FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Why California is Burning

Photo by Glenn Beltz | CC by 2.0

The recent fires in California offer lessons that every westerner should pay attention to.

First forest reduction projects will not preclude large wildfires or save communities when there is low humidity, high temperatures, drought, and high winds. Just as tropical rainforests thrive on rain which we can’t stop, western ecosystems thrive on wildfire, and it is climate/weather that drives large wildfires not “fuels”. We cannot log our way out of growing wildfire induced home losses.

Just like it would foolish and ineffective to try to kill all mosquitoes, trying to preclude wildfires by widespread logging is a fool’s errand. Instead of killing mosquitoes across the landscape, a reasonable person puts on mosquito repellent, and covers up their exposed skin, and maybe installs screens on their homes to keep out the annoying insect. A similar approach is needed for wildfire. Instead of forest reduction projects (read logging), we should focus our efforts on making our homes and communities more resistant to the wildfires which are inevitable.

Second, homes burning down can be prevented in most cases by the implementation of fire-wise policies. Things like metal roofs, removal of grass by homes, and other measures can go a long way towards keeping a home intact even in the face of a major wildfire.

However, these policies must be implemented at the community level. If your neighbor’s home is a fire trap, even if you have done all the proper fire wise policies, your house is vulnerable. Structure fires are much hotter and burn longer than a forest fire, and in many cases, what you find is a single home ignites and then like dominos falling other homes catch on fire. This is exactly what is occurred in California communities like Santa Rosa.

I have visited many of the communities around the West where wildfires have consumed houses including Summer haven above Tucson, AZ, Walden Canyon by Colorado Springs, CO, Wenatchee in Washington, Lake Arrowhead near San Bernardino, CA, Los Alamos, NM, South Lake Tahoe, CA, and others.  It’s always the same thing. What you find is burnt out foundations surrounded by green trees. What this means is that embers, not a wall of flames, set individual homes on fire, which then ignited their neighbor’s homes.

If you want to save your community, you must have mandatory fire wise policies that are enforced.  Many of the larger towns in Western Montana including Helena, Missoula, Butte, Bozeman, and other mountain towns are vulnerable to the same situation as has burned Santa Rosa and other communities in California. If a fire ignites in the surrounding mountains with high winds, burning embers will rain down on the homes. If these homes are not fire-proofed, entire neighborhoods could burn to the ground.

The entire antagonism to government policies, regulations, and the “it’s my property and I can do whatever I want” is an impediment to rational and reasonable policies. But when your neighbor fails to protect their home, they are demonstrating a lack of community value and a selfish attitude towards the rest of the town.

Beyond changing policies about fire-proofing communities, the other major change we need is to recognize the growing threat of wildfire is caused in part by warming climate. And it is not too much hyperbole to suggest that politicians like Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt along with the rest of the Republican Party that collectively seem to ignore science on climate change are helping to burn your home down.

The ultimate cause of rising wildfire severity and extent is not due to fire suppression, lack of logging or other excuses given by the timber industry and their lackeys in Congress including Senator Daines and Congressman Gainforte. The Republican agenda that Donald Trump, Scott Pruitt at the EPA and Ryan Zinke at Interior, refuse to acknowledge is that human-caused climate change is occurring, and that policies like burning coal, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, and even more logging (which studies have shown to increase wildfire spread in many instances).

Climate change is real. Wildfires are here. The most immediate thing we can do as westerners are fire-safe our communities and towns. Next, elect people who pay attention to climate science. Finally, realize that wildfire in the forest is a good thing that maintains healthy forest ecosystems. Wildfire in your neighborhood is a bad thing that can be reduced or prevented with reasonable building codes and mandatory fire-wise regulations.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
January 21, 2020
Sheldon Richman
Warmonger Cotton Accuses Antiwar Think Tank of Anti-Semitism
John Feffer
Trump Makes Space Great Again
Patrick Cockburn
The US and Iran’s Perpetual Almost-War is Unsustainable – and Will End Badly
James C. Nelson
Another Date That Will Live in Infamy: 10 Years After Citizens United
Robert Fisk
Iran Will be Changed Forever by Admitting Its Great Mistake, Unlike the West Which Ignores Its Own Misdeeds
Dean Baker
Did Shareholders’ Benefit by Paying Boeing’s Fired CEO $62 Million?
Susan Roberts
The Demise of the Labour Party and the Future For UK Socialism
Binoy Kampmark
Janus-Faced on Climate Change: Microsoft’s Carbon Vision
David Levin
The Teamster Revolt Against the Hoffa Era
Victor Grossman
Defender and Spearheads
Russell Mokhiber
BS Public Editor and the Disease of Contempt
Tiffany Muller
Get the Money Out of Politics: 10 Years After Citizens United
Laura Flanders
Iowa is not the Twitterverse
Graham Peebles
Education: Expanding Purpose
Elliot Sperber
Handball in Brooklyn 
January 20, 2020
Paul Street
Trump Showed Us Who He Was Before He Became President
Eric Mann
Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Ipek S. Burnett
MLK and the Ghost of an Untrue Dream
Mark Harris
Better Living Through Glyphosate? Spray Now, Ask Questions Later
Katie Fite
Owyhee Initiative Wilderness and Public Lands Deal Critique: Ten Years After
Thomas Knapp
A Loophole for the Lawless: “Qualified Immunity” Must Go
REZA FIYOUZAT
Best Enemies Forever: The Iran-U.S. Kabuki Show
Jeff Mackler
Worldwide Furor Sparked by U.S. Assassination of Iran’s General Suleimani
William deBuys
The Humanitarian and Environmental Disaster of Trump’s Border Wall
Binoy Kampmark
A Matter of Quality: Air Pollution, Tennis and Sporting Officialdom
James Haught
GOP Albatross
Jill Richardson
Why Do We Have School Lunch Debt at All?
Robert Koehler
Nuclear Hubris
Patrick T. Hiller
Instead of Real-Time Commentary, Eight Common-Sense Reason for Not Going to War with Iran
Charles Andrews
A Note on Carlos Ghosn and Global Capitalism
Jeffrey St. Clair
Some Trees: Los Angeles
Weekend Edition
January 17, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: No Woman, No Cry
Kathleen Wallace
Hijacking the Struggles of Others, Elizabeth Warren Style
Robert Hunziker
The Rumbling Methane Enigma
Frank Joyce
Will the Constitution Fail Again?
Andrew Levine
Biden Daze
Pete Dolack
Claims that the ‘NAFTA 2’ Agreement is Better are a Macabre Joke
Vijay Prashad
Not an Inch: Indian Students Stand Against the Far Right
Ramzy Baroud
Sealed Off and Forgotten: What You Should Know about Israel’s ‘Firing Zones’ in the West Bank
Norman Solomon
Not Bernie, Us. Not Warren, Us. Their Clash Underscores the Need for Grassroots Wisdom
Ted Rall
America’s Long History of Meddling in Russia
David Rosen
The Irregulators vs. FCC: the Trial Begins
Jennifer Matsui
The Krown
Joseph Natoli
Resolutions and Obstacles/2020
Sarah Anderson
War Profiteering is Real
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail