The Mendocino complex is currently burning approximately .4% of the land mass of the entire state of California. While this is a terrifying number, it's important for us to be able to look at it objectively and try to learn as much as we can from it. How can we work to prevent these kinds of things from happening in the future? How can we allow fire to be a part of the landscape while keeping people safe?
It's been all over the news lately: these huge fires in the west that stay in the cultural consciousness just long enough for the next massive fire to erupt. It's troubling to see a near-unending stream of impossible-to-contain blazes arise seemingly out of nowhere. Unfortunately, those of us with a background in the environment understand that these fires aren't coming out of nowhere. These fires are undoubtedly the result of the warmer and drier conditions caused by global climate change. It's frustrating to see a back-and-forth in the news, between people working in and studying fire in California, and those in the President's administration. A meteorologist will say there is an "undeniable link to climate change", and the next week the Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, claims that "This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management."
He certainly has a point, but it's a woefully ignorant bait-and-switch. As a result of the Smokey the Bear campaign, fire all but disappeared from many of the fire-dependent ecosystems in the west. For decades, zero tolerance on fires meant no prescribed burning, no real way to reduce fuel loads, no other large scale method of actively managing these fire-dependent forests. While actively managing these forests with prescribed fire would have meant these fires would have been far easier to manage, it truthfully wouldn't have done enough to make the frequency of fires we're seeing now any lower. That is solely the result of increasing temperatures, which whisk away moisture and make it far easier for fuels to ignite.
We've seen the impacts all across the world. Greece had the biggest fire Europe has seen in a century, which killed 74 people. Sweden had to request international assistance to control their fires. British Colombia had to call in hundreds of firefighters from around the world to assist in their hundreds of current wildfires. In Australia, bushfires are increasing in number and intensity. No matter where you go, you'll see the effects of climate change, and their undeniable impact on the presence of wildfires.
So what can we do? It's a massively intimidating question since we rarely see any individual work done to prevent wildfires, since everything is done through government agencies staffed by well-trained firefighters. While anyone without training should absolutely stay off the fireline, it doesn't mean you can't help spread awareness about prescribed fire as a prevention tactic, or simply about the relationship between climate change and wildfires. Increasing public awareness of climate change, as well as public understanding of the positive impacts of burning, means more people will favor active steps being taken to prevent wildfires. People supporting things like prescribed fire means (ideally) that our elected representatives will also support more methods of forest management, which will give them more funding and therefore make these methods more impactful.
We as individuals can also begin to implement prescribed burning on our properties, as a way to protect our own property as well as surrounding properties from wildfires. We can work to ensure our homes have buffers around them, spaces where nothing could possibly ignite and carry (or radiate) fire to our homes. We can be vocal about our acknowledgement of climate change, and adamant in our actions to prevent further wildfires. We can remind people to check their local fire weather before burning brush piles, help neighbors make their properties fire-ready, and keep our families prepared in case a wildfire does ever make it to our homes. There are many things we can do! We just have to start doing.
Great article on forestry and fire. It's hard to properly plan and organize an ecosystem as complex as a forest, especially given our consistently limited knowledge about fire and how to properly implement it. It's both frustrating and heartening to see so many places around the US finally working to get fire on the ground again, after decades of "no burn" policies implemented by the US government. Read away!
Very interesting article about fuel reduction in the west, and the need for more prescribed burning. One of the more interesting parts of this article is near the bottom: a graph showing mechanical treatments vs prescribed fire, and the occurrence of wildfires and the amount of undisturbed historically burned land. Interestingly, significantly more burning is done in the Southeastern US than in any other region! My guess is it has to do with their burn season being almost unlimited (since they can burn straight through the winter). If the rest of the southern US shares that climate, why isn't the southwest burning through the winter too? Perhaps something to look in to!
Check out this awesome article about how CalFire intends to triple the amount of prescribed fire on the ground, in response to an executive order from California Governor Jerry Brown. Sounds like California knows what kinds of tactics work for wildfire management!
The wildfire in Florida last month that was started by a prescribed fire has ignited a fresh debate over the use of ecological burning in today’s world. The article might just scratch the surface, but it’s a reminder of the importance of explaining, clearly and concisely, what prescribed burning is all about.
Every now and then, the tech sector cranks out something that proliferates so deeply into mainstream culture, it eventually sneaks into every area of our lives. Though these pieces of technology might trouble us just as much as they delight us, there's no denying the excitement they cause, the rush of seeing and interacting with something brand new. Recently something new has stepped into the tech limelight, inhabiting the space once held by camcorders and laptops: DRONES.
Prescribed burning is an objectively worrying activity. I mean, how could going against the wishes of Smokey Bear ever be a good thing??? Although the fear associated with burning is understandable, it's our duty as people who put fire on the ground to understand our fears. To differentiate the valid concerns from the knee-jerk impulse to stop any fire from ever hitting the ground. I've encountered quite a few people who want to see prescribed fire abolished, who think it's deadly and evil. In this article I hope to address both the rational and irrational responses I've encountered to the idea of ecological burning.
Sometimes, mother nature is calm and quiet. Other times, she throws a huge storm directly into a prescribed fire. Sometimes, momma nature is (literally) lit.
A giant pump truck… that floats???