Posts Tagged: wildfire
Cooler weather in California is helping firefighters begin to get a handle on fires that have raged in the state for weeks. But concerns over the fires' consequences are sure to continue for months. Two articles over the weekend touched on such issues.
The Wine Spectator magazine raised the spector of 2008 vintage wines being imparted with a smoky character due to the fires.
"There are examples of smokiness from forest fires showing up in wines," the story quoted Roger Boulton, a viticulture and enology professor at UC Davis.
The article, by Augustus Weed, said chemicals in the smoke can coat grapes and be absorbed into the grape skins. The density of the smoke, how long it is in contact with the grapes and how far away the vineyards are from the fires, determines how extensive the effect is.
UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Glenn McGourty was also quoted in the story. He said the main concern to vineyards from the fires is a dwindling supply of water.
The writer paraphrased McGourty as saying water will not be an issue for the majority of the Mendocino wine industry, which gets its water from the Russian River. But in dry regions like Anderson Valley and Redwood Valley, water supplies are low and it could become a problem.
The San Luis Obispo Tribune ran a story about the destruction of wildlife habitat by fire. Writer David Sneed reported that Bill Tietje, a UCCE natural resources advisor, said large, fast-moving fires can confuse and overwhelm even birds and fleet-footed animals.
Tietje noted that the 1994 fire on Highway 41 was so hot and burned so fast that firefighters observed quail flying into the flames and afterwards found the charred remains of deer and mountain lions.
“In the case of catastrophic wildfire,” Tietje was quoted, “animals may be killed directly or must move into adjacent habitat where their chances of making a living are reduced.”
As 323 active fires in California threaten more than 10,000 homes, commercial buildings and other structures, the Sacramento Bee today offered a small consolation. Even though air quality is poor and the state has already spent more than $100 million fighting blazes, the situation isn't really anything abnormal.
The Bee story, citing research by UC Berkeley environmental scientists that was led by Scott Stephens, said the amount of land burning pales compared to acreage consumed historically, before Europeans settled in California.
"The scientists estimated that an average 4.4 million acres burned annually in California before 1800, compared with an average 250,000 acres a year in the last five decades," the story says.
The smoke-filled skies are, in historical terms, unexceptional. The Berkeley researchers found that wildfires emitted on average 1.3 million tons of smoke particles a year in prehistoric California, compared with about 78,000 tons in 2006, the most recent year for which the data is available.
Wildfire was not unusual in prehistoric California.
The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that trees killed by Sudden Oak Death are making the fire raging near Big Sur burn hotter, spread faster and loom more periously over firefighters. The story says hundreds of thousands of oak trees in the area have succombed to the disease caused by the fungus-like organism Phytophthora ramorum.
For the article, Times reporter Deborah Schoch spoke to UC Davis plant pathologist David Rizzo. He said SOD has "reached its apex" in Big Sur.
"You look in some of these canyons, and you'll see 70 percent, 80 percent of tanoaks are dead," Rizzo was quoted. "The thing with Big Sur that's making it so bad is that's probably the worst place in the state for dead trees."
On the bright side, Rizzo said the fire won't completely douse SOD research efforts in the area.
"Even though our plots are burning up, from a research perspective, that's something we can take advantage of," he is quoted. "Hopefully, we can use this as a learning experience, in a sad way."
The Contra Costa Times ran a story today about the 2008 fire season, which many suspect will be long and burdensome. One of the experts quoted was William Stewart, a UC Cooperative Extension forestry specialist at UC Berkeley. The version of the story which appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, also under John Simermon's byline, says Stewart is a former research head with CalFire.
The story said a 114-year record low in precipitation statewide from March through May has launched what fire experts figure to be an extended summer of blazes and bad air
"Everybody is on full summer operational plans by now," Stewart was quoted in the story. "The challenge is, by the time August comes around, if everybody's been working overtime continuously, people are going to get sick, injured. They're going to be just exhausted. Machinery breaks. You always have a few aircraft accidents. Every once in a while they roll a fire truck. Bulldozers get jammed. Those are going to add up."
A story about California's dry spring weather in the Sacramento Bee today cited two UC Cooperative Extension experts: natural resources advisor Glenn Nader of Sutter, Yuba and Butte counties; and rice advisor Chris Greer of Sutter and Yuba counties.
The article, written by Chris Bowman, said spring 2008 was the driest in California history and has produced the most flammable landscape fire forecasters have ever seen this time of year in the Sacramento Valley and Sierra foothills.
"The rest of fire season does not bode well," Nader is quoted.
"We have a long summer and fall to get through, and we just hope for less wind and cooler weather."
In addition to the fire hazards, the weather has created serious difficulties for area farmers. The absence of rain in April and May has resulted in a 40 percent to 50 percent decline in livestock forage on unirrigated pasture on the east side of the Valley and up to a 70 percent drop on the west side, Nader said, according to the story.
Rice farmers are also suffering. Bowman reported that Greer said he recently observed patches of plants in paddies drained temporarily for routine herbicide spraying. The dry wind killed them off.