Understanding Wildfires and Climate and How we Must Adapt

Jim Steele

Video explaining the ecology of wildfires and why California is more prone to fires than the rest of the USA

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August 17, 2021 2:20 am

Our first adaptation is to ban environmentalists from owning matches.

Reply to  Klem
August 17, 2021 4:46 am

and transport to get to the forest i am sure they want that

Reply to  H B
August 17, 2021 1:31 pm

Electric buses only though … they burn better.

Reply to  WXcycles
August 17, 2021 4:20 pm

Self igniting, in some cases. Saves on matches and starter fluid!

Steve Case
August 17, 2021 3:42 am

Boiled down, managing the ecosystem (forest) is doable, managing the climate is not.

Steve Case
August 17, 2021 3:46 am

Excellent presentation. Holds your interest for the full 45 minutes.

Devils Tower
August 17, 2021 4:23 am

Very good, he needs to add section on invasion of eucalyptus trees

Steve Case
Reply to  Devils Tower
August 17, 2021 5:35 am

Bingo! Thanks for pointing that one out.

Reply to  Devils Tower
August 17, 2021 7:10 am

Wonderful tree. Aroma (as in volatile aromatic) clears sinuses, and clean-smelling. Forest can endure and recover from anything except harsh winters. Malaria mosquitoes and dangerous ticks really hate them. Shady. Pretty. Grows very fast. Only one (serious) problem. Reminds me of garlic in foods; cures and mitigates everything but halitosis.

Devils Tower
Reply to  EOM
August 17, 2021 7:17 am

Posted here before about issue. Do a search on eucalyptus fire ecology.

It is part of Australia’s fire ecology.

It was a huge mistake to bring to calif.

If needed I can find for you….

Devils Tower
Reply to  EOM
August 17, 2021 7:24 am
Gunga Din
Reply to  EOM
August 17, 2021 2:15 pm

To keep the trees in check, just open the border to koala bears!
If they’re invited, they wouldn’t be invasive. (Would they?)

Pamela Matlack-Klein
August 17, 2021 4:54 am

Forest fires are on everyone’s minds today. I was interviewed by Russian TV earlier today and the first thing they asked me about was forest fires, how to prevent them and are they caused by CAGW. I hope I set them straight about CAGW.

Also, an interesting theory is currently circulating that the recent floods in Germany were caused by the smoke from the Siberian forest fires…. I guess that makes as much sense as anything else the Green Alarmists say these days.

August 17, 2021 5:03 am

Over the years Fine Homebuilding magazine has done excellent articles about natural disasters and the houses that do, or do not, survive them. Here’s an example about the 1993 Laguna Beach fire storm.
We used to have fires that burned down whole cities and then we implemented proper building codes and that doesn’t happen any more. By the same token, we have the knowledge to site and build in a fireproof manner where bush fires might be a problem.

Politics is an issue. There are numerous stories of Australian farmers being fined huge amounts for clearing a sufficient fire break. Similarly, people seem to care more about aesthetics than they do about actual survival. IMHO, the death and destruction of the Camp Fire or Fort McMurray are inexcusable.

Reply to  commieBob
August 17, 2021 5:38 am

A big problem in Paradise Ca, was not related to forest management, or how the fire started, but how the older community was protected or evacuated.
The infrastructure was not robust enough to protect the citizens.
Cell phones didn’t work and road that had been narrowed choked.

John Hultquist
Reply to  Waza
August 17, 2021 7:42 am

All discussed on WUWT (in detail).
Anthony knows folks that were there, so long time readers know of the things you, Waza, say. Thanks, for the reminder.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  commieBob
August 17, 2021 6:34 am

Your first link is a dead end.

Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
August 17, 2021 7:13 am

Thanks. I hope this link works.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  commieBob
August 21, 2021 4:30 pm

It did for me, thank you. I was sort of aware of the “miracle house” but the details are always interesting.

August 17, 2021 5:08 am

Thanks for the excellent presentation.

August 17, 2021 5:13 am

Regarding housing standards.
A large proportion of the homes destroyed in Paradise were not actually houses.
Many of the homes destroyed were motor homes owned by low income retirees, located in tightly packed parks.

I think how we actually protect homes and human life is an important but separate topic of fire management.

Devils Tower
August 17, 2021 5:26 am

As for dry calif years and PDO/ENSO interactions…

16,17,18,19 were very wet years, 20,21 very dry… per oroville lake levels

Not seeing the connection, comments help anyone?

Reply to  Devils Tower
August 17, 2021 12:00 pm

I live in the Sierra Nevada 75 miles or so south of Oroville.
By memory I believe this has been the pattern for winters in our area lately;
14-15 and 15-16 very dry.
16-17 very wet
17-18 slightly dry
18-19 very wet
19-20 and 20-21 dry
Strong El Ninos and La Ninas generally give us very wet and very dry years respectively. Weak or non existent ones don’t seem to generate a strong correlation either way.
Happy to be corrected by someone more knowledgeable.

Devils Tower
Reply to  BrianB
August 17, 2021 1:26 pm


Use this for wet dry years, do not match up with your recollection very well


Here is multivariate enso index page. Go to value tab

Still trying to see corrolation.

August 17, 2021 5:28 am

In the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria Australia the township of Marysville was all but destroyed by a fast moving fire.
More the 90% of all homes were destroyed and more than 30 people perished.
My friends home was one of the few that survived.
You can see this solid brick home surrounded by low flammability European plants on google street view.
8 Keppels court Marysville

Mark Kaiser
August 17, 2021 5:35 am

I remember during the Trump/Biden debates on the California wildfires. Trump talked about forest management and he was scoffed at. I always thought he missed an opportunity to show the hypocracy of the whole movement right there.

What if he had said: “Even if you’re right about climate change causing wildfires, and you’re not. Your solution means 30 more years of wildfires WITHOUT trying forest management to solve the problem. That’s your idea of saving California? It’s pretty pathetic.”

Here’s a link to what he did say.

I hope Donald gets a multibillion dollar tech settlement. It’s the only way we are going to get back some of our Freedom of Speech.

Reply to  Mark Kaiser
August 17, 2021 1:04 pm

It wasn’t just during the debates, indeed in the midst of the battle to contain the Woolsey Fire after it had burned through a large part of Malibu, President Trump traveled to LA and specifically visited Malibu alongside Gov Jerry Brown and Gov-elect Gavin Newsom. President Trump reiterated his exhortations of forest management, while Newsom gravely nodded his head in agreement. Since taking office, Newsom proceeded to ignore all forest management, and some of the deadliest firestorms in CA history have burned every year since. It’s no longer hypocrisy, it is blatant evil.


Neo Conscious
Reply to  Mark Kaiser
August 17, 2021 7:25 pm

I agree, Mark.
Environmentalists I know decry the fires while proclaiming “It’s all from global warming”. However, they offer no realistic solutions while spouting platitudes about eliminating fossil fuels. That’s because they know that the real solutions don’t fit their leftist agenda.

Arjan Duiker
August 17, 2021 6:32 am

Superb explanation, thank you Jim Steele

John Bell
August 17, 2021 7:07 am

Bay area professor starts many fires – I bet to bolster climate change fears.

John Hultquist
Reply to  John Bell
August 17, 2021 8:00 am

He was a nut-case and did a bit of instructing when the school couldn’t find an actual sane person to take a part time position.
He was not a “professor”. with or without the capital P.

August 17, 2021 7:52 am

Reply to  richard
August 17, 2021 7:52 am

“Suspected Arsonist Caught on Video Allegedly Igniting Brush Fires In California”

Reply to  richard
August 17, 2021 1:28 pm

“Allegedly’ starting brush fires! I really HATE that word, ‘allegedly’, especially when you are watching the video of him/her DOING it! WHO was taking the videos? WHY didn’t they do something to stop this fool?

Fred Middleton
Reply to  IAMPCBOB
August 18, 2021 10:30 am

Lawyer talk

John Hultquist
August 17, 2021 7:54 am

I’ll mention the FireWise program and
“the Era of MegaFires”. [ a north40 production ]
I live in what they call the Wildland Urban Interface or WUI — woo-e.

The Ellensburg area (central Washington State) had an interesting episode on Monday, 16th. A fire just to the WSW (16,000 acres –Schneider Springs) had dense smoke over the Kittitas Valley, blocking out the sun. A cooler air flow from the WNW carried clean air over the Cascades and down into the Valley. There was cool clean air, maybe 1,500 feet deep, under the smoke layer. Ridges to the SW and NE had smoke on them at about 4,000 feet. I’m at 2,200. This was a fantastic display of atmospheric actions.

John Hultquist
August 17, 2021 8:05 am

Does anyone know why some comments are tagged as “awaiting for approval” and then one gets an e-mail notifying that action?
Other comments are not so privileged!
Is this WUWT or a Word Press thing?

August 17, 2021 9:13 am

Fantastic video!! Loved it and will spread it around.

Abolition Man
August 17, 2021 9:47 am

Thanks, Jim!
An interesting and informative video; just like your articles! I can’t think of a better way to occupy the next ten years or more for those who pushed lockdowns and mask mandates than spending six or seven days a week removing invasive grasses and reseeding native bunch grasses! Maybe the current military brass responsible for the debacle in Afghanistan can join them in finally doing something productive for the American people!

August 17, 2021 10:06 am

One problem here in much wetter BC is that fuel load grows fast when elderly people become unable to maintain their gardens. We bought a waterfront investment lot 125×125′ a couple of years ago. The previous occupant became blind for the last few years of her life, and then the house was vacant for over 10 years. We got 4 cubic yards of mulch from the small trees and shrubs, leaving 14 spruce trees from 8″ to 2′ diameter and a 50X25′ blackberry patch. The new owner will get significant lumber when he builds.

There are many such houses in our community, together with others where various conifers are deliberately planted up to the houses to look pretty. Our 1/2 acre is cleared. When we moved in the neighbour to the north said we would remain friends as long as I did not plant anything high along my north fence. Like us, he values winter sun.

August 17, 2021 12:31 pm

I obviously don’t have nearly the expertise of Mr Steele but I did spend almost 30 years as a logger, primarily in the central Sierra Nevada. My practical experience and observations are these.
Heavy fuels will be reduced one way or the other. Nature’s method is through fire. While it is true that old growth forests are more fire resistant, apparently prior to settlement nearly 50% of CA forests were in some stage of second growth, after fire had removed the old growth. When conditions are right even old growth forests are heavily impacted or burned to the ground, even Sequoia groves. I’ve seen it.
Beginning around 80 years ago our firefighting techniques, resources and commitment reached a level that suppressed most fires, which was nice for aesthetics but bad for fuel loads.
While I agree with the idea and have directly observed that thinning through logging does slow and even stop fires by decreasing fuel loads and increasing spacing, including on my own property, the reality is that there is just not a big enough market to handle the volume of wood that would need to be removed to have a significant impact. A more realistic way is to include thinning with widespread prescriptive burning.
You can suppress fires but when you do you are suppressing nature’s method of reducing fuels…temporarily. What we are seeing recently is that nature will not be denied and the fuels will be reduced by fire whether we want it to be or not, by fires we lack the resources to suppress.
Since humans like to live in forests and very few people enjoy recreating in 500,000 acre fire scars, seems to me the only sensible course is to suppress fire season fires but replace their natural method of reducing fuel loads by some thinning, especially on strategic and accessible ridges, but more so by an extensive and aggressive prescriptive burning program in the spring and fall when the risk of a catastrophic escape is reduced.
The worst of all possible worlds, which we have put in place, is to aggressively suppress wildfires but do next to nothing to reproduce their function in forests by artificial means. The inevitable result is eventually gigantic fires that we don’t have enough resources in place to fight simultaneously.
That is happening as we speak as the 600,000 acre Dixie fire gobbles up my old Plumas county camping and grouse hunting spots and the Caldor fire which only began a couple of days ago shoots a pyro-cumulus cloud in the sky a few miles to the NW of me and neither has the resources nor manpower they need to stop them.

Devils Tower
Reply to  BrianB
August 17, 2021 4:00 pm

There should be a very good market for lumber now.

For the ground level stuff, is it cost effective to harvest wood chips and burn in parallel in coal plants. All it takes is a secondary blower.

Do not know if it could be made cost effective. Any idea?

As for all the noise from the greens, compost them and add them to the wood chips.

Reply to  Devils Tower
August 17, 2021 4:37 pm

The problem with biomass energy from forest arisings, is that the transport from forest to generating plant kills the economics

Reply to  Devils Tower
August 17, 2021 6:22 pm

Log prices did not follow lumber prices up because the constraint was mill capacity not logs. Mill capacity has increased and demand has dropped so lumber prices on the commodity markets are now about a third what they were in May.
Bio mass, as DavidF notes below, does not pay to ship it to pretty much any co-gen plant. It’s tried periodically and can work if the supply is close enough [a lot of sawmills use co-gen of their chips and sawdust] but it seldom is close enough and on the scale you’d need to do wouldn’t work.

Devils Tower
Reply to  BrianB
August 18, 2021 9:50 am

Understand, another option possibly…

Instead of subsidized wind power all over,
Set up small coal/biomass plants in fire country to make the economics work.
Even if they are not run 100% of the time I am sure it would be better than wind power.
They could be fired up when needed the most.

Gunga Din
August 17, 2021 2:39 pm

30 or more years I remember reading something (from SEPP?) about fires in California.
It had to do with people in some areas being forbidden from clearing dead brush around their properties because it was the habitat of the kangaroo rat … even though one hadn’t been seen there for 30-50 years.
California Dreamin’ regulations haven’t gotten any better.

Neo Conscious
August 17, 2021 3:23 pm

Excellent analysis of the myriad factors influencing wildfires here in California.

I agree that global warming’s effect is less significant than many other factors today. However, a much more significant way that increased atmospheric CO2 levels is increasing fires is a huge increase in plant growth.

Plants are growing at least 25% faster now as a result of higher CO2 levels, and that effect is enhanced as much as two-fold in semi-arid regions (like California) due to the lower water requirements of plants grown in higher CO2 levels.

Because tree growth is exponential, the compounding effect of a faster baseline growth rate results in much shorter doubling times. The accumulation of carbon in the trees of our forests is accelerating rapidly, but much of that carbon is also in the form of dead material that is cumulative over many years. Additionally, in a climate with dry summers such as ours, the decomposition of that dead material on the forest floor is much slower than in wet forests.

Forests hold great potential to function as carbon sinks to buffer rising atmospheric CO2 levels, but that benefit leaves us with the quandary of the increased risk of it all going up in smoke.

Curious George
Reply to  Neo Conscious
August 17, 2021 3:47 pm

“tree growth is exponential” ??

Neo Conscious
Reply to  Curious George
August 17, 2021 5:21 pm

Yes George, they grow faster and faster every year.

As an example, if you ever count the rings on trees to see how old they are, you notice that the distance between rings is similar as you go out from the center except for some sections where they are closer together from drought years or wider from wet ones.

However, although the distance between rings is similar, the area included in the thin ring is greater the farther you go out from the center, and is increasing at the radius squared. Assuming equal spacing of rings, a ring at twenty years has 4 times the area as one at ten years.

Additionally, that ring actually represents more than just a larger area than the ones closer in, it represents a larger volume going up the trunk, and therefore the tree growth is actually increasing at the radius cubed. A ring at 20 years has 8 times the volume as one at 10 years.

Reply to  Neo Conscious
August 17, 2021 6:32 pm

True to an extent. Much like people, from childhood to adolescence their growth generally accelerates, but as they age the rings become narrower and narrower. Most old growth trees grow so slowly you need a magnifying glass to differentiate the rings. And they begin to slow long before they are considered old growth; partly because they obviously can’t keep growing faster for long or they’d be the size of skyscrapers in a few hundred years and as they get larger they compete more and more with each other for fairly fixed and finite water, light and minerals.

Neo Conscious
Reply to  BrianB
August 17, 2021 10:38 pm

I appreciate many of your comments, Brian, but I must disagree with you on this.

Many large trees are so big it’s hard to appreciate the increase in growth from year to year, but studies have shown that the biggest trees are the fastest growing of all (unless sick and dying) and thus the best ones for carbon fixation.

A number of years ago some botanists tested the growth rate of the 2,000 year old Giant Sequoias to confirm their hypothesis that trees that big didn’t grow much anymore. However, they were surprised to learn through tree ring analysis that those ancient trees are currently growing faster than they ever have.

They aren’t growing taller, for other factors limit their height, but their total mass (and stored carbon) continues to increase faster and faster every year.

The most effective way to enlist forests as carbon sinks is to protect the largest trees, and rather than a hands-off approach such as that of the US Forest Service, we should be moving toward a hands-on approach with thinning, controlled burns and managed logging.

Reply to  Neo Conscious
August 18, 2021 9:00 am

You’ll have to link these studies because my job for years was to make stumps, which invariably demonstrated the growth rate of trees past middle age slowed and continued slowing the older they got. So we’re kind of in the ‘who you gonna believe, me or your lyin eyes?’ territory.
In middle age if the forest was thinned and competition reduced then growth would often accelerate again but this was usually a short lived phenomenon.
A tree that is six feet in diameter with a growth ring 1/64th of an inch thick is obviously growing and may even be putting on substantial volume, but it is obviously not growing as fast as a four foot diameter tree with 1/4 inch rings [those numbers are roughly representative of typical trees on high site conditions in the west slope of the Sierra in CA].
A bit of back of the envelope math indicates the latter has put on over ten times the area of the former. The older tree is marginally taller but it is certainly not more than ten times taller. Typical heights for those ages of Sugar Pines around here would be 220′ vs 180′. A little more basic math yields a volume addition still more than ten times higher for the younger tree.
If we whittle the younger tree rings down to 1/8″ it is still putting on over five times the volume of the older tree.
Older trees have large canopies so they do absorb a lot of CO2, but the older they get the closer their growth comes to a stand still.

Rich Lambert
August 17, 2021 4:08 pm

I used to live in north central Oklahoma near the southern edge of the grasslands. When the first settlers arrived there were few trees except in the creek bottoms due to fires. This has since changed and there are many more trees especially highly combustible Easter Red Cedar. Many ranchers do prescribed burns to eliminate the cedars and other saplings. About 30 years ago there was a fire in February. Driven by dry conditions and a northwesterly wind it burned the grasslands for about 10 miles and a 10,000 acres area. I believe it was intentionally set. One house was destroyed. It had wood siding. It is likely could have been saved had the owner used his disk plow to disk the grounds around the house. It was parked at the site. Nearby structures survived because the grass had been mowed and fire breaks disked..

Capn Mike
August 17, 2021 6:14 pm

That was a fast 45 minutes. Learned some stuff. Well done, Prof. Steele

Matthew Sykes
August 17, 2021 11:59 pm

Wild fire is natural and many plants need it to reproduce.

August 18, 2021 7:32 am

I read:

The Dixie fire has consumed hundreds of thousands of acres of forested mountainsides, including large swaths of land in Plumas National Forest.

So I looked up fire management for that National Forest and found a long list of projects involving reducing fire risk…

for example 2 at random
Some areas within the 2018 Camp Fire burned under high and mixed severity. Left unmitigated these dead, dying, and structurally damaged live trees will become hazardous fuels. We propose to remove fire killed trees that would become dangerous fuels.

Strategically place DFPZ and WUI treatments to modify fire behavior and improve forest resilience. Activities include mechanical thinning, hand thinning, piling, mastication, group selection, prescribed burning, and associated transportation planning

Fred Middleton
Reply to  griff
August 18, 2021 10:37 am

Yep. In some accounts – local boot on the ground, recent fire scar Camp and Bear fires – now mostly grass 1-hour fuel, fire raced through at alarming speed – slope and upslope normal wind. One Fire Prediction formula 100% slope equals 30 miles per hour wind. Any additional valley winds will also shear off and go upslope

August 19, 2021 7:43 am

Manipulation by youtube! First because I get notified of each comment I noticed a very positive comment was removed so I reposted it. 2 days later the comment was returned. Then I saw youtube dropped the likes from 22 to 15. So I started taking screen shots. Last night at 9 PM likes had risen back to 22, but by 7 AM youtube lowered the likes to 20. My screenshots are proof of youtube’s manipulation! This needs to be investigated!

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