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Forest Fires Aren’t at Historic Highs in the United States. Not Even Close


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California wildfires have been in the news in recent weeks. As I noted Thursday, the Golden State is experiencing one of the worst fire seasons in recent memory.

Newly updated figures from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection show there have been nearly 8,000 wildfires that have burned more than 3.4 million acres in California. Since August 15, when the state’s fire activity elevated sharply, there have been 25 fatalities and some 5,400 structures destroyed.

Despite widespread news coverage, some have argued many do not appreciate the historic severity of the blazes.

“There are two dozen fires burning right now that singularly would have been the top story on the national news 10 or 20 years ago,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Robinson Meyer.

Meyer, a staff writer at The Atlantic who covers climate change and technology, says California has already experienced its worst fire season in state history.:snip:

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It’s Not About Climate Change



:snip:It’s no secret that dryer wood burns more readily than wet wood. Nor is it news that hotter, dryer weather will dry things faster. What seems to be a secret from less self-evident to some is that parts of the West Coast get really hot and dry, over and over. According to studies on past droughts, the recent ones in California are not even close to being the longest. Some droughts have lasted more than a century. It seems the past 100 years have actually been relatively wet.

Even if a one-degree-warmer world led to warmer West Coast forests, the high intensity of the recent wildfires can’t be attributed to air temperatures being 109 degrees instead of 108. The much bigger problem is fuel loading—the amount of dead wood and other organic matter on forest floors, compounded by a higher density of small trees. Two years ago, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office of the California Legislature warned:

A combination of factors have resulted in poor conditions across these forests and watersheds, including excessive vegetation density and an overabundance of small trees and brush. Such conditions have contributed to more prevalent and severe wildfires and unprecedented tree mortality in recent years, and experts are concerned these trends will continue if steps are not taken to significantly improve the health of the state’s forests.

Reducing this forest fuel load involves multiple steps, including forest-thinning and prescribed burns. As noted in 2018, California’s forests have been in dire need of such policies for years. Nothing will end wildfires, but ignoring the problems of tree density and fuel load helps turn manageable, regenerative fires into overwhelmingly destructive blazes like the ones we have seen this year.

Carbon-neutral electricity mandates will not reduce the frequency or intensity of wildfires—but they will raise prices and increase the likelihood of blackouts. No number of photo-ops or press conferences can change this reality.:snip:

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Dec 14, 2017

Ambulance chasing climate scientists come out of the woodwork every time there is a natural disaster, like fires in California.But burn acreage in the US has plummeted over the past 85 years, as CO2 has increased.

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