Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

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Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change
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(Thomas Fire on Dec 7, 2017 on the Highway 33 corridor / Photo: Mark Gerwe USFS)

By edhat staff

A new study reports that California's wildfires have increased by 500% in annual burned areas. In the past ten years, California has seen half of the state’s 10 largest wildfires and seven of its 10 most destructive fires, including the Thomas Fire.

The 2017 Thomas Fire affected Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties and covered 281,893 acres making it the 2nd largest fire in California's history. The largest fire was July 2018's Mendocino Complex Fire at 459,123 acres while last year's Camp Fire in Butte County was the state’s deadliest wildfire ever killing 85 people.

The study was published last month in the journal Earth’s Future finding that California's fire outbreak is being driven by climate change. Since 1972, California experienced a fivefold increase in annual burned area, mainly due to more than an eightfold increase in summertime forest‐fire and was very likely driven by drying of fuels promoted by human‐induced warming, according to the paper.

"Warming effects were also apparent in the fall by enhancing the odds that fuels are dry when strong fall wind events occur. The ability of dry fuels to promote large fires is nonlinear, which has allowed warming to become increasingly impactful. Human‐caused warming has already significantly enhanced wildfire activity in California, particularly in the forests of the Sierra Nevada and North Coast, and will likely continue to do so in the coming decades," according to the paper.

Northern California summers have warmed by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.8 degrees Celsius) on average since 1970. Increased heat dries out soil and trees turning land into fire fuel that can be easily sparked. Authors of the paper state even if there's a wet winter, a summer heatwave can dry out the area making it susceptible to wildfire.

The authors state increased heat is the clearest result of human-caused climate change, according to The Atlantic.

The paper also states their findings are limited to summertime fires in forests, such as the Whittier Fire which sparked July 2017 in the Los Padres National Forest burning 18,430 acres. However, they also found the amount of burned non-forest area, including many of Southern California’s shrub and grassland fires, has not significantly increased.

Autumn wildfires, such as the Camp Fire, will get more common as climate change continues, the paper suggests. 

When posed with climate change not being the only factor of increased fire in California, the authors state the fundamental relationship between excess heat and additional fire never changes in the study’s data, suggesting that across five decades, the forests have remained the same and only the air temperature has changed, reports The Atlantic.

Looking forward, a worst-case scenario predicts the majority of California forests have all burned to leave a landscape of grassland and desert if nothing is done to reduce carbon pollution.

 

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SBZZ Aug 14, 2019 08:54 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

JIMJ3333 and your URL - the data prior to 1983 are unsubstantiated and they are for the whole country and we are just talking about California here. If you care about whatever diversity is left in our chaparral lands, you will fight the preposterous push to slash, scrape, and burn it away in the name of fire protection. The chaparral already is overburned in many areas, turning it into nonnative grasses. More burning and clearing means, less natural vegetation.

a-1569176835 Aug 09, 2019 07:15 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

Last line of article: “Looking forward, a worst-case scenario predicts the majority of California forests have all burned to leave a landscape of grassland and desert if nothing is done to reduce carbon pollution.” OK, fine, when this happens I guess we won’t have to worry about any more wildfires. Sounds good. Let’s get on with it.

Emmenanthe Aug 09, 2019 10:41 AM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

I guess Shasta Guy needs to teach trees how to grow! Forests have been around for millions of years, but SG states that the trees are growing too close together!! Sounds like Trumplogic.

Jimj3333 Aug 19, 2019 12:04 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

@EMMENANTHE Both trees and fire have been around for millions of years, yet for the last 100 years we have been putting out fires without any thought to the consequences. now because of that, forest are overgrown, and in general have too many stems (trees) per acre. So yes, since natural occurring fire has been removed from the ecosystem, trees are growing too close together (but I'm sure you're experience and education in forestry tells you this)! Now we have two choices, either go in and remove some of the trees to open up the canopy and reduce the potential for a stand replacing fire, or allow the next fire to burn through the stand at high intensity...and then start over. Your snide comments tell me you know very little about forests and their needs...and that you hate people that might support Trump! GTFU!

SantaBarbaraObserver Aug 09, 2019 08:59 AM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

Ahh the science denying, Trump loving, 'I know more than experts cause I feels it..', ignoramuses are out in force these days. Just realize the internet is the only place you exist. The real world has already cast you aside and history will put you in the appropriate place (the trash bin). So go ahead and enjoy your tiny sense of accomplishments with your insipid posts and downvotes. But know, your sense of accomplishment is short lived and superfluous for no one cares what you think in real life. No one but your Mother likes you and she's just being nice...

a-1569176835 Aug 09, 2019 06:02 AM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

Sundowners and heat this weekend. Tonight: The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory, which is in effect from 6 PM this evening to 3 AM-PDT Saturday. * WINDS...Northwest to north winds 20 to 30 mph with gusts to 50 mph through and below the Santa Ynez Range. * IMPACTS...Gusty winds will make driving difficult, especially for high profile vehicles. This includes Highways 101 and 154 as well as Gaviota Pass and San Marcos Pass.

a-1569176835 Aug 09, 2019 02:12 AM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

From the “ scientific paper” - “We did not control for nonclimate effects on wildfire such as human effects on ignitions, fire suppression, or vegetation cover.” -Why not? Are these not the most important variables? “Annual burned area did not change significantly in Central and South Coast” “As was the case for summer, increases in the occurrence of large fall wildfires were observed in North Coast and Sierra Nevada but not for Central or South Coast.” So the takeaway from this paper in relation to Santa Barbara, is nothing. Humans ignite fires, winds drive them, fuel moisture levels and human activity contribute to what burns and how it burns. Drought, fire, rain repeat. That is what has gone on since record keeping began here in Southern California. More humans = more sources of ignition. More humans in the Wildland/ Urban interface= greater loss of life & property when wildfires occur. Lack of strategic fuel breaks = inability of firefighters to access critical areas. This isn’t rocket science it’s common sense. In Southern California Humans are causing devastating fires from ignorance and negligence. Not from Anthropogenic Warming.

Sam The Dog Aug 09, 2019 08:50 AM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

I scanned the report and couldn't find what percent of the climate change was due to anthropocentric warming or how much larger fires are because of anthropocentric climate change. "The authors state increased heat is the clearest result of human-caused climate change, according to The Atlantic" they're poorly referencing another article written about the study rather than the study itself...... smh... very misleading.

AdamVant Aug 08, 2019 06:02 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

Al Gore, the Very High Priest of Global Warming, predicted that ocean levels would rise 20 feet. TWENTY FEET! Gore was so concerned that he bought an $8.9 million Mediterranean-style villa in Montecito with ocean views, and a condo in the St. Regis Tower in San Francisco, a few blocks from San Francisco Bay. But go on and keep believing Gore and the rest of his Warmist buddies.

PitMix Aug 08, 2019 03:54 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

The learned scientists commenting on this topic on this site have convinced me. We must destroy our wildlands by clear cutting and bulldozing in order to save them. Manifest destiny is back!

a-1569176835 Aug 08, 2019 01:50 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

Quote from Section 2.3 of the paper: “We did not control for nonclimate effects on wildfire such as human effects on ignitions, fire suppression, or vegetation cover. Therefore, the climate‐fire relationships that we identified have human impacts embedded within them...” Translation- the authors did not separate out the effects of climate change from forestry management practices. Therefore the paper contains no scientific basis to conclude that climate change alone is responsible for a five-fold increase in wildfires,

CoastWatch Aug 08, 2019 12:31 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

What a biased POV. Conflagration fires are happening, as a previous poster mentioned, due to mis-managed forests- There are more trees and underbrush per sq acre now than since recording forest growth. This, in conjunction with interface areas (housing / inhabitants) encroaching annually into historical wildfire areas and increased ABOVE GROUND powerlines to feed those homes all equals dynamite when we experience our NORMAL down canyon wind events... Most of the blame is on spending BILLIONS annually on Fire Suppression efforts instead of spending MILLIONS on PREVENTION and thinning efforts.

SantaBarbaraObserver Aug 08, 2019 02:59 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

@Coastwatch Duh. What was missing from those fires and for many eons, were 20million people and countless buildings. Paradise, Santa Rosa, Sonoma and many other fires, where hundreds lost their lives were not in 'devil wind' territory. Extreme temps, extreme wind, extremely low humidity events are not normal for those places. Get it?

CoastWatch Aug 08, 2019 02:34 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

@ Santabarbaraobserver- SB and Southern California have had severe "Santa Ana's" & "Sundowners" since before the Spanish were here- It was even mentioned in the epic historical Novel "Two Years Before the Mast" by Richard Henry Dana back in the early 1800's (before plastic straws)

SantaBarbaraObserver Aug 08, 2019 02:09 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

Wind driven fire events are not a result of forest or wild land overgrowth. They are a result of dry, hot gale force winds and a spark. Mostly a human made spark. Climate change, (and its extreme weather) is producing more intense and erratic wind events. Spark + gale winds + fuel = firestorm. Get it?

Shasta Guy Aug 08, 2019 12:27 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

The only climate change that will improve California’s forests is political climate change in Sacramento. Forest mismanagement is leading to worse fires because trees are too close together and there is too much debris and dense understory on the forest floor.

John Easton Aug 08, 2019 11:42 AM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

It's not climate change. We have always had droughts but we haven't always had active forest management. Per Larry Hamlin, "California Governor Brown erroneously claimed that scientifically unsupported and nebulous “climate change” was driving the states wildfires while ignoring decades of pleas from forest and fire fighting professionals to address failed government and regulatory policies which were allowing the build up of excessive fuel which was leading to more intense and dangerous wildfires".

Jimj3333 Aug 08, 2019 11:40 AM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

Actually both methods are used in the right conditions. Depending on the fuels being removed both rakes and brooms have their place for fine fuels removal, especially when cutting suppression lines in rock. As far as acres burned per year goes, we are no where near the highest yearly total. I have attached a link to the last 90+ years of burn data, and although early year data can not be totally confirmed, there is plenty proof that it was much higher back then. https://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/fireInfo_stats_totalFires.html There are many factors that play into the current large fire situation, and changing climate is just one of many reasons, but certainly not the major reason! It's strictly a scare tactic for those that choose to mislead!

Jimj3333 Aug 14, 2019 05:28 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

Hey Shasta Guy, I drove through the 2018 Delta fire a few months back, and that fire was very devastating to the area . I used to work on the Lakehead engine in 1985, and we had a Delta fire that year also. Some lessons are never learned! I still work in California, and am constantly pushing for more Rx burns. We are slowly getting there, but the pace must pick up.

Shasta Guy Aug 08, 2019 10:09 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

Jimj3333 that is an excellent link. We are no where near approaching the acreage lost in the 1920s-1930s. What seems high to us now pales in comparison to back then. That is likely due to the aggressive fire suppression efforts after WWII when bombers were converted to fire fighting planes enabling fires to be knocked down pretty quickly. We need a lot more controlled burns to get the forests healthy again. Too much understory growth and dead wood accumulation destroys the entire forest when fire comes. The Delta fire in 2018 just north of Shasta Lake destroyed entire forests because the trees were so dense that they were touching branch to branch. I’m on my way to Mount Shasta for the week and I’ll try to get some pics of good and bad forest management.

a-1569176835 Aug 08, 2019 10:12 AM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

Just to be clear - climate change isn't *causing* fires, it's just making them larger and thereby, more devastating. The increase is in the "annual burned areas," meaning the amount of area has increased, due to climate change factors making it easier for fires to spread quickly.

a-1569176835 Aug 08, 2019 09:57 AM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

Each home should have a self-protection, and neighborhood protection, plan that INCLUDES tools. Stored water, high pressure hoses and nozzles, windows dual/triple pane, training for each family member on how to shelter in place and how to fight embers. Every car should have fire extinguisher in trunk. Fire extinguisher inside house and outside house. Eye protection. N95 masks for all members of family including training pets to wear them.

Flicka Aug 08, 2019 09:34 AM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

Well, as we heard from our president after the devastating Thomas Fire, "not being able to put out the fires is our own fault for letting all our water run into the ocean."

Jimj3333 Aug 08, 2019 11:45 AM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

That was after the Car Fire in 2018! and just to be clear, during the 5 year drought in California, water was at a premium for fighting fire, and there were restrictions on access to it at some wildfires! When lakes are empty, or rivers are at a low flow, water can be an issue and not meet the needs for fighting fire...but I'm sure you are totally educated on the subject, so I'm just giving you something that you already know!

420722 Aug 08, 2019 12:59 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

These days all you have to do is say “climate change!” or “racism!” and you will convince an entire group of people that the world is ending or that someone is a racist. Works like a charm. Just watch cnn if you don’t believe me.

Jimj3333 Aug 08, 2019 12:03 PM
Wildfires Are 500% Larger Due to Climate Change

And it is not needed to treat 33 million acres every year. Appropriate fuels treatments can last 1-5 years depending on the vegetation type and type of treatment. Strategic fuel breaks can modify wildfire behavior to allow control, without having to treat all 33 million acres. Appropriate treatments can convert highly flammable, difficult to control fuels to light flashy fuels with lower resistance to control. It can be done, but federal and state laws make it very difficult to get it done efficiently and effectively at an acceptable cost. If the large fires these last couple of years have accomplished anything, it has been the light that has been shed on the environmental laws and organizations that have all but stopped the work that has needed to get done.

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