California’s Must Choose Between Uncontrolled or Controlled Fires

Florida had over 2 million acres of prescribed (aka controlled) burns in 2017 and California had 87,000 acres of controlled burns in 2018.

Georgia has 1.25 million acres of controlled burns and Alabama had 944,000 acres of controlled burns.

California had 1.9 million acres of forests burned from wildfires in 2018 against the 87,000 acres burned in controlled fires.

State and federal firefighting agency experts say California should allow more fires that don’t threaten the public to run their natural course. What’s more, they say fire agencies should conduct more “prescribed” burns. Controlled fires are deliberately set, under carefully controlled conditions, to reduce the fuels for wildfires.

California has over 147 million dead trees. About 1 million trees get removed and 15-20 million trees are dying each year.

UC Berkeley fire ecologist Brandon Collins brought me here to show me the consequence of decades of fire suppression combined with climate change. This forest would usually burn nine times over the course of 100 years, but no fire had blazed here since at least 1908. “Without fire, you’re going to have these dense stands no matter what,” Collins says.
In 2014, the King Fire hit this unnaturally overgrown forest, leaping into the canopy and racing across a vast landscape. Limited patches of high-intensity fire would be natural in these forests. But in 47 percent of the 97,717 acres burned in the King Fire, the blaze was so hot that it killed nearly all of the trees.

About 18.6 million trees died in 2018, mainly the result of dehydration and beetle infestation, according to new estimates from the U.S. Forest Service. That pushes the total number of dead since 2010, shortly before the five-year drought began, to 147 million.

Data collected by McClatchy and Climate Central shows that California is barely making a dent in using fire to reduce the problems in forests. By some estimates, many of the state’s forests have up to 100 times the amount of small trees and underbrush than what grew prior to white settlement. Researchers estimate that prior to 1800, some 4.5 million acres of the state’s forests burned in a typical year — more than the 1.9 million acres that burned in 2018.

California needs to burn 2-5 million acres a year. This should be controlled burns instead of wildfires.

This level of burning needs to be near the historic levels. Almost the entire 33 million acres of forests needs to be burned every 10-20 years. More sensitive areas near populations need to be thinned and managed without fire.

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