California Chooses Wildfires Again Instead of Controlled Fires

California has over 800,000 acres of wildfires. The biggest fires are only 10-15% contained. These fires will easily pass 1 million acres of fires.

California had about 150 million dead trees in 2019 and about 20 million trees are dying every year. California likely has about 170 million dead trees. California trees tend to grow to 25 meters in height. Some redwoods can grow to hundreds of feet and weigh 1000-4000 tons. The mid-size trees can have 100-200 tons of mass. This means there is 20 to 40 billion tons of dead trees. You can also call this 20 to 40 billion tons of kindling.

Actually, I know it is mostly not kindling. The dead trees are a mix of tinder, kindling and firewood.
Tinder is the highly combustible material that doesn’t sustain a flame for very long. Dry leaves or dead branches of dead trees is tinder.
Kindling is the material that is still pretty combustible, but it needs a little extra oomph to get it lit. Kindling is really any type of wood that is as long as 2 feet and as wide as your thumb or skinnier. These are the thin branches of the 170 million dead trees.
The thicker parts of the dead trees are firewood.

California is burning…again

CalFire plans to thin a million acres a year. This is funded by $2 billion from the California government. And last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, fast-tracking 35 high-priority logging and thinning projects in fire-prone communities.

About 125,000 acres of wildlands are treated each year in California using prescribed (controlled) burning, and the rate of treatment is expected to rise as this tool is used more frequently to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

Florida has about the same overall forest acreage as California. Florida has over 2 million acres per year of controlled burn.

In 2018 California had over 1.9 million acres that was burned in wildfires.

In 2019, Nextbigfuture wrote that California must choose between uncontrolled or controlled fires. 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.

California should have 5 million acres per year of controlled burn for six years to catch up and burn all of the 40 billion tons of kindling. Controlled burns have been known to be the solution to forest management for hundreds of years. Nextbigfuture wrote about this in 2018.

Somehow, there is some bizarre thinking that the rules that forests burn, that dry wood burns can be replaced with hug all live trees and ignore the dry and dead tree trunks. The dead trees will all end up burning. It is just a matter of when, if we want to wait for nature to pick the time and places or where we will.

California has decided to allow its 100 year old electric grid to go mostly unmaintained at the same time. The timetable is to take 10-20 years to get the grid fully repaired. It could take longer and cost more than the plan because the plans were made by people who have proven their incompetence by allowing the situation to reach its current level. Recent years have seen major fires started by the poorly maintained electric power lines and electrical towers. The response has been to not fix the grid but to shutoff power whenever the winds go up over 20 mph or so. So California will let downed power lines and lines where trees are not cut back from the power lines be the means where more random fires will be started.

There was an 84-page document that described the forest management practice of 300 foot to one-mile wide fuel breaks. In 1977, the Forest Service published a handbook on fuel breaks. There have been repeated calls for more controlled burns and fuel breaks. A 2011 study confirmed on the Los Padres National Forest specifically what the Forest Service seemed to already know in the 1970s. The researchers found that fuel breaks helped stop a wildfire approximately 46% of the time between 1980 and 2007. However, this was only true when firefighters were able to access the fuel breaks quickly ahead of a fire. Generally, fuel breaks do not passively stop a wildfire as winds can blow embers up to a mile in front of a fire.

Nextbigfuture notes that the thinner fuel breaks (300 feet across) can help fire crews to stop a fire if they can act fast enough. However, even wider fuel breaks of a mile or more across are what are really needed to be effective at passively stopping fires. So if you wanted to be far more certain of protecting your major cities and towns then you make a mile or wider fuel break.

In 2019, the federal Bureau of Land Management announced plans to fund 11,000 miles of strategic fuel breaks in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah in an effort to help control wildfires.

The fuel breaks are intended to prop up fire mitigation efforts and help protect firefighters, communities and natural resources.

SOURCES- Calfire, Peninsula Daily News, Los Padres Forest Watch, Bureau of Land Management
Written By Brian Wang,

23 thoughts on “California Chooses Wildfires Again Instead of Controlled Fires”

  1. Expecting non-experts (read: general public) to vote on all proposals may be a weakness of democracy as it exists today instead of democractic action committees within professional circles that know their stuff. Basically, specialist democracy, if you aren't affiliated with general topic via organization membership or career, you don't vote on that topic.

  2. Just a note the smoke has limited visibility in the bay area that largeairtankers have not been able to help. It has mostly been helicopters fighting the fires but they cannot carry as much retardant. Getting water for the aircraft has note been an issue due to a number reservoirs in the area.

    I don’t know if using sea water is a good idea. Many plants and trees have a rather limited tolerance to salt. Large helicopters often have suction hose so they don’t have to land to load water. Also due to the very dry climate dead trees tend to rot very slowly and moss and mushrooms growing on wood only occurs very close to the cost (about 10 to 15 miles. So you do see mushrooms and moss in the redwood forest. But where the red woods don’t grow you don’t see a lot of moss or mushrooms on dead trees.

  3. Who are you gonna tax, even the wealthy snobs in California are leaving due to high taxation. They have a massive debt issue that needs to be dealt with, they are extremely poorly run.

  4. Facts do matter to us here, which is why we’re fairly quick to point out e.g. pinhead tree huggers protesting nuclear energy. Do you really think there are different flavours of leftist tree hugger pinhead?

  5. No not really, tree huggers are still almost entirely innumerate twats with feelz. The problem is that lefty politicians almost always frame their opponents as haters of nature and paint them as in the pocket of corporations. This of course plays well in CA where you have an enire 2 generations of people taught from kindergarten to their math-challenged BA degree that corporations are evil. It’s not a huge surprise that they are manipulated to vote against anything that could be construed as useful to a corporate interest. So absolutely tree huggers are the source of these problems.

  6. I think the comparison was made only to illustrate that FL has >2x the controlled burns planned that CA has, despite having a similar size forests.

  7. Interesting to see that people who reply with a nuanced answer based on solid arguments get downvoted, while people who just yell “it’s all the fault of the treehugging leftist globalists” get plenty of upvotes. It’s a trend I’ve been seeing for a long time in the comments section here (and not only here). Which amazes me because this is a science blog. Only scientific facts should matter.

  8. He’s obviously referring to the dead trees in California’s forests. Right now they’re just burning up and adding CO2 while not helping anyone. Harvesting them for wood boards would obviously stop that. Realistically you can’t just harvest the dead trees from a forest, it wouldn’t be economical.

  9. What makes this year interesting is the usual convict labor that is used to supplement the firefighters is largely unavailable. This coupled with a lack of aerial firefighting ability (seaplanes scrapped or sold off, the remaining fleet is getting long in the tooth), poor tree clearing along electric transmission rights-of-way (there appear to be various limitations on tree harvesting that would have otherwise enabled commercial entities to essentially log the transmission line areas for free in exchange for clearing), and general deferred maintenance for forrestry is coming to a head.

    But a good chunk of that is the lack of slave labor to fight the fires.

  10. You really cannot compare controlled burns in florida with california. The average rainfall for florida is 54 inch in a year. The dry season occurs during coolest period of the year. And even in the dry season rain generally falls during each month of the dry season.

    in California average rainfall is only18 inches. The dry season occurs during the hottest moths of the years and rainfall during the dry season is zero.

    This causes a major problem in planning controlled burns. Generally you don’t do controlled burns in california during the dry season. The risk of the fire becoming uncontrolled is very high. Therefore in california crews go out and and gather dead material into piles and then cover the piles with a tarp. Then between rain storms in the winter the piles are uncovered and ignited.

    IN florida they set up a parameter of road or plowed vegition free boundary from which crews can monitor and if necessary put out the fire. Then they light it.

    IN california you cannot in many case se set up vegitation free boundary due the steep mountain terrain. So in california a controlled burn takes a lot more planning, larger crews , time and money to prepare for a controlled burn and then you have to wait for best weather conditions. which could take months. But if there is a drought if might have to wait for a year.

    California and much of the west is trying to do more controlled burns but it is difficult and costly.

  11. Harvesting trees does not combat climate change. And your link is just someone slicing boards. That is somehow supposed to prove your point?
    Trees hold carbon. Carbon that would otherwise be in the air. The larger the biomass of a forest, the better.
    Though after a tree dies, it is better that it does not rot in the woods, but unless they are charred and that char is taken out of the carbon cycle (buried…possibly in a compacted form), the carbon will return to the air (possibly as methane, which is even worse than CO2).
    Such efforts are just children’s sand buckets when you have a big hole in your boat, if we are still stupidly burning coal.

  12. Exactly! After we leave, the main economic value of the Earth will be ecotourism. The main ethical use of the Earth will be as a nature preserve, with many species brought back if they are recent enuf for DNA to be recovered.

  13. The redwood forests do not burn all the time. If they did, there would be no thousand year old trees. Yes, they have some defenses, but scientists can look at the rings and they are not experiencing fire every 25 years. It is more like every 200-300 years.
    “The dead trees will all end up burning.” Rubbish. Trees fall and rot or are eaten by termites. If you go to old growth forests instead of toilet paper plantations, you can see that all over often covered with moss and mushrooms.
    We need a couple dozen seaplanes that can scoop up water in flight and hit the fire with it a few minutes later. Helicopters are a joke.
    Yes, there is a 747 Supertanker. But it is not owned by California. It goes all over the World fighting fires. It takes a lot of time to fill and can only operate out of large airfields. A seaplane could put much more water on a fire in the same time.
    We sold our seaplanes for scrap (Martin Mars). The last 4 got sold to Canada. The idea that you are going to solve everything by thinning and making firebreaks is nonsense. It is dry. Lightening is going everywhere. If we value the trees, we need to put out the fires.
    None of you like my idea of buying seaplanes from China. So I’ve got another suggestion. Military refueling planes could be modified so that their boom instead scoops up water. They could fly low over reservoirs dragging the boom (with a scoop) and refill the tanks. Might have to make the boom wider.

  14. Well then… what you’re saying is, just let elephants roam wild in California.

    I guess out of work actors aren’t doing enough.

  15. The left and the environmentalist movement are socialists and statists. They have an agenda to control all property. After the wall came down in Europe there was a saying that the socialists traded red for green. To show you the pure shamelessness of the left look up Gorbachev and the Green Cross International. Gorbachev ran the most environmentally destructive nation on the planet, the USSR. He was the guy in charge who could have changed all of that, yet did nothing. His environmentalism, then as it is now, is all about controlling private property rights. He did not give up on the socialist dreams of his communist past. He just found a new vehicle to spread his sick ideas.

  16. This is the consequence environmentalist nonsense. In my state, 15 years ago, we had a pine beetle infestation that killed a lot of trees. Loggers wanted to thin the forest and slow the spread and the state agreed. Environmentalists spiked the trees and stopped the logging. 2 years later there were tons of dead trees everywhere and fire ended up burning down most of the forest. The dead trees were seen as the main cause to the rapid spread of the fire. Thanks lefty green socialists.

  17. I think this problem lacks a ‘real life’ priority analysis. What’s important? 1.protecting human lives and property within significant developments-i.e. settlements of at least 500 people within a 50 sq.mile density; 2. protecting infrastructure serving 500+ people settlements or higher (power, water…); 3. protecting significant industry property (lumber, oil, resorts…); 4. protecting lives and property of individual residences without neighbours; 5. protecting significant cultural or recreational lands (national parks, etc);… and so on… how many miles of breaks at 1000 ft to 1/2 mile would be required to accomplish the priorities 1 through 5+ with minimal loss (10% of value, less than once every 10 years). how much would it cost and how soon would it take with current labour and material resources to ‘check off’ the priority work – easy-peasy (the list, not the work). If there are less money and resources for at least 1 – 3 in the next 5 years, then you do triage and request federal funding.

  18. Curious that there is no mention of the cause of the problem (except one guy in Siberia), killing off the megafauna that ate all this stuff! Leave Earth to save it. G. K. O’Neill for directions. To our future in the stars.

  19. Great for climate change, but that doesn’t exactly help with this problem. The parts of the tree that logging removes isn’t the primary source of the problem, the parts they leave behind are.

  20. It usually makes some moist to decry tree hugging as the source of all problems, but reality tends to be slightly more complicated than our simplistic solutions and imaginings usually suppose.

    Their problem is largely one of scale and money, perhaps new taxes?
    “Fire MOU Partnership 2015”

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