Everyone's thoughts on what's really causing fires

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longri
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Re: Everyone's thoughts on what's really causing fires

Post by longri » Mon Nov 12, 2018 4:05 pm

freestone wrote:
Mon Nov 12, 2018 3:25 pm
He tweeted it.

That's what I thought you were going to say. Do you have a link?

He's been tweeting for five years. On his blog he says he only posts every few weeks because "writing media-rich updates is pretty time-consuming". If his website problems are pushing him over to twitter I haven't seen mention of it in his blog.








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Re: Everyone's thoughts on what's really causing fires

Post by freestone » Mon Nov 12, 2018 6:24 pm

longri wrote:
Mon Nov 12, 2018 4:05 pm
freestone wrote:
Mon Nov 12, 2018 3:25 pm
He tweeted it.

That's what I thought you were going to say. Do you have a link?

He's been tweeting for five years. On his blog he says he only posts every few weeks because "writing media-rich updates is pretty time-consuming". If his website problems are pushing him over to twitter I haven't seen mention of it in his blog.
Sorry, I did not save the link He tweets multiple times a week and this was months ago. No worries, his blog is alive and well, he obviously worked it out. Sorry for getting so far of topic.
Fram...

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Re: Everyone's thoughts on what's really causing fires

Post by longri » Mon Nov 12, 2018 7:15 pm

No worries, mate. Getting far off topic is okay with me. It does seem to bug rlown a bit thought I think he gets over it quickly.

I don't frequent twitter so I'm not accustomed to the techniques for navigating it. With some effort I found a tweet where he complained of what he said was a distributed denial of service attack. But that was long after he started tweeting.

I miss his comments in between blog posts so maybe I'll have to unmask twitter on my browser every so often to see what he's got to say.

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Re: Everyone's thoughts on what's really causing fires

Post by gdurkee » Thu Jan 10, 2019 11:48 am

OK. Fires are a critical topic and, even though I made some comments in the related preparing for high wind event wildfires thread, I can add some more specific stuff here.

I just went back and reviewed some data analysis I did a few months ago, now adding the Camp Fire. There’s a great data set of all fires in California since, roughly, about 1900 – and some before. I did a search for fires over 50,000 acres. Arbitrary but I think it captures the large catastrophic fires. In the Sierra, there are 14 fires of that size. ALL have occurred since 1995. Roughly the same is true of the rest of the state though there’s several of that size in Southern California before ’95.

I then used a vegetation data set to get the percentage of conifer vs. non-conifer fuels the Sierra fires started in and burned in. All but 1 (and I’ve not yet done the Camp Fire) started in brush/oak/grassland. The majority fuel (>50%) they burned in was the same, not coniferous forest.

The point of that exercise is to emphasize that these are not ‘forest fires’ and, while I have nothing against logging, the belief that increased logging will somehow stop fires is just wrong. Just today, Trump threatened to cut off FEMA money because California does not manage our forests adequately. A complete misunderstanding of the situation. If you look at satellite images of many of these fires where they do burn through forest, you’ll easily see they burn right through large tracts of clear cuts without those open areas affecting rate of spread. After all, even if you cut the trees, you still get brush growing in so nothing is gained.

Note, I’m really open to anyone checking my work here. Although I’m pretty good with GIS, I’m not fully confident my data choices and conclusions mean what I think they mean… .

Next: so what? The discussion here started by a swipe at Jerry Brown for using fire “to again bolster his global warming narrative.” On two important points, Jerry is correct to have brought it up. First, it is the responsibility of a politician to faithfully advocate for solutions to critical problems of the people he or she represent. Here, there is a solid argument backed by solid science that human-caused climate change contributes to, among other things, an increase in the severity of wildfires.

Second, it’s also the responsibility of leaders to use the best science to arrive at solutions to those critical problems. Again, Jerry Brown is correct to draw attention to anthropogenic climate change as a problem that can be mitigated by active measures by the people he represents, such as conservation of resources, restoring ecological health to wildland, and other such efforts directed or suggested by our elected representatives.
Several here provided links to current peer-reviewed papers to support this. Notably Impact of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire across western US forest. The summary:
Significance
Increased forest fire activity across the western United States in recent decades has contributed to widespread forest mortality, carbon emissions, periods of degraded air quality, and substantial fire suppression expenditures. Although numerous factors aided the recent rise in fire activity, observed warming and drying have significantly increased fire-season fuel aridity, fostering a more favorable fire environment across forested systems. We demonstrate that human-caused climate change caused over half of the documented increases in fuel aridity since the 1970s and doubled the cumulative forest fire area since 1984. This analysis suggests that anthropogenic climate change will continue to chronically enhance the potential for western US forest fire activity while fuels are not limiting https://www.pnas.org/content/113/42/11770
Other papers back this premise up. That’s not at all to say there aren’t other critical factors that drive these recent (since ’95) fires. Some researchers speculate that the very long period that fire has been suppressed from ecosystems has created huge areas of contiguous high fuel loads. In pre-Euro-American times, fire was either started by Native Americans or by lightning. Because they were mostly low-intensity ground fires, they created a mosaic of open areas among the forest. When burning through forest, they’d burn the lower 10 feet or so of fuels – the “ladder fuels” that carry fire into the forest crown.

It’s possible that by the late 20th century a combination of more extreme weather brought on by climate change and the fuels (aka forest, chemise & oak woodland) became contiguous with equivalent fuel loads. No open areas to stop or slow down a fast-moving fire driven by the extreme weather events (low relative humidity, high temperatures, high wind) that are the signature predication of climate models.

Also significant is that climate change models predict such extreme weather events starting in the 90s. The link that mrphil provided had a number of misleading graphs and information, especially regarding the importance of fire ignitions pre-1900 and acreage burned from the 20s on. This graphic link is pretty good to emphasize how individual extreme temp days are increasing. This is probably one of the more relevant statistics as far as potential fire starts and rate of spread goes. This trend started – as climate models predict – in the mid-90s which, as above, is when the very large fires began in the Sierra.
https://www.mercurynews.com/wp-content/ ... 02-web.jpg

Here’s another good graph showing the same trend throughout the US. Note also the increase in overnight low temps. Again, the curve starts to steepen in the mid-90s:
https://static1.squarespace.com/static/ ... +trend.png

OK. So obviously I’m amped up about wildfires, as is pretty much everyone who lives in the wildland urban interface. Though incredibly challenging, the solutions are not impossible. They include better zoning, different strategies in building materials, fuel reduction through both mechanical cutting and prescribed burning around vulnerable communities, better warning systems and, yep, working to reduce our contribution to climate change.

PS: I agree Dan Swain is great and well worth following both his Twitter account and California Weather Blog. A great interview with him about fire and climate:
https://insideclimatenews.org/news/1311 ... -interview

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Re: Everyone's thoughts on what's really causing fires

Post by BSquared » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:29 pm

Superb post as always, George.
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Re: Everyone's thoughts on what's really causing fires

Post by mrphil » Fri Jan 11, 2019 6:04 am

George,

I was most definitely taking a swipe at Jerry Brown. The topic is relevant and timely, but my feeling in his comment was that, fully right or fully wrong, he only presented the cause as being fully attributable to one single factor in a much larger set of contributing factors, as has been demonstrated by the science. His singular, opportunistic narrative. One that merely and conveniently fits his political agenda, while simultaneously shirking responsibility for so many other causes brought on by politics and how money is allocated within the sphere of influence that politicians have (ie: forest management): it's easy to blame the bogeyman, or even your little brother, but much more difficult to own up to one's own culpability.

My idea was to solicit not just the better informed opinions of others for the sake of conversation, but to come away with a broader understanding of how all the parts fit together in not only causing what's happening, but in how to stop it from proliferating in the future. I didn't feel that Brown did that, nor that he even wanted to. Again, it's not politically expedient to say, "We, as the leadership of this state, aren't doing our parts in funding action and assessing and mitigating/eliminating risks, but it's up to the populace to reduce your carbon footprint and eliminate anthropogenic warming." I don't disagree with Brown, but I believe that he has a responsibility to state ALL the facts, not just dump out a blanket statement that's going to be taken to heart and digested by the masses at face value alone as what the venerable governor says, so it must therefore be the sole reason why this is happening. There's so much more. Joe Schmo is hardly going to go beyond that.

In your other post on wind-driven events, you mention Santa Rosa. This is a great example. I drive over Fountaingrove almost daily. Yes, as you stated, houses are now being rebuilt. The vast majority of them just as combustible and in a historically fire-prone area as before. The city of Santa Rosa was warned. The 1964 Hanley fire was the model for the burn area, and now we have the Tubbs fire as further evidence of just how prescient that warning was and how ill-advised developing in that notable urban-wildland interface was and still is. Yet we still somehow manage to be surprised and mortified by the outcome. But nothing changes, and that's purely the product of politics and money, whether that be just telling people what they want to hear, revenues, or in how what's available to make ALL things right just isn't there, because they have a better, more pressing use for it. But we can all buy a Prius, build a bullet train, suffer a carbon tax and carbon credit ruse, and everything is going to be just fine and be fixed...until next time, and then we can all be surprised and mortified all over again, for nothing but the simple reason that we only touched on a part of it.

Let's not play. If we're going to do it, let's do it right, and entirely on the basis of addressing everything that goes into it. Anything less is a band-aid and pandering.

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Re: Everyone's thoughts on what's really causing fires

Post by Wandering Daisy » Fri Jan 11, 2019 1:09 pm

Building codes are so wrapped up in politics that people probably will rebuild before any new codes are implemented. The desired end result may come more quickly if insurance companies charged a high rate and then gave rebates for implementing better building and landscape methods. Homeowners who get insurance money from recent fires are eager to rebuild quickly and not inclined or financially able to spend more than their insurance pays out. They really need a monetary incentive (or direct government help) to do it right. Sure, the millionaires in Malibu can afford a better built house, but the poorer people in Paradise certainly cannot. All they want is an immediate place to live.

Also, defensible space around an existing home is not that cheap. Have you ever cut down a big tree? Costs a bloody fortune. It is not that most folks do not want defensible space, but a lot cannot afford it. And what if you spend all that money and your neighbor does not? I think this is very much a community effort that also probably needs some financial help from the government. It is one thing go say that "in the long run" it is cheaper to build defensible space than burn down. It is another thing for a lot of middle class people to come up with the money to do it immediately.

At least one recent large fire, with direct drastic effects on the wilderness, was started by a poorly put out campfire. A few fires have also been started by arsons. So it is not all the urban-wilderness interface.

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Re: Everyone's thoughts on what's really causing fires

Post by rlown » Fri Jan 11, 2019 3:23 pm

Gavin will save us! ;)

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Re: Everyone's thoughts on what's really causing fires

Post by dave54 » Sun Jan 13, 2019 11:45 am

Nationally, the number of wildfires reported were down last year, compared to the ten year average -- 57000 versus 64000.
Of course, most fires are stopped while small and never make the news. The largest fire in the lower 48 last year got barely a 30 second mention on the local channel, because it burned a half-million acres of sagebrush flats in NE Nevada and nowhere near homes or improvements.
The fires that are close to towns and threaten homes get all the attention, even though they are a very small minority of all fires.
Also getting little attention are the natural ignitions in the remote areas and allowed to burn. California has several of those every year without any news cameras showing up.
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Re: Everyone's thoughts on what's really causing fires

Post by mrphil » Sun Jan 13, 2019 6:50 pm

dave54 wrote:
Sun Jan 13, 2019 11:45 am
Nationally, the number of wildfires reported were down last year, compared to the ten year average -- 57000 versus 64000.
Of course, most fires are stopped while small and never make the news. The largest fire in the lower 48 last year got barely a 30 second mention on the local channel, because it burned a half-million acres of sagebrush flats in NE Nevada and nowhere near homes or improvements.
The fires that are close to towns and threaten homes get all the attention, even though they are a very small minority of all fires.
Also getting little attention are the natural ignitions in the remote areas and allowed to burn. California has several of those every year without any news cameras showing up.
It's always been my understanding that fires have been a good thing, both in the eyes of native people for sustainability and environmentally. We only started having problems when we got in the way and had to start fighting them as a matter of policy.

I recently read some info on what happened in Yosemite Valley after it became a national park. Interestingly enough, John Muir was fierce about them all being suppressed because of his misguided understanding. The irony was that what he originally appreciated most about the healthy, park-like setting came largely as a result of controlled burning by the natives, but also naturally occurring, and was lost when neither were allowed to run. But he was so hung up on the whole thing that, without regular burns, the meadows in the valley became overgrown, rangey, and lost as specific ecosystems. Anything but what he loved about them to begin with and demanded protection for.

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