Lessons from California Wildfires

George Wuerthner posted: “The recent wildfires in California make me feel even more worried about the fate of anyone whose homes are built in the woods.  California has experienced the 9 of the largest fires in its history in the past two decades, but large fires have occurred in….. ”


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The recent wildfires in California make me feel even more worried about the fate of anyone whose homes are built in the woods.  California has experienced the 9 of the largest fires in its history in the past two decades, but large fires have occurred in many other western states during the same period.

What is going on? Are there too many dense forests due to fire “suppression” as some like President Trump suggest or is something else going on? Keep in mind more than half of all the acreage burned in the West has occurred in non-forest vegetation like chaparral, sagebrush, and grasslands.

Therefore, it’s questionable to suggest if we only thinned the forest we would see fewer large fires.

Furthermore, under extreme fire in weather, you cannot stop a wildfire. There is much anecdotal and scientific evidence for this.  The most severe fires occur in previously logged forests.

For instance, the Camp Fire which destroyed the town of Paradise began in an area which had burned a mere ten years before, and was salvage logged.

What drives massive wildfire is drought (California is in the midst of a thousand-year drought), high temperatures (CA had the warmest summer in 127 years which of course dries out all vegetation), low humidity (at the time of ignition there was extremely low humidity of less than 5 percent), and finally the most significant factor in all large fires is wind.

The wind was pushing the wildfire at a rate of up to 1 football field a second! Indeed, within 12 hours, the fire traveled 17 miles and had burned 55,000 acres! https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/11/18/us/california-camp-fire-paradise.html?emc=edit_ne_20181119&module=inline&nl=evening-briefing&nlid=60685574_ne_20181119&te=1

Anyone who believes that thinning the forest or prescribed burns would stop a blaze under these conditions is sadly misinformed.

If you see photos of Paradise, one notes that there are many green trees, indicating that the actual wildfire did not enter much of the town. What burned the city down were embers blown on to flammable surfaces of which there were far too many in Paradise. Burning homes put out much higher heat and embers than a forest blaze. With propane tanks and other burnable materials, Paradise burned down house by house in a domino pattern.

What’s going on here? Well first, we are building communities in the fire plain, and like the floodplain of a river, sooner or later, homes will burn.

But the bigger factor as the above statistics about drought, temperature, wind, and so forth reveal is a strong climate/weather signal. With the warming of the Arctic, there is a weaker temperature gradient between the pole and equator. This temperature change causes the Jet Stream to weaken and wobble more resulting in the near rainless fall experienced in California, and a longer “fire season.”

Some suggest this is the “new normal.” It’s the new “Abnormal” because it is entirely due to human burning of fossil fuels and CO2 admission into the atmosphere.

Extreme weather means extreme fire behavior. The idea that we can influence fires by logging the forest is delusional. Beyond the fact that thinning and even prescribed burning can often increase flashy fuels like grass and shrubs that rapidly grow back on such sites, there is the probability factor. Studies have demonstrated the odds of a fire encounter a treated forest stand in the time when it “might” provide some benefits is extremely small-about 1-2%. And the chance that a fire burning under extreme fire weather will encounter a treated stand is many times smaller—well below 0.1%.

The only strategy that has been shown to work most of the time is the reduction of the flammability of homes and community. But these measures must be mandatory. If you put a metal roof on your home or clean needles from your gutter, but your neighbor does not. If the neighbor’s house ignites, your house may still burn.

In the long run, the only measures that will successfully change the “abnormal” conditions are for society to reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.

Without such changes, we will see many more Paradise tragedies.

George Wuerthner | November 19, 2018 at 9:47 pm | Tags: Paradise | URL: https://wp.me/p1Bj0H-8Od

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This link works – let’s stop this monster!

Jeanne —

Fossil fuel companies are racing to build the world’s largest gas-to-methanol refinery in Southwest Washington. The Kalama refinery would pollute as much as 1.2 million cars, require massive gas pipeline expansions, and threaten our salmon and orca with deadly spills. By 2025, it could become Washington’s single largest source of climate pollution.

Can you take 1 min and submit a comment opposing this toxic fracked gas project?

Your comments matter – huge public opposition defeated this project when it was first proposed for Tacoma. Speak up now to stop the world’s largest methanol refinery in Kalama and for good!

Protect Washington from fracked gas – submit your comment todayAnd then join us for the last big public hearing to stop this project on Thursday, Dec 13. RSVP and more info here.

In solidarity,


p.s. Want to get involved? We need volunteers to help us phone bank and get folks to the 12/13 hearing – contact jess@350seattle.org to learn more and plug in!

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Save the Salmon Remove the Dams Call Governor Inslee

Backbone Campaign


We are so excited to share this compelling video with you.

Time is running out to let Governor Inslee know that we demand expedited removal of the Lower Snake River dams. This is the best way to provide the chinook salmon that the Southern Resident starving orca desperately need.

Take 2 minutes to call his office today: 360-902-4111.

To build momentum for this mandate, Backbone produced three orca murals across the State last weekend – and another one is planned for this Friday at the Capitol.

Thank you to Roni for creatively deploying the mural on San Juan Island, and to Debbie and Art for organizing and facilitating one in Bellingham.

Bill took the orca grid to Spokane; the video at right of the action shows Eastern Washington residents who care about the Salish Sea orca and Snake River chinook salmon. Watch, then call the Governor: 360-902-4111.

Pitch in to keep actions like these happening.

Sign up to take action in your home community.

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About the film
Renowned photographer James Balog (Chasing Ice) uses his camera to reveal how environmental change is affecting the lives of everyday Americans. Following the four classical elements – air, earth, fire and water – to frame his journey, Balog explores wildfires, hurricanes, sea level rise, coal mining, and the changes in the air we breathe. With compassion and heart THE HUMAN ELEMENT tells an urgent story while giving inspiration for a more balanced relationship between humanity and nature.

Join us Sunday, December 9th 1P-3P

Social Hall of the Wenatchee Community Center,

504 S. Chelan in Wenatchee.


There is NO CHARGE for admission, instead we will have donation jars and make this a fund raiser to stop climate change.
Light snacks will be provided.

May MANY other organizations give us this opportunity!

Fracked gas is threatening our climate, our land, and our water! Act now to protect Washington from this dirty fossil fuel!

Take Action!
Dear Jeanne,

We’ve beat back big coal and big oil time and again. Now, we’re up against fracked gas!

Fossil fuel companies are racing to build the world’s largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery in Southwest Washington. It would pollute as much as 1.2 million cars, require massive fracked gas pipeline expansions, and threaten our salmon and orca with deadly spills. Help us stop this project today!

Protect Washington From Fracked Gas!

We have stopped projects like this before, by showing up to public hearings, speaking out, and submitting public comments!

A critical public comment period is open now on the fracked gas-to-methanol refinery. Tell permitting agencies to protect our safety, our climate and our health by stopping this project!

 Submit your comment today!

With love and solidarity,

Cecile Gernez
Organizer | Sierra Club Washington State Chapter

This email was sent to: jeannepoirier@yahoo.com

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