Wild-Forest Fires Not So Wild

May 2, 2016

nitefireSunshine and warm temperatures this Monday afternoon on California’s north coast, all tempered by a slightly-cool ocean breeze — about as good-as-it-gets for these parts.
Overcast-sun and a slight chance of rain forecast for tomorrow, similar weather features on-and-off for the rest of the week.

As we start another wildfire season here in California, a new report indicates we’re the real fire-starters. Such findings published last Thursday from George Washington University: ‘However, humans contribute another set of factors that influence wildfires, including where structures are built, and the frequency and location of ignitions from a variety of sources — everything from cigarettes on the highway to electrical poles that get blown down in Santa Ana winds.
As a result of the near-saturation of the landscape, humans are currently responsible for igniting more than 90 percent of the wildfires in California.’

(Illustration: Night fire in Sequoia National Park,  found here).

Although supposedly we’re to have a less severe fire season this year than last — 8,100 wildfires statewide in 2015, burning 825,000 acres — there’s going to be some places with significant fires.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said last week: ‘“So where we anticipate the severity of the fire season will not be at the same level as last year, we still expect to have some areas that will be really active.”
Chief Tidwell also acknowledged the human influence on fires:

With a chuckle and a smile, Tidwell defended Smokey Bear, his agency’s memorable mascot, from allegations of making things worse by portraying fire as evil instead of part of the natural cycle that kept forests healthy.
Smokey’s original message, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” has been updated to “Only you can prevent wildfires.”
“Really, Smokey was just talking about those human-caused fires which actually occur at the wrong time of the year, not where the natural fire occurs,” Tidwell said.
Those are the fires that the Forest Service still wants to stop, he said.
“Smokey Bear gets no blame for the situation we have today,” he said.

As reported by the GWU research: ‘“Individuals don’t have much control over how climate change will affect wildfires in the future. However, we do have the ability to influence the other half of the equation, those variables that control our impact on the landscape,” said Michael Mann, assistant professor of geography at the George Washington University and lead author of the study. “We can reduce our risks by disincentivizing housing development in fire-prone areas, better managing public land and rethinking the effectiveness of our current firefighting approach.”

A fire by any other name…


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