California’s Deadliest Fires Could Have Been Mitigated By Prevention

California’s Deadliest Fires Could Have Been Mitigated By Prevention

Fast winds in just the wrong direction (towards Paradise) was the primary reason for the deadliest fire to ever hit the Sierras, but there is some truth to the idea forest management contributed.  This author was not there but does have some roots in Paradise and lost some business equipment in the fire.

Friends told me it was so fast people caught in it were trying to get out as fast as they can, it was not their fault. In fact some did not even get warnings they saw embers raining out of the sky as their only warning.


Forbes has an article on the subject: 

At least 63 people have been killed with 631 reported missing in the California fires as thousands of firefighters, including 200 sent from Texas as well as other states, battle to contain the blazes. More than 7,000 structures have been destroyed, including up to 90 percent of the homes in Paradise, population 26,682, in Northern California’s Butte County. More than a quarter of a million people have been evacuated in both the north of the state by the Camp Fire and by other fires in Southern California, Hill and Woolsey.

Sparks from damaged or malfunctioning power lines operated by PG&E, a state-regulated electric utility, may have been to blame for the Camp Fire’s ignition amidst rugged federally-managed lands to the east of Paradise.

As California’s fire season burst back into the headlines, President Trump generated controversy with a weekend tweet emphasizing the role of forest management in these fires:

There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

But here is why it matters.

In my two decades of service with the California Army National Guard, we used to darkly joke that California’s four seasons were flood, fire, earthquake and riot. California’s rainy season will follow soon after these fires, triggering deadly mudslides on the steep hills now being denuded of vegetation. Mudslides, moving fast and with little warning, have historically caused greater loss of life than fire.

Politics takes no timeout amidst the flame and smoke, and human policy bears part of the blame for this years’ tragic toll of life and loss of property.

When deadly fires were burning last August, Mike Marcucci, the assistant chief of CAL FIRE, California’s main firefighting agency, noted in an interview with the CBS affiliate in San Francisco that, “It’s a daunting task that we’re working with some of our cooperators (i.e. federal and local authorities) to make sure we can get some of those trees out of the way to not add to some of the fuel.” CAL FIRE experts expanded on the problem by blaming decades of policy that discouraged controlled burns to reduce the fuel load in the now-burning forests in the north and hillsides in the south, creating tinderbox conditions.  Read More:

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