It seems a logical solution from a very wet country!

Annie
Reply to  olddigger
November 23, 2020 4:21 pm

Something I’ve often thought. Commonsense ain’t common though. 🙁

PeterW
Reply to  olddigger
November 23, 2020 5:32 pm

Mostly because the value of the recovered fuel would be far less than the cost and damage of doing so. We are talking steep terrain with few access tracks,

Annie
Reply to  PeterW
November 25, 2020 4:02 am

True, but it isn’t all mountainous, is it?

Mike Dubrasich
November 23, 2020 2:07 pm

Some salient points:

1. Smokey Bear (no The) is 75 years old. Smokey blames YOU for fire. That strategy has failed.

2. Without 100 years of fire suppression not one western city, town, or rural area would be standing today. How facile and ignorant it is to blame fire suppression. Does Driessen suggest de-funding fire fighters? What about last 30+ years of Let It Burn policies? How has that worked? Many megafires today are repeat burns: conflagrations that consumed the same ground that burned 15 years ago and 15 years before that. Can Driessen cite one case in history where withholding fire suppression prevented a future fire? No, he cannot. He’s just mouthing a propaganda line like a trained sheep.

3. Forest fires do not require “dead and dying” trees. Green forests burn. In every case. The Peshtigo Fire burned green forests. The million acres that burned in one week in Oregon last September were green forests. Driessen is spreading lies. They may be commonly accepted lies, but they are lies nonetheless.

4. Driessen is correct on this point: it’s the fuels, stupid. Green or not, it’s the fuels that burn. Massive fuel build up is due to photosynthesis and no management of those fuels. In addition, government ownership of vast tracts of forest combined with policies of stewardship abandonment have led to continuity of fuels such that fires spread unimpeded by any significant fuel breaks.

5. Driessen is also correct that people have lived in the West for a long time — 10,000 years or more, in fact. The former residents used human-set (anthropogenic) fires to control fuel accumulation and continuity. They did it for a variety of survival purposes, not the least of which was preventing megafires that would have consumed entire watersheds and wiped out their food and fiber sources. People today are disconnected from their landscapes and ignorant of history. They fiddle while fuels accumulate and then jump in cars to evacuate the inevitable, predictable fires.

6. Driessen supposes that more roads is a solution, so people can escape quicker. That solves nothing. It’s suicidally stupid.

7. Driessen is partially correct in that fuel management is the actual and only solution, but his suggestion to remove “diseased, dead and excessive trees and brush” is too little and pathetically uninformed. Landscape-scale restoration to pre-Contact, open forest, frequently patch burned conditions is necessary. Without the knowledge and will to do so, however, there is no hope of ending our megafire crisis.

November 23, 2020 2:10 pm

One thing CO2 does do is increase growing of plant fuel, which when it dries out, can fuel fires I think.

– JPP

RickWill
November 23, 2020 5:24 pm

More CO2 makes green stuff grow faster with the same or even less water.

At least in Victoria Australia, it is now legal again to collect dead wood from designated state forests at designated times.
https://www.ffm.vic.gov.au/firewood/firewood-collection-in-your-region

In time there will be greater recognition of the fuel value in forest litter. Will need some ingenuity to celloct efficiently but it makes sense to burn it in a controlled way then spending a fortune to try to control it every year.

tim
November 23, 2020 6:04 pm

I’m 72 years old and have lived my whole life in Oregon. I grew up in a small logging and farming town. One of my favorite adventures was exploring the logging roads all over the national forests. Ten years ago I tried to re-explore some of those old roads only to find they had been ripped up and the area declared to be wilderness. No motor vehicle access.

This destruction of old logging roads has made access to fire fighting crews much more difficult. As others have pointed out, it also eliminate fire breaks the roads provided.

Recently I drove through several of the small towns that were devastated by the recent wild fires. It was quite interesting to see homes practically untouched standing between two burned out homes. This brought home the utility of taking precautions to reduce fuels and use fire resistant construction methods if you live in fire danger country.

Sometime it seems common sense isn’t so common.

Tombstone Gabby
Reply to  tim
November 23, 2020 8:19 pm

G’day Tim – reminiscing a bit about logging ‘roads’ – mid 1990’s. Stop at the bottom of a one-lane logging road, read the sign for the channel number on a Citizens Band radio, and call, “An F-350 with a 30 foot 5th wheel coming up”. Wait for a possible reply from a downhill logging truck or a “Come ahead”. By ’98 a lot of the truckers had gone to business radios in the 460MHz band. Had one reply, from a chap who had both radios, “I’ll pass the word to the others”. A true gentleman.

Did you ever get to the memorial for the folks who died when they investigated a Japanese balloon? We did so on a Wednesday – nothing special about the day. There were flowers at the memorial – not plastic – fresh. Someone still cared.

When I read what is happening in Oregon today I feel sad – it sure isn’t the place I knew 20+ years ago.

Neo Conscious
November 23, 2020 8:16 pm

Thanks for that excellent article.
Here in northern California we had a bad fire year that our governor immediately blamed on global warming, followed almost immediately by a law requiring complete conversion to electric vehicles within 15 years. It’s aggravating listening to environmentalists blame practically every malady afflicting mankind today on AGW.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe rising atmospheric CO2 levels aren’t partially responsible for the worsening fires here. I just don’t believe that rising temperatures are that significant, but I do believe that increasing carbon sequestration due to faster plant growth is becoming a huge factor. Global warming alarmists almost never mention faster plant growth, perhaps because this is a net positive result of rising CO2 as it is increasing crop yields around the world and decreasing malnutrition and starvation worldwide.

Current CO2 levels are almost 50% higher than pre-industrial revolution levels. Plant growth at 100% of that level results in a 25-30% increase in plant growth, so we are probably experiencing a 10-15% increased plant growth rate currently. Grasses and other annuals thus grow 10-15% more in their life, but perennials grow faster and faster each year, and thus the compounding effect of increased growth rate results in exponentially rising growth rates for these plants. A tree thus now grows twice as fast as a tree did two hundred years ago within 5-7 years, and four times as fast in 10-14 years.

Another factor that is especially responsible for fuel overgrowth in drier climates like California is decreased plant water requirements (up to 40% less at double atmospheric CO2). This is because plants get CO2 into their leaves through small pores (stomata) by opening them wider, but this allows more water to escape out through the stomata. Increasing CO2 allows them to keep the stomata tighter while still producing more photosynthesis.

The increased plant growth rate also modifies plant ecosystems by favoring faster growing plants like grasses and brush that compete with and crowd out hardwoods and conifers. Additionally, undergrowth plants in a forest are benefited by increased CO2 more than ones in full sunshine, thus increasing understory overgrowth and the risk of fires jumping into the canopy and killing the biggest trees also.

The bottom line is that with rising plant growth rates, hands-on forest management will have to replace the hands-off approach that environmentalists have been promoting if we are going to have any forests at all. Environmentalists are the ones that envision increased forests worldwide functioning as carbon sinks to buffer rising CO2 levels, so they should be the ones leading the charge for more active management and fire prevention measures.

boffin77
November 24, 2020 2:59 pm

“Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly” and trees gotta burn. Humans have been extinguishing forest fires far too aggressively in the Boreal forest, resulting in senescence, and a “fire debt” that must be paid. Don’t say “what a tragedy that the forest burned,” say “well thank goodness that’s over.”

The planet is suffering from a dearth of open land. In winter a snowy forested slope looks dark from space, because the light energy is being absorbed,. In contrast (literally ‘in contrast’ I suppose) a snowy burnt-over slope looks white because the light energy is being reflected away from the Earth. So forest fires don’t just lead to healthier forests, they help cool the Earth.

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  boffin77
November 24, 2020 4:18 pm

No Bof, a thousand times no.

Humans have been setting fires in Boreal forests for thousands of years. Do your homework. Only recently have the indigenous stewards been replaced by Big Government which ended anthropogenic burning. The build up of fuels has not been controlled, and neither have the resulting fires. Canadian Provincial fire agencies do Let It Burn. Suppression is as minimal as stewardship.

There is no such thing as a “fire debt”. That’s sophistry. Forest fires do not lead to “healthier forests”. More sophistry.

Regarding the albedo, the last thing Canada or anywhere else needs is a “cooler planet”. We live in the Ice Ages. The planet is cooler today than in any epoch since the Permian 250,000,000 years ago. Warmer Is Better. Catch a clue.

Tmatsci
November 24, 2020 5:10 pm

Australia’s CSIRO has estimated that fires become critical at 20 tonnes/hectare of dry fuel. This is 2 kg/m2 or about 0.45 lb/ft2. At this level of fuel they are unstoppable by any means other than allowing them to burn all of their fuel. I have estimated (from literature and from data on pasture growth) that in Australian temperate rain forest this level of fuel on the ground can be reached with vegetation fall in about 2-3 years and I suppose that this is not much different in the forests of western North America.
Clearly water in the fuel will reduce the likelihood of ignition but dry fuel is equally more likely to ignite and the intensity of the burn will be higher because there is little or no water to evaporate and reduce flame temperatures. So after a drought produced by shifts to El Nino conditions in North America catastrophic fires are very likely just because of drying and high fuel loads. Climate change has nothing to with it but climate cycles do.
In Australia conditions are oppositely affected with El Nino bringing wet conditions to the East Coast and we are also affected by changes in the Indian Ocean dipole which is a similar effect to El Nino/La Nina in the pacific. I suspect that these effects on Australia are not coupled so it is possible to have conditions exacerbating drought when the IOD and the EN are working together and by contrast the opposite if they are working against each other. This would account in part for the catastrophic fire that occurred in the summer (November 2019 – Early 2020) in Eastern Australia. However such fires would not have occurred if we had had adequate fuel management which was the case until relatively recently. Such fuel management regimes had been triggered by large scale catastrophic fires in the past – so nothing new here as we had discounted the fire management knowledge of the native peoples.

%d bloggers like this: