Stopping future forest infernos | Watts Up With That?

Preventing future forest infernos | Watts Up With That?

Overcome the climate scapegoat and take steps that could actually make a difference

Paul Driessen

The 2020 fire season is nearing its end. But monstrous forest fires continue to rage in the western states of America, devastating cities and habitats, killing hundreds of people and millions of animals. Politicians and environmentalists remain angry that climate change is the main driver and allow few responsible, sensible forest management measures that could actually reduce risks.

Man-made climate change is a convenient scapegoat, but it cannot be separated from natural climate variability and effects. Even if fossil fuel emissions are assumed to play a dominant role in the human part of that equation – and even if the Pacific Northwest or the entire US eliminates coal, oil, and natural gas – China, India, and numerous other nations will not soon to do .

And they will certainly use fossil fuels to make the wind turbines, solar panels and batteries that Green New Dealers are planning – and to mine and process the raw materials that these technologies require.

The main ingredient in these monstrous, devastating forest fires is fuel. A century of fire-fighting by Smokey the Bear, coupled with a half-century ban on harvesting logs, tree thinning, and even insect control, has filled the western forests with dense concentrations of brushes, fallen branches, needles and leaves, lean young trees, and huge older trees . Many of them are dead or dying – ready to be turned into conflagrations in the hot, dry summer and fall conditions that prevail in California and other western states for most years.

It's a recipe for disasters like the Peshtigo Fire of 1871, 20 miles north of where I grew up in northeast Wisconsin, on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire. A mile high blazing flames traveled south at 100 miles per hour, causing "fire tornadoes" that tossed houses and railroad cars. Over a million acres of forest were wiped out in two days; Up to 2,500 people died, many of whom were cremated into piles of ashes.

I also remember how American and British bombers intentionally turned Hamburg into an inferno in July 1943. The first waves of aircraft dropped blockbuster bombs that leveled arms factories and parts of the city known to be largely made of wood. In the days that followed, incendiary bombing attacks followed, turning the remains of wood into a firestorm, with tornado winds of up to 250 km / h and temperatures of almost 1500 ° F. Over 40,000 people were killed in Operation Gomorrah.

A few days ago I picked up my latest issue of Wired magazine. Daniel Duane's 12-page article "The Fires Next Time" contained some mandatory notices about climate change, but was one of the most detailed and insightful articles I have read about the causes and nature of these terrible forest fires. It clearly explains why we are "experiencing a trend towards fires that are dramatically more catastrophic" than in the past.

The main reason is the accumulation of fuel. CalFire has 75 aircraft and 700 fire engines and is very good at putting out thousands of forest fires annually. But CalFire has virtually no fuel management agency and just has to watch the trees and other fuel get "thicker". This creates the best conditions for worsening canopy fires, which according to US forest service scientist Mark Finney are big because the landscapes are full of landscapes, tinder and long-burning, heavy fuels. The same goes for other states.

More trees, of course, create more roots competing for the same water and continue to dry everything out. In California alone, this and the drought and pine bark beetles killed 150 million trees in 2011-2016!

Another important component, writes Duane, is the simultaneous burning of many small fires (caused by multiple lightning strikes, for example) that combine light and heavy fuels over a large area in a mild ambient wind. "While this wide area burns with glowing and smoldering embers for many hours, the separate convection columns of all these many small fires begin to combine into a single huge cloud."

When the hot air rises in the cloud, the air at its base is replaced with air drawn in from all directions. This can create a 360-degree wind field that howls directly into the flame … oxygenates the fire and pushes the temperature high enough to cause even … huge timbers and old trees to burn fully. These heavy fuels then pump even more heat into the convection column…. (what) rises faster and faster and sucks in more wind, as if the fire had found a way to stir up itself. “The timbers, branches, and whole trees become“ fires, ”which can be carried high in the air, a mile or more from the primary fire, then dropped into wooden stands and houses, igniting even more firestorms.

Smaller flames can be controlled or even extinguished. But massive firestorms can be impossible to suppress and just as hopelessly save houses. The main task in mass fires is to get people out of the way before escape routes become blocked, cars run out of gas and walls of flames close.

That means building more community escape routes through forests for safety, even in the face of opposition and environmentalist complaints. Roads are far less intrusive or harmful than conflagrations. But radical greens fight these streets and praise these unnatural conflagrations as "nature's way".

People lived in these areas long before interest groups, politicians, and the courts made the fire conditions so dire. Measures must now be taken to prevent further deadly fire cataclysms. That has to start with removing diseased, dead, and excessive trees and brushes. It will take years, even decades, and a lot of effort and money. But the failure to stop and reverse the accumulation of fuel in our forests is undoubtedly irresponsible – and fatal. Apache's Indian forest programs prove that sound management saves forests.

The blame for climate change is useless and irresponsible. It means waiting 30-50 years or more to see if China and India finally replace fossil fuels, perhaps with nuclear power – in the hopes that reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide actually reduces climate change, droughts, extreme weather and infernos .

Policy makers, land management agencies and regulators, indigenous tribes, community associations, industry associations and less persistent environmental groups should seek collaboration and collaboration, particularly in the areas of forest management and tree thinning. This is already happening, but needs to be expanded significantly.

Education programs should teach homeowners how to toughen and fireproof homes and other buildings against small to medium-sized fires – and educate judges and politicians about the harsh realities of modern fires. Especially those with ultimate power to make decisions about life or death need to understand that too often the price of bans on harvesting timber and responsible forest management is measured in homes and habitats that are extinguished, wildlife and people killed, soil organisms burned, and soils washed away from Rainstorms and snowmelts and millions of acres that have been bared and deserted for decades.

Stricter building regulations for new buildings in these areas would save houses, heirlooms and lives. Roofs in particular should be made of refractory or refractory materials. Special financing and low interest loans would make such new homes and hardened existing homes and buildings more affordable.

Local, state and federal budgets have already reached their limits. Funding must be diverted from other programs. Another approach might require forestry work for welfare controls. In addition to saving habitats and lives, this would promote skills, self-esteem and a strong work ethic, improve physical fitness, replace a sense of legitimacy with a sense of accomplishment, and create connections and opportunity

Another source of funding could be billionaires like Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, who recently donated $ 791 million to climate activist groups as part of his commitment to his $ 10 billion earth fund. Surely, one of the boldest and most effective measures would be to protect this future, including the majestic endangerment that could help stop these deadly fires – and the incalculable air pollution, soil erosion, and habitat and wildlife destruction that they cause in forests his own back yard.

The end result is so simple that we don't even have to state it.

If we don't act, nature will. We created this massive problem of fuel for fire. We can and must fix it. Either we thin trees or nature will – with devastating consequences. For people who claim to be deeply interested in saving our forests for Bambi, spotted owls, and other beloved creatures, the guarantee of terrible infernos is literally a hell of a way to demonstrate our love for Mother Earth.

Paul Driessen is the Senior Policy Analyst for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow ( and the author of books and articles on energy, environmental, climate and human rights issues.

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