Posts Tagged: wildfire
Major fires are sometimes caused by utilities, but there are many other potential causes, including lightning, arson and sparks from dragging chains. All of these factors, are compounded by "lack of fuel management, poor land-use planning, and homes that aren't ready for fire and aren't resilient to fire," Quinn-Davidson said.
Power outages can complicate response and evacuation efforts should a fire break out, Quinn-Davidson said. Phone lines have been jammed during this week's outages and people have had trouble communicating with loved ones.
“If a fire starts because of other causes — which could easily happen under severe conditions — now we have no way to communicate,” she told the TIME reporter. “Seriously, like, if this power outage happened when the Carr Fire (sparked by a vehicle) happened — how would you evacuate people? That's completely possible. You could have a power outage and have a fire start from a roadside cigarette. Or arson. Or anything. And then what?”
The TIME article also quoted Jeffrey Stackhouse, UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, about the sweeping power outages.
“People are freaking out around here,” he said.
Nevertheless, Stackhouse and Quinn-Davidson agree that scheduled power outages shouldn't be eliminated as a tool for preventing fires. They believe outages should be used sparingly, and in conjunction with preventative measures, such as fire-proofing homes and managing land.
“The disruption is pretty huge for something we're not sure is going to prevent a major wildfire. The actual likelihood of that event was not equal to the impact that this is having,” Quinn-Davidson said.
Read about Quinn-Davidson and Stackhouse's efforts to improve fire resilience in Humboldt County by establishing a prescribed burn association.
All vegetation can burn, but some plant species may pose less risk than others in a wildfire-prone community, reported Noah Bemer in the Calaveras Enterprise.
In the first five feet around buildings, stone walls, rocks, patios and gravel mulch can enhance fire safety. In areas that are landscaped, high-moisture plants that grow low to the ground and contain little sap or resin also decrease fire risk.
Susan Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor in the Central Sierra, said home fire safety “usually means taking away vegetation, rather than adding it. A more safe landscape would be more sparse.”
Bev Vierra-Pennington, the coordinator of the Demonstration Garden at the Government Center in San Andreas for the UC Master Gardener program of Calaveras County, said plant maintenance and spacing are much more important than the types of plants cultivated when it comes to fire safety.
“Having a list of plants (that are fire-resistant) is very misleading,” Vierra-Pennington said. “The secret is to plant plants that won't touch each other at a mature size and are nonwoody.”
Maintaining the plants is equally important. They must be watered regularly and well-trimmed. “It takes work. You can't plant it and walk away,” she said.
While cultivating fire-resistant plants instead of more combustible plant species will help to mitigate against wildfire risk, “Don't think that's going to solve the problem,” Kocher said. “No plant is really great (when it comes to protecting the home against wildfire), although some are worse than others.”
The Federal Government has proposed spending $55 to $192 million to clear large swaths of land in the Western U.S. to create fuel breaks that slow the spread of wildfire, reported Brady McCombs of the Associated Press. The fuel breaks will be managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah.
Fuel breaks are a useful tool if used along with other wildfire prevention methods that can keep firefighters safer and potentially help out in broad scopes of land because they are long and thin, said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, the area fire advisor for University of California Cooperative Extension. They can be especially helpful by providing perimeters for prescribed burns. But they must be in the right places, she said.
The article said the BLM has done about 1,200 assessments of fuel breaks since 2002 and found they help control fires about 80 percent of the time. The new fuel breaks will be 500 feet wide or less and created along highways, rural roads and other areas already disturbed.
As California grappled with a record-breaking heatwave last week and 236 wildfires, officials are bracing for the worst, reported Maanvi Singh in the Guardian.
The fires have been mostly fueled by grass and brush that came up during the state's especially wet winter and mild spring, according to a CAL FIRE official. UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson said California's annual wildfire season is growing longer – beginning earlier in the spring and stretching later in the fall.
“It's not unusual for us to see this many small fires in June,” she said. “But 50 years ago, so many fires this early on – plus these extreme, high temperatures in June – would have been abnormal.”
It is difficult to predict how bad the rest of this fire season will be based on the number of fires so far, said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain.
"Our worst fire years aren't necessarily the years that we've had the highest number of fires,” he noted. “All it takes is one – one huge, destructive fire to ruin the whole year."
Public records show that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), has not kept up with its fire inspection goals in many wildfire-prone areas of California, reported Lauren Sommer on KQED radio, the National Public Radio affiliate in San Francisco.
In one CAL FIRE region in the Sierra Nevada, just 6% of properties were inspected in 2018. In the Bay Area, CAL FIRE inspected 12% of properties. Southern California coastal counties have recorded inspections at higher rates, with some looking at 100% of properties.
"We should be doing more, doing better," said Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist. "We need to have more people aware they are living on a fire-prone landscape and taking action."
The article said the agency's goal of inspecting 33% of homes each year is impeded by a lack of inspectors and resources. Lawmakers in Sacramento are now considering a bill, AB 1516, that mandates CAL FIRE inspect properties once every three years, beginning in 2021.
"There are not too many other ways people will learn about the vulnerability of their own home, other than having an inspector or firefighter at their property," Moritz said.