Fact Checking the Wildfire-Climate Link

By Jim Steele

According to the C2ES website, the transformed successor of the PEW foundation’s Center on Global Climate Change, “Climate change has been a key factor in increasing the risk and extent of wildfires in the Western United States.” “Climate change enhances the drying of organic matter in forests and has doubled the number of large fires between 1984 and 2015 in the western United States.” NASA’s Global Climate Change webpage agrees stating, “hot and dry conditions in the atmosphere determine the likelihood of a fire starting, its intensity and the speed at which it spreads.

Thus every politician trying to excuse bad landscape policies, every environmental group and every scientist seeking funding, and every journalist promoting a crisis to attract readers repeatedly tells some version of the headline The Devastation of Human Life is in View: what a burning world tells is about climate change.  The good news is scientific facts totally refute such fearful narratives.

A Candle Can Light Your Way

The average temperature of a candle’s flame is a whopping ~1800°F (~1000°C) and readily demonstrates how heat is transferred. Hold your hand to the side of the flame. Despite the flame’s high temperature, you can bring your hand very close to the candle because the wick’s small mass produces relatively small amounts of radiation. The closer you bring your hand to the flame, the more heat you can feel. That heat reaches your hand via heat wave radiation. Just inches away however you can’t sense much heat at all because radiation spreads out as the distance from the heat source increases, making the heat that reaches your hand increasingly less dense, and thus less intense. Although a bon fire may only reach temperatures of ~1110°F (~600°C), its larger mass produces more energy forcing you to stay much further away where the heat intensity becomes adequately reduced.

Now place your hand over the top of the candle . There you can’t hold your hand as close to the flame because in addition to radiation, the candle heats the air and that hot air rises carrying heat upwards via convection. Convection is why a ground fire will burn overstory branches and perhaps evolve into a crown fire. When fire fighters estimate how fast a fire will spread, they must consider convection and  the slope of the terrain. Fires can spread more rapidly when convection carries more heat upslope.

The Wisdom of Firebreaks

Building firebreaks are fire fighters’ primary tactic.  Just as you can create enough space between you and a bon fire, a firebreak creates a safe distance between the searing heat of an approaching fire and potential fuels. Rivers and streams act as natural firebreaks. Fearless fire fighters armed with pulaskis and other hand tools, tirelessly clear swaths of land down to bare soil creating fire stopping intervening spaces. A small fire with limited fuels can be halted with a small fire break. Larger fires often require bulldozers to plow wider firebreaks, while the most intense fires also require airdrops of water and fire retardants.

Before our era of fire suppression, frequent wildfires naturally generated networks of firebreaks. After America’s era of fire suppression began in the early 1900s, not only did the supply of forest floor fuels accumulate, enabling bigger fires, but fewer natural firebreaks were created, enabling greater wildfire spread. To defend homes and towns, people must now maintain adequate “defensible spaces” by creating their own firebreaks.

Winds and Spot fires

Despite cooling down from peak summer temperatures, downed power lines and high winds ignited northern California’s Tubbs Fire in early October 2017. Called Diablo winds, these high winds arise every autumn as cooling inland deserts develop high pressure systems that drive dry winds across California towards lower pressure regions on a warmer Pacific Ocean. Large fires in southern California are driven similarly by the Santa Anna winds that peak during the inland’s coldest winter temperatures. These strong winds are the result of global warming. In truth, climate models predict global warming should reduce these winds by warming inland deserts.

As the Diablo winds scattered burning embers, spot fires jumped firebreaks, and raining devastation on the town of Santa Rosa. Embers got trapped under eaves, entered attics through outside vents and ignited rooftops. As one house burnt, it generated enough radiant heat to ignite a neighboring home. Without burning a single neighborhood tree, house after house was reduced to ash. Such residential neighborhoods cannot create defensible spaces between established houses, so residents must install screens that prevent embers from igniting their homes and construct fire‑proof roofing.

The 2018 Carr Fire was California’s 8th largest fire and started when a towed trailer blew a tire causing its wheel rim to scrape the asphalt. Resulting sparks ignited roadside grasses. Because sparks from power line failures or scraping wheel rims are carried by molten particles, extensive scientific studies have examined what size and temperature of these molten particles can ignite fires. When a molten particle lands on potential fuel, it transfers its heat via conduction. For fuels with 6% moisture content to reach ignition temperature, a small 6-millimeter (mm) particle must be over 1700°F (~950°C). Fuels with higher moisture content require more energy to first evaporate the water before combustion can begin. Thus fuel with 25% moisture content requires the same sized particle to have a temperature over 1800°F (~1000°C) to ignite the fuel. Because a larger particle (14 mm) can carry and transfer more energy, a lesser temperature of about 1300°F (~700°C) is needed to ignite fuel with a 25% moisture content.

Depending on moisture content, most fuels must reach ignition temperatures between 644°F (340°C) and 795°F (440°C) to start a fire. Stronger winds are more dangerous in part, because they transport larger embers. Small embers lack adequate energy to raise fuels from ambient temperatures of 70°F or 90°F to an ignition temperature of 644°F and higher. More so, the 2°F  increase in global air temperatures since the Little Ice Age, increases the fuel’s temperature insignificantly and thus highly unlikely to increase “the likelihood of a fire starting, or increasing the speed at which it spreads” as NASA claimed.

Seek and You Shall Find

Many of today’s climate scientists are eagerly funded to seek out any problems that climate change might rain down on society. However those seeking dire consequences of global warming, are blinded to the significance of critical dynamics like fire suppression, natural fire breaks, and the increase in human ignitions during colder months and so fail to account for their effects. Thus they obscure or misdiagnose the appropriate remedies. Instead, they insist that a 2°F increase in global temperature increases atmospheric aridity or increases water vapor pressure deficits, and dangerously dry out the accumulating fire fuels. They make their claims, not based on wildfire physics, but via simple short term statistical correlations between increasing drying trends and increasing burnt areas. They typically commit 2 scientific sins. First, they fail to control for how much other critical dynamics increased burnt areas. Second, they cherry picked 1970s or 1980s starting dates for their trends, dates which mark the reduction of  fire suppression policies that now allowed fires to burn for greater periods of time.

In contrast, carpenters and woodworkers long ago sought to determine how changing temperatures and relative humidity affect wood moisture because it affects the quality of their work. The average moisture content of newly logged “green” Douglas fir is 43%, the green heartwood of eastern white pine averages 50% and green heartwood of ponderosa pine averages 40%. The interior dryness of most homes dries the wood which finally equilibrates at roughly 8% moisture content. If high moisture green wood is installed, that wood shrinks and warps as it equilibrates with the interior dryness and undermines the integrity of their carpentry. So lumber yards dry green wood to the ~8% moisture content that carpenters demand. Because air drying may take 2 to 5 years to reach that moisture content, lumber yards speed up the drying process via kilns and other mechanisms. Furthermore, because changes in moisture content is an ongoing dynamic process, to minimize seasonal moisture fluctuations, homes are constructed with moisture barriers.

Because the precise moisture content of wood is economically important, tried and true estimates of wood moisture content have been developed. Calculations are driven mostly by changes in relative humidity. In the naturally hot dry Mediterranean climate of California, 3‑ to 8‑inch diameter pieces of wood will absorb moisture during the rainy winter season, reaching ~30% moisture content by March. Moisture content then falls to between 10% and 5% in July and remains low through September until the rains return. From a global warming perspective, if relative humidity is kept constant during California’s rainless summers, for every 2 °F increase in temperature anomalies, calculations estimate that moisture content will only decreases by a rather insignificant 0.056% .

Rising CO2 Concentrations Don’t Correlate with Historical Wildfires

Historically bigger wildfires are indeed associated with drier years. In California, natural ocean oscillations cause decades long cycles of droughts followed by rainy periods. California is driest during La Nina events and La Nina events are more common during the negative phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Because an El Nino event shifts the location of greatest rainfall westward, every 3 to 7 years El Ninos produce wetter seasons for California, but simultaneously cause droughts in southeastern Asia. This dynamic was dramatically illustrated by the 1997‑1998 El Nino that soaked California but concurrently caused severe drought and extensive wildfires throughout Indonesia.

Thus, some climate scientists have determined changes in precipitation and “century-long warming around the northeast Pacific margins, …can be primarily attributed to changes in atmospheric circulation” caused by the PDO. After 1999, the Pacific Ocean switched to a negative PDO phase, predicting the emergence stronger California droughts and wildfires for the coming decades. Similarly, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park between 1700 and 1975 AD,  70% of large fires burned during dry conditions created by La Nina events that coincided with a negative PDO, even though those phases co-occurred only 29% of the time. Scientific studies showing more western USA droughts and fires since 1970, have typically failed to account for the effects of La Nina and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation that naturally drive western USA’s current dryness. 

In addition to PDO and La Nina effects, dryness in the American southwest is modulated by the North American monsoon season. While California’s driest period occurs during July and August, Arizona and New Mexico’s dry season ends when the summer monsoons in July and August bring abundant moisture. Despite centuries of cooler Little Ice Age temperatures, wildfires were more frequent and burned more extensive areas then, than during the warmer 20th and 21st centuries. Before the era of fire suppression began in the early 1900s, Southwest lightning fires ignited in April could burn for months. Suddenly, with the advent of 20th century fire suppression policies, “very few or no fire scars were recorded on any of the trees represented after 1900”. When let‑it‑burn policies were re‑instituted during  the 1970-1979 decade, the burnt area in several southwest forests increased by 40% compared to the previous decade.

Finally, based on changes in the amount of unique organic substances emitted from wildfires and transported to Greenland, ice cores have revealed maximum fire activity in boreal forests also occurred during the Little Ice Age between 1500–1700 AD. That higher fire frequency was attributed to multi-annual droughts caused by failed Asian monsoons. Colder temperatures had caused extensive droughts by pushing the Intertropical Convergence Zone’s rain belt southward, reducing Asian monsoon rains.

A Lit Household Match Can’t Ignite a Log

Still, natural droughts cannot fully explain many wildfire dynamics. A lit match can’t ignite a log, no matter how dry it is. Despite reaching temperatures of ~1100°F (~600°C), total combustion of the match’s small mass can’t provide enough energy to sufficiently raise the log’s temperature to the ignition point. Although lightning raises air temperatures to an astonishing 50,000°F, less than 4% of all lightning strikes start fires. Lightning’s extreme heat will boil the tree’s internal water, often causing the struck tree to explode. But lightning’s fleeting nature usually doesn’t sustain enough energy transfer to ignite the tree. More often, due to a much smaller combustible mass,` the duff and fine fuels at the base of the tree are more easily heated to ignition temperatures as lightning rapidly passes to the ground.

A lit match, small molten particles or lightning can easily ignite fine fuels, because their small mass only requires relatively small amounts of energy to reach ignition temperatures. Fine fuels are grasses and small diameter twigs with large surface‑area to volume ratios that makes dead fine fuels very sensitive to changing humidity. Thus fire fighters also characterize fine fuels as 1-hour lag fuels, meaning on any typical dry summer day, dead grasses and small twigs lose 60% of their moisture in just one hour. Thus fine fuel flammability is a function of fire weather, regardless of how our climate has changed. However if fine fuels are sparse, then like a lit match, they burn out before providing enough heat required to ignite larger pieces of wood. Dense patches of burning fine fuels are needed to provide enough energy to ignite larger fires.

Abundant fine fuels act as small kindling, much like the crumpled newspaper we use to ignite larger kindling in our fireplaces. Fine fuels also act like fuses that rapidly carry a fire into more dense shrublands with larger twigs that, when ignited, can provide enough energy to burn tree branches. One theory attributes the lack of USA wildfires in the early 1900s, in part, to the beginning of overgrazing that removed much of the natural fine fuels. Now, as feedlots fattened cattle more efficiently, marginal pastures have been abandoned and have become overgrown, thickening with fire enabling fine fuels. Grazing also introduced Eurasian grasses that have further increased fine fuel densities, and now provide more kindling to start bigger fires.

Because the complete combustion of grass or paper happens so rapidly, fast moving fine‑fuel‑fires have a very limited time frame during which they can ignite larger kindling, and not nearly enough time to ignite living trees. And this dynamic is greatly affected by the moisture content of larger kindling. If the moisture content of larger kindling is too high, longer periods of sustained heating are required to both evaporate the added internal water and then raise temperatures to the point of ignition. Thus during wet years, fine fuels are less capable of igniting larger fires. Conversely, dry years reduce the time needed to reach ignition temperatures, allowing fine fuels to more easily spread fire.

Once larger branches and pieces of wood ignite, combustion produces sustained temperatures  of 1110°F (~600°C) and higher. That combustion now provides enough heat to dry out and ignite any vegetation intercepting the approaching fire. And again, fire suppression dangerously allows the buildup of both fine fuels and larger kindling that then allows fires to reach sustaining ignition temperatures. Clearly the wisest fire policy requires better  management of the landscape’s fuels. From a climate change perspective,  at ~1110°F a fire emits dense radiant heat energy at the rate of ~31,700 watts of energy per square meter. (W/m2). In contrast, the amount of energy added to a wildfire by a doubling of CO2 is a mere 3.5 W/m2, which is a totally insignificant factor in the speed of wildfire spread.

Pants on Fire

Fact checking the science of wildfires, NASA’s narrative that rising CO2 concentrations are increasing the “likelihood of a fire starting”, increasing “its intensity” and increasing “the speed at which it spreads” must get a rating of Pants on Fire.  Likewise claims that “climate change has doubled the number of large fires” gets a rating of Pants on Fire.  Wildfire physics simply does not support any such fear mongering narratives. Every politician, every environmental group and every scientist trying to scare up more funding by uncritically blaming wildfires on CO2 induced climate change are not only ignoring good published science, but they’re also pushing wrong remedies and downplaying the correct remedies needed to benefit society and our environment. Better managed landscapes that control fuel supplies, and the re-introduction of fires via prescribed burns, will create more effective firebreaks and more healthy open habitat that coincidentally also increases wildlife diversity. Those are treatments we all should support.

May 24, 2021

Jim Steele is Director emeritus of San Francisco State University’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus, authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism, and proud member of the CO2 Coalition

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May 24, 2021 10:14 am

Misguided changes in forest husbandry have far more to do with wildfires than climate, other than the fact the climate on US west coast has ALWAYS brought about wildfires. History does not lie, leftists change history to perpetuate their lies.

Reply to  2hotel9
May 24, 2021 1:06 pm

History does not lie…”
Speaking of lying I’m still laughing about you saying you had been for a ride in a (yet to be released) totally unimpressive toy the new Ford F-150 Lightning.

Reply to  Simon
May 24, 2021 8:51 pm

I find it rather telling that when 2hotel9 writes a comment accusing the left of lying, and I then point out that just yesterday he got caught telling a whopper, I get -12 votes and he gets +9.

Reply to  Simon
May 24, 2021 9:14 pm

Twirl&spin, simple, it is all you got.

Reply to  2hotel9
May 24, 2021 9:34 pm

Lie and leave… all you got. How was that truck ride again?

Reply to  Simon
May 24, 2021 9:43 pm

Ahhh, your special kinda stupid is the gift that keeps on giving. Go ahead, prove what a simple minded idiot you, again. This is just too much fun!

Reply to  2hotel9
May 24, 2021 10:11 pm

I’m pleased you are having fun, sooo am I. What else have you been in that you can tell us about? Let me guess… a Lamborghini maybe? Or a BMW M3? Or are they just toys too? I know, maybe you have been in the space shuttle?

Reply to  Simon
May 25, 2021 3:39 am

Drove a Lamborghini and Delorean, only BMW I drove was an R60. Took the Shuttle tour in ’87 and watched three launches at the Cape. Perhaps you would not be so simple minded if you crawled out of mommy’s basement and actually lived a life.

Reply to  Simon
May 24, 2021 9:13 pm

Ahh, poor litle simple minded idiot, too stupid to figure out when t simply shut the f&ck up. At least you keep proving what a simple minded idiot you. Please do so again. Your lies are quite entertaining.

May 24, 2021 10:29 am

Thanks Jim. Very informative.

My many years of observing bushfires leads me to believe that they are not too hard to deal with, until the wind pipes up beyond a zephyr.

Then all bets are off.

Old Gobie Jumper
Reply to  Mr.
May 24, 2021 3:50 pm

Thanks for bringing up WIND and thanks to Jim for a very good article (I also liked your book). I have read almost everything written about wildfires in the press for the past 40 years and am always amazed at how few times wind is mentioned. Mr. and Jim thanks for emphasizing WIND. The three most important factors in spread of wildfires are: WIND, WIND, and WIND. I have done a cursory review of many of the mega fires during the past 40 years and ALL had extremely high winds. Some of the recent northern CO fires had winds of 50-70 mph and the recent CA mega fires had winds of over 50 mph.

Below some threshold fires can be contained; above that it is stand-down and evacuation mode. This threshold depends on a lot of factors including slope, humidity, fuel, etc. We lost a fire line once on the Mendocino on a steep slope in less than a10 mph wind. Jim also pointed out that once a mega fire starts in populated area with high winds trees are not needed to sustain the fire. The CO Castle Pines fire was another fire that spread house to house during high winds in a new subdivision with virtually no trees.

I don’t have answers but the obvious: reduce ignitions sources and get back to quick suppression rather than “let burn” when expecting high winds. I do agree with Jim that claiming climate change is the reason for increase in mega fires is a cop out and distracts from better forest management and reduced unwanted wild fires.

Reply to  Mr.
May 25, 2021 6:16 am

It’s a VERY good article, and since I live in a county that is heavily wooded with many areas that are an important part of the county’s forest preserves, I do notice whether or not the county’s people are doing their job to reduce fire hazards. (They are!) Controlled burns are common around here and very necessary.

Thanks for posting that. I’m keeping the link.

May 24, 2021 10:40 am

I’m all for creating a wide network of fire break roads criss crossing the fire vulnerable forest lands of California, especially under and around power lines. But it should be more like the BLM land in Nevada, where even 2-stroke motorcycles are allowed access. Besides a little bit of traffic goes a long way to keep the fire breaks clear of vegetation.

May 24, 2021 10:40 am

I lived in California until 2005, and it got dry enough for wildlands fires every year during the summer. That was true even during the “the next Ice Age is coming” 1960’s and 70’s.
Wildlands management by lawsuits over endangered species has had a much larger effect than any warming.

May 24, 2021 10:55 am

Were those defective Chinese trailer tires that blew out?

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  ResourceGuy
May 24, 2021 12:21 pm

The answer to that has been censored from the Web.

Reply to  ResourceGuy
May 25, 2021 8:35 am

Perhaps poor driving technique played a role in the loss of the tire. Eastbound highway 299 into the Redding area is a very long downhill run where a freewheeling vehicle will get up to 70-80 mph (even my motorhome). Judging by the near permanent glow of brake lights, most drivers just drag their brakes the whole way down, thereby running the risk of overheated brakes … and rims and tires. Downshifting a gear or two works quite well instead.

Reply to  Bruce
May 26, 2021 12:52 am

The braking idiot get in trouble follow me down hill most of the time my brake lights never come on. I live in Arizona the up downs a often and sometime very long. My last pickup went 235,000 miles without a brake pad change.

Ron Long
May 24, 2021 11:39 am

Another good presentation by Jim Steele of normal cycles and backed up by actual data. The La Niña versus El Niño cycle is clearly the Bad Girl versus Good Boy story (I should be sorry for the sexist context). One additional wildfire factor is arson, with a 2017 study attributing 21% of wildfires to arson. Me and my friends think the number of psychos is increasing, somewhat due to media encouraging environmental activism, so the arson events are going up.

Reply to  Ron Long
May 24, 2021 11:50 am

Re psychos …. we are having the May 24th long weekend in Canada and leading up to the weekend the news reports were telling folks to be careful with their fires in the woods and said that historically 92% of the may long weekend fires were caused by humans (many likely psychos 😉
However u can be sure that after weekend is over any fires will be blamed on GLO-BULL warming and the climate crisis.

Reply to  Ron Long
May 24, 2021 1:49 pm

One problem for the alarmists claiming a trend in “X” caused by increasing temperatures is in the USA we have the USCRN.

“Climate change enhances the drying of organic matter in forests and has doubled the number of large fires between 1984 and 2015 in the western United States.” NASA’s Global Climate Change webpage agrees stating, “hot and dry conditions in the atmosphere determine the likelihood of a fire starting, its intensity and the speed at which it spreads.”

Implicit in all such claims is that the temperature actually increased.
If you check the USCRN a pristine data set with no “adjustments” we see for the past 15 years there is NO temperature increase for the USA on average. So if something is causing more fires, it is not temperatures since 2005. Maybe someone can dig into the specific stations near fires to quantify the actual temperature trends.

As other posters have written, poor forest management by not removing accumulated fuel loads, arson, lightning, and human carelessness .

Alan the Brit
Reply to  a_scientist
May 24, 2021 10:35 pm

I believe many of the Australian fires a few years back were caused deliberately, possibly by the slightly more deranged climate activists who wanted to show how hot the Earth was becoming due to global warming (manmade of course), others through carelessness with discarded cigarettes/used bbq equipment etc. Ditto with some fires in Greece several years ago which were ballyhooed as evidence of CAGW that could be seen from space!!! The fact that modern satellite equipment can spot a mouse taking a leak from several miles above the Earth appears irrelevant!!!

Reply to  Alan the Brit
May 25, 2021 5:51 am

School holidays often coincide with bushfires, particularly in semi rural areas .

Reply to  Alan the Brit
May 25, 2021 6:44 am

It took me about 10 minutes back then to find an article about an Australian expert who had been trying to warn Australia that the amount of fuel that had built up in their forests was higher than it had been for 1000’s of years. And there is the objective fact that Australia had larger fires in the early 70’s than the ones they had a few years ago. The propaganda media and the normies who believe everything they say are the biggest problem we face IMO.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Ron Long
May 24, 2021 11:21 pm

Indeed arson is a problem that is not addressed when alarmists present data about increasing burnt area. Not mentioned in this analysis because arson is hard to prove, but I did briefly mention the arson problem in a short article I did for the CO2 Coalition


Finally, reduce human ignitions by arson and negligence. People ignite 84% of all fires in America’s lower 48 states, accounting for 44% of all burned areas. The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that arson accounts for 20% of California’s fires, 55% of Kentucky’s and is the leading cause of Florida’s fires. More resources are needed to address arson as well as to increase public education programs to reduce careless fires.

Mike Dubrasich
May 24, 2021 12:06 pm

Before our era of fire suppression, frequent wildfires naturally generated networks of firebreaks.

Here we go again. This is Lysenkoism in action. Or worse. The stone cold fact is that human beings deliberately set fires in every habitat, from the coasts to the highest mountains, for the entire Holocene and before.

Indigenous residents used fire to clear undergrowth, improve forage, enhance edible plants, induce useful fiber shoots, drive game, create firewood, and other purposes. Fire farming was a survival lifeway shared by people across the continent and indeed the entire Neolithic world. Frequent anthropogenic fire was skillfully applied for millennia and gave rise to open park-like woodlands where individual trees could persist for centuries. All old-growth is cultural in origin.

Human beings created the “firebreaks”. Anthropogenic fires outnumbered lightning fires by 3 orders of magnitude. Anthropogenic fire in patches reduced fuels such that lightning fires laid down in preburned areas and did not spread across entire landscapes.

It wasn’t until Euros invaded and displaced the long-time residents that Indian burning ceased. When it did, trees and brush rapidly occupied the openings. In western forests old-growth (200+ yo) amounted to 5 trees per acre or less, but by 1850 or so more than 500 stems per acre had invaded. The age distributions in so-called “natural” stands prove this. No explanation or theory other than anthropogenic fire can account for this real world condition.

By 1900 fuels were continuous and heavy. Fires burned entire watersheds. Fire suppression, which was largely ineffective before aerial machines were utilized (post-WWII), did not “cause” fuel buildup. The cause was the elimination of anthropogenic fire.

The notion that fire suppression causes fires was been adopted in the 1980’s by the Federal Government which owns 50% or more of the West. As a result, fire suppression has been withheld or delayed on lightning fires, and that has led to massive megafires. Some National Forests, among them the Payette, Mendocino, Las Padres, Rogue River-Siskiyou, Kaibab, and Malheur NFs, have been more than 90% incinerated over the last 30 years.

Yet that has not ended or reduced wildfires in those forests. Withholding suppression results in massive burns but does not significantly reduce fuels. More dead and down wood remains after the initial fires than was present before. Return fires burn over the same ground 15 to 20 years later after the brush resprouts. For instance, the Silver Fire (1987), Biscuit Fire (2002), and Chetco Bar Fire (2017) — all megafires on the same ground. Another example: the Marble Cone Fire (1977), Basin-Indian Fires (2008), Soberanes Fire (2016) — again all megafires on the same ground.

Fire suppression and climate change are wrongly blamed for wildfires. It’s junk policy based on junk science coupled with elimination of historical stewardship. This lesson remains unlearned, and so the megafire crisis will continue regardless.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
May 24, 2021 1:09 pm

This is Lysenkoism in action. Or worse.

What are you smoking Mike.

No one is arguing that native Americans didnt purposively manage landscapes with fire and create fire breaks. Indeed they did. As did natural fires. Still no one has enough data to argue which caused more fires, and it is beside the point here

The fact is fire suppression has definitely happened. Burning from both native fires and natural fires have been suppressed. There is no denying that fact. And the argument here is NOT that suppression starts fires, but suppression supplies the accumulated fuels that provide the heat so fires burn longer and farther. In addition the article’s main point, is the opinion that today’s solution to destructive fires is better land management and more prescribed burns.

The main argument in this article is the heat from added CO2 contributes woefully insignificant amounts of heat and is not causing fuels to dry.

I suggest you read the article again more carefully and rethink your idiotic comment of “This is Lysenkoism in action.”

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  Jim Steele
May 24, 2021 3:02 pm

Let’s be real Jim.

Your essay does not mention historical anthropogenic fire. You state “America’s era of fire suppression began in the early 1900s…”. Then you discuss “Fearless fire fighters armed with pulaskis…”. That’s organized modern fire suppression and that’s what you decry and blame for burned acreage.

You also discuss “natural” wildfire with no mention of Indian (i.e. human) burning or the elimination of indigenous people and their stewardship of the land for millennia. You never do. They are not mentioned in any of your essays, although I am happy to read in your comment that you finally acknowledge “native” fires. By the way, there are numerous studies that support and provide evidence of the preponderance of anthropogenic fire over lightning fire historically. That understanding is critical to any solution set.

More importantly, anthropogenic fire and lightning fire are vastly different in application and results. Let It Burn is the culprit, not the solution. So-called prescribed fire is rarely done on treated stands prepared to receive it. Nor are such fires done frequently enough to replicate the results of Indian burning. “Land management” can be almost anything; restoring historical stand conditions is very specific and almost never undertaken.

The argument that CO2 does not increase fire size or severity is stipulated, but the solution to our fire crisis is not advanced by climate debate, pro or con. Real forest restoration is required. The first step is to acknowledge that. The second is to refine treatments to achieve it.

And, by the way, my forests have been destroyed by catastrophic fire. It’s not a joke or delusion. I am not an idiot. The destruction has to stop, and I will persist in calling out the junk science and junk policies responsible. Fundamental flaws in the dominant environmental paradigm are to blame; they must be corrected.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
May 24, 2021 5:26 pm

Yes, Let’s be real MIke,

You write, “Your essay does not mention historical anthropogenic fire. You state “America’s era of fire suppression began in the early 1900s…”.

First the article is analyzing the causes of recent fires, 1900 and onwards. So I dont “mention historical anthropogenic fire” because that is a complex issue depending on location and tribal cultures. But you throw a snarky hissy fit because the article doesnt provide an encyclopedic review of fire since the dawn of man.

You ignore the article’s main points and so give the impression that you just want to blather on about what you “know” and you dont care about making a more productive discussion.

Then you criticize with “Then you discuss “Fearless fire fighters armed with pulaskis…”. That’s organized modern fire suppression and that’s what you decry and blame for burned acreage.” But you are just exposing your schizophrenia.

Adequate firebreaks are good no matter how they are created.Based on your goofy logic, if a fire was threatening your home you would not create defensible space because that is “fire suppression and does not acknowledge “real forest restoration”, what ever that simplistic virtual signaling phrase means to you. I know quite a bit about real restoration, having initiated the successful restoration of a watershed in the Sierra Nevada.

So instead of your foolish self-righteous criticisms, you can add more meaningful comments by explaining exactly what you believe “real forest restoration” is. Please provide abundant details, avoid vacuous generalizations by detailing the great variety of forests across the globe and their individual restoration needs and the specific role of fires and how each forest creates a wide variety of microclimates that vary with elevation species composition and the effects of humans over the past 10,000 years.

Better yet, make a post yourself with that focus but please keep it to less than 3000 words.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jim Steele
Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  Jim Steele
May 24, 2021 7:48 pm

No hissy fit here, Jim. I take exception to your placing the blame for increasing fire acreage and severity on “fire suppression”. That argument has led to the situation we face today: adoption of Let It Burn policies wherein fire suppression is withheld for the purpose of reducing the hazard. Instead, the hazard is actualized.

Those policies have been implemented by Fed Fire and Aviation since the 1980’s. They haven’t worked. Indeed, they have engendered many catastrophic megafires. The increase in fire acreage nationally can be directly attributed to those policies, not to climate change. So I agree with your putative point.

Last summer Fed fire bosses Let Burn two lightning-ignited fires in the Mt. Hood NF. Three weeks later an east wind blew them up and 500,00 acres burned, as well as hundreds of homes and a dozen lives lost. See here:


That wasn’t climate change; that was withheld suppression. The fires could have been contained, controlled, and extinguished when they were small, a few acres in size. But the hue and cry over fire suppression promulgated by main stream fire science prevented that. Disaster ensued. I can cite dozens of similar cases. I cited a few above that demonstrate the failures of withholding fire suppression.

You may call my arguments hissy fits and foolish self righteousness, but I support fire suppression. My home and property are fire safe. I support more than firebreaks; I endorse defensible fuel profile zones, fire access roads, fuel management, logging, brushing, mulching, pile-and-burn, and conversion of dense stands to widely spaced, open and park-like stands maintained with frequent underburning. I support and promote restoration to pre-Contact conditions: those created by indigenous people over millennia. By widely spaced I mean crown gaps of 30 feet or more, which depending on tree size are less than 20 trees per acre, or as few as five.

I’m not going to write you a book. I suggest you read the existing literature. I also suggest that blaming fire suppression for increasing fire acreage and severity is political sophistry and hugely destructive in practice. That approach has failed catastrophically. It’s time to move past it.

May 24, 2021 12:16 pm

Terrific post, Jim. One adder. The failure to cut and remove bark beetle killed lodgepole pines is also a contributing improper forestry management practice. Lodgepole cones drop to the forest floor and can sit for years. They need ground fire to open and disperse seed. Lodgepoles evolved with regular fires. Fire suppression made stands too old, therefore too bark beetle susceptible. Big problem in parts of Colorado west of the Divide.

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 24, 2021 3:05 pm

Again, serious confusion.

1. Lodgepole pines do NOT need fire to reproduce. I can show you lodgepole reprod where no fire has occurred, which refutes this urban myth.

2. Beetle-killed stands are less fire prone than green ones. Green stands burn just fine, and crown with ease. Beetle-killed stands will also burn, but they do not crown because the crowns are gone.

3. All conifers evolved with fire. It’s not a trait exclusive to one species.

4. Fire suppression has saved many lives and resources. Wholesale incineration of forests is not a solution to any problem.

Recent Colorado fires, the largest in state history, and been in pinyon/juniper, gambrel oak, sage brush, and mixed conifer types, not in lodgepole pine exclusively or even largely. Pine beetle outbreaks have followed those fires, not preceded them.

The only areas that haven’t burned are well-maintained grazing lands.

Restoration and active management are the only solutions to the fire crisis. Carbon taxes won’t stop the fires; nor will dehumanization or laize fair land policies. Too much land in CO is owned by the Feds. If you desire a political solution, kick them out.That would be a good start.

Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
May 24, 2021 10:25 pm

3. All conifers evolved with fire.”

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  Mike
May 25, 2021 7:36 am

Yes. 150 million years ago there was fire and ever since. Check your cladistics. But whether they did or not is no excuse for torching millions of acres every year.

Dan E
Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
May 25, 2021 6:45 am

“2. Beetle-killed stands are less fire prone than green ones. Green stands burn just fine, and crown with ease. Beetle-killed stands will also burn, but they do not crown because the crowns are gone.”

I live in a forested area of W MT that got hit with the pine beetle back in ’07. Much
of it is 90-100% dead. Our property is mixed fir-pine. My observations of this
is once the needles fell off it opened the canopy allowing sunlight to reach the
ground, coupled with the fact that the trees stopped drinking water causing
many springs to begin flowing. This caused grass to grow. Grass now grows
chest high. I would estimated 4-5 tons per acre. It now has over 10 yrs of
build up..while the trees have “jack-strawed” and have a moisture level of
kiln dried lumber eg. 7-8%. In short the forest has become a death trap.
I saw fires back in ’17 that were crowning out at 3 am. They burn the soil
down 6 inches or more. There won’t be any trees there for several
hundred years. The Lolo fire of several years ago was described as
burning like a grass fire where the grass was over 100 ft high. It burned
a half section in June in less than 30 minutes till it hit a old clear cut.
I will not enter into the forest when dry esp after a dry lightning storm
for any reason..The envios and their enabler federal judges have
created a mess.

Gordon A. Dressler
May 24, 2021 12:18 pm

Since CO2 is widely known to suppress fires (just consider CO2 fire extinguishers), all firefighters and wildfire alarmists should rejoice in mankind’s contribution to increasing the atmospheric content of CO2, no matter how small it may actually be. 😉

Last edited 1 year ago by Gordon A. Dressler
Pat from kerbob
May 24, 2021 12:39 pm

It Never Rains in California, big hit back in 1972.

I wonder what prompted him to write that 50 years ago?
Increasing CO2?

Nope, just weather

May 24, 2021 1:44 pm

The last I checked, fire needs O². If CO² is going up, shouldn’t that slow fires down? But, CO² is such a minor constituate of the atmosphere, it shouldn’t matter one way or the other.

Reply to  Alan
May 24, 2021 4:08 pm

If you blow on kindling to get your campfire going, it works, even though your breath is about 4% CO2.
In the open air, CO2 is what? – 0.04%

So if your exhaled breath is slowing down your campfire, drink some more overproof rum.

May 24, 2021 2:26 pm

We are guilty of chronological snobbery if we assume that our ancestors were unaware of the need for fire as a fire-suppression tool. They lived in millions of acres of fire-prone landscapes with few good options for escaping intense fires. It is popular to argue that primitive peoples had little in the way of flammable property to protect. However they had both human life and natural food resources that were threatened by fire. Consider the impact on a hunting culture when one of today’s megafires destroys almost all wildlife and the fodder that that wildlife depends on, across what might be an entire clan orvtribal territory.

Therefore, they did not merely use fire for other purposes and treat fire-mitigation as a convenient bonus. Rather, they treated fire as a multi-purpose tool , providing safety from wildfires as one of the PRIMARY benefits.

This is why it is a fallacy to examine either numbers or area of historical fires without regard to context. Particularly, the time of year.

spangled drongo
Reply to  PeterW
May 25, 2021 12:38 am

The indigenous dwellers mostly burnt to improve the landscape for hunting and general everyday living. Wildlife and people are very good at surviving wildfires when you aren’t forced to defend your home turf.

Trying to Play Nice
Reply to  PeterW
May 25, 2021 4:04 am

The need for controlled fire would be because of population density. If the population density was low enough the nomadic tribes could just move on. I don’t know if there has ever been any research into this, but I do know that estimates of American Indian populations vary quite widely.

John Dueker
May 24, 2021 3:35 pm

If the lack of wildfires in 1900s was due to overgrazing I suggest put push on for free range beef. They can certainly do forestry management better than California. Plus no more attempted guilt for eating beef!

May 24, 2021 4:11 pm


It’s a very good article. Only some of your wordings and explanations introduce confusion.

Although a bon fire may only reach temperatures of ~1110°F (~600°C)”

Once bonfires or even campfires have progressed to the point of burning coals under good quality firewood, the temperature is much higher.

Different fuels burn at different temperaturesFor example, we can say that a wood fire can reach temperatures of up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (1093 Celsius), but that’s not a hard rule.

Many woods won’t reach that temperature when burning because their chemical makeup prevents it. A few can get even hotter.”

A bonfire stoked with charcoal and wood can get up to 1,100 °C (2,000 °F)”

Charcoal is what is burning at the bottom of fires burning for more than 20-30 minutes.

A lit match can’t ignite a log, no matter how dry it is.”

If I split a log into quarters is it still a log? Those corners where the wood comes to a sharp edge can be lit fairly easily, even large quarters.

If I whittle a small tree trunk into a fuzz or whittled stick, does that still count as a log?
If I tear out a hundred year old rhododendron bush, is the trunk of that bush a legitimate log?
(Here in the East coast, my preferred tinder is dry rhododendron branches and sticks. They light as easily as candles.)

I assume you intend log to be substantial in size (diameter), say at least 10 inches, and untouched circumference.

In my wood stove, I prefer to place parallel unsplit logs then I build the fire between them. One larger log placed at the back of the stove suffices as well.

All wood has resins. Pine, spruce, rhododendron, walnut, hickory, juniper… etc. etc. even maple.
Those resins are volatile. Warming causes volatiles to escape the wood and are very easily lit.

Fire starters known as “fatwood” are easily lit by matches.
What one needs to realize is that fatwood is split from the ends of old cut pines where sap concentrates. Very similar to how pine sap concentrates in pine knots. Neither may have exposed visible sap, but the wood pores are filled.

Here in Virginia, the local Civil War 1864 ‘Battle Of The Wilderness’ is well known for fires started during the battle.
Various theories allege different sources, but the reality is that it wasn’t just one fire, it was multiple fires in different locations.

Fallen branches, broken trees may be hard to start from grass fires, but there was very little grass in the wilderness. Ordinary woodland bushes, even honeysuckle, have significant loads of dead runners and tendrils that are easily started by dry leaves. They form a mass fire capable of lighting ground fire burden and igniting pine trees.

Much as the various bushes out west are easy to set aflame and capable of igniting larger heavy woods.

May 24, 2021 4:40 pm

“Climate change enhances the drying of organic matter in forests and has doubled the number of large fires between 1984 and 2015 in the western United States.”

I thought the principle tenet of climate change was that increasing CO2 level back radiation caused more H2O evaporation and therefore amplifies the effects of CO2 warming, which then causes more evaporation. As I understand it, an increase in H2O evaporation causes humidity to rise in the atmosphere which then causes more rainfall as well.

I’ve never seen any theory published that disputes this as fact. So I am at a loss as how to explain where the C2ES website gets their information. I suspect they made it up or repeated allegations made by other misinformed people. The assumption that climate change causes increased dehydration cannot be true according to current mainstream theory.

Reply to  Doonman
May 25, 2021 1:26 am

The Warmists can’t even keep their lies straight, you mean?

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Doonman
May 25, 2021 3:01 pm

They just cherry-pick the imaginary “effects” of imaginary human-induced “climate change” that suit each “scary story” about what it’s supposed to “cause.”

Remember, the weather was supposed to become “more extreme” when the climate was COOLING, too. All propaganda!

Walter Sobchak
May 24, 2021 6:40 pm

A million years ago when i was in Boy Scouts, they taught us about the fire triangle: air, fuel, and ignition. break any leg and the fire goes out. I guess Boy Scouts are out of fashion. Sad.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
May 25, 2021 3:46 pm

My Boy Scout leader put me through the 1-match winter test. I was left in the snow-covered woods of New Hampshire for 8 hours and had to start a fire with just 1 match. I broke up old moist branches that were laying half snow covered on the ground to build a platform on which to build the fire . Otherwise any fire built on the snow would melt into the snow and extinguish itself. Then I had to find dry fine fuels, which were surprisingly abundant. The smallest twigs on the lowest dead branches of the living trees were everywhere once I had an eye for them. Then I collected progressively larger dead branches and developed a stockpile to keep the fire burning. I formed the smallest twigs into a tee-pee like structure with plenty of space to ensure good air circulation. Then I built 2 more surrounding larger tee-pees from progressively larger kindling that would be ignited by my smallest tee-pee. One match and presto- I had a large fire in no time to keep me warm for hours. Great survival training.

Walter Sobchak
May 24, 2021 8:58 pm

Great article Jim. I think this one should be posted in Everything Climate.

spangled drongo
May 25, 2021 12:58 am

Thanks Jim Steele, for a very good article.

In my neck of the woods where I maintain a fair length of fire trail to prevent serious fire, the authorities used to burn regularly and keep the danger at bay. I’m never allowed to strike a match but in recent years these authorities have done nothing and that is the simple cause of the fuel build-up.

They have caused it by doing nothing.

Reply to  spangled drongo
May 25, 2021 1:40 am

Much like the Somerset level floods were caused by failure to maintain drainage that has been managed for 900 years, since the Monks drained the levels.

AGW is Not Science
May 25, 2021 2:27 pm

Typo alert!

These strong winds are the result of global warming.

Think there’s a “NOT” missing in that sentence. These winds are the result of California’s topography and normal, expected weather patterns, they are not the “result” of “global warming.”

Please don’t feed the AGW trolls with such mistakes!

Jim Steele
Reply to  AGW is Not Science
May 25, 2021 2:36 pm

Yes there was a typo. I caught it after I sent WUWT the article. The “NOT” has been properly placed in the article posted to my website.


Last edited 1 year ago by Jim Steele
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