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Old 11-11-2018, 05:43 PM
Barack Obama Barack Obama is offline
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How do the California fires start?

Are humans causing it? OR do fires just spontaneously occur somehow? All these fires we hear about, has anybody been held accountable for them?
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Old 11-11-2018, 05:56 PM
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Some are careless campfires or cigarettes. Some are caused by lightning. The last I heard, the current Paradise fire may have been caused by sparks from a broken electrical transmission line. California Power (I don't recall the exact name) said it was going to shut down lines due to high winds to prevent such, but then did not.
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Old 11-11-2018, 05:58 PM
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More than once it's been Pacific Gas & Electric neglecting proper safety and maintenance.
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Old 11-11-2018, 06:04 PM
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theres been many reasons for some of the fires …… from intentional arson to a campfire not put out or cigarette or pipe sparks or being tossed down while still hot or someone with an ax or saw creating the right amount of sparks....

hell one year most of riverside ca burned down because pf some guy didn't listen to the city ban on power tools mows his yard hit a rock and it started a fire

another time it was a lit joint someone hid when the rangers came by

mother nature does her part with electrical storms and rockslides and critters playing with powerlines

And yes if your at fault the state will take you to the cleaners even if your not criminally liable and if you are they throw lengthy stays in jail too
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Old 11-11-2018, 06:45 PM
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I read of one case where a fire was started by a flat tire on a camp trailer. The steel rim riding on the road was throwing off sparks.
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Old 11-11-2018, 06:50 PM
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Lots of ways to start fires. That isn't the important part. The important part is stopping them.
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Old 11-11-2018, 07:00 PM
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Note that while it is inevitable that little fires start, it is not at all inevitable that these little fires turn into massive ones. For example when you immediately put all the little fires out a massive amount of dead wood gradually builds up--so when this pile catches fire and there are massive winds you end up with massive fires--frequent controlled burns are the alternative. The state government could require substantial firebreaks between urban areas and forests. The state government could require tile roofs on houses so they don't immediately catch fire.
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Old 11-11-2018, 09:10 PM
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Yes.

I was recently in the Sequoia NP visitor center, where displayed is a cross section of a giant redwood tree. These trees are notably compatible with fire - unsurprising in a plant that can live over 3000 years. The section on display is something like 1000 years old and shows many instances of growth in response to minor fire damage. On average, this tree coped with a significant fire once every 13 years. Essentially all of those would have been caused naturally - mostly by lightning.

In 13 years - or even some multiple of that - the amount of growth available for a fire to consume is limited, so the natural fires are rarely intense. When humans show up and build structures (which rarely exhibit even a small fraction of a sequoia's fire tolerance) they tend to strongly favor the idea of extinguishing fires when possible. This is an effective way to have less frequent and much more intense and damaging fires.

Last edited by Xema; 11-11-2018 at 09:11 PM.
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Old 11-12-2018, 02:34 AM
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For example when you immediately put all the little fires out a massive amount of dead wood gradually builds up--so when this pile catches fire and there are massive winds you end up with massive fires . . .
And the San Ana winds themselves are probably the number one way that a small fire which might be contained quickly spreads. These out-of-control fires only happen during Santa Ana conditions.
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Old 11-12-2018, 02:45 AM
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Just read that humans cause 84% of all wildfires. That's both deliberate and inadvertent.
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Old 11-12-2018, 10:52 AM
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Just read that humans cause 84% of all wildfires. That's both deliberate and inadvertent.
That's a misleading statistic because acreage burned by lightening strike fires is higher than human caused. From an NFPA source:
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The average lightning-caused fire burned 402 acres, nine times the average of 45 acres seen in human-caused wildland fires. Over the 10 years from 2003-2012, 42 U.S. firefighters were killed as a result of lightning-caused fires. ... In addition to causing fires, lightning is dangerous on its own.
Here's an acres burned vs numbers comparison:

http://assets.climatecentral.org/ima...tning_2013.jpg

Many human caused fires are very small fires that are quickly put out, partially because they are near human habitation, so they are reported and dealt with shortly after they start. Lightning caused fires often occur in remote areas, and are not noticed until they produce a significant smoke plume. If they aren't likely to come near human habitation, the fire services may just let them burn until they go out on their own.

Of course, the ones that make the news because they destroy a lot of property and take human lives are more likely to have been human started.

And yes, we've buggered up the natural fire ecology in a lot of places and let deadwood / underbrush growth build up. In untampered forests, wildfires often don't burn as hot, and don't crown. They take out all the excess clutter in the understory, the mature trees survive, and a new growth cycle can occur.

And in CA, we've got too many groves of non-native eucalyptus near human habitation. 200 foot tall tiki torches.
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Old 11-12-2018, 11:09 AM
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When we were living in Carson City there was a ridge between our neighborhood and the city proper, across a small valley. One summer a lightning strike ignited a fire at the very top of the ridge, We watched the smoke thicken and a growing black patch for about 45 minutes when a fire bomber arrived. It took two passes along the length of the ridge, then came back in earnest to drop its load. No more smoke and all the black was now pink. About an hour later a green forest service firetruck stopped and a half-dozen firefighters climbed out and hiked to the top of the ridge to overhaul the remains.

Total burned area, maybe half an acre.
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Old 11-12-2018, 11:52 AM
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Another piece of evidence for completely naturally-caused fires is species like the lodgepole pine. They're so adapted to quickly colonizing recently-burned areas that they literally can't reproduce without fire: The pinecones are sealed shut with a resin that only releases once the temperature gets hot enough. Such a species couldn't have possibly evolved without natural fires at least every few decades or so.

It's also worth mentioning that humans used fire for a very long time before we learned to make it ourselves. Someone would get a burning piece of wood from a naturally-started fire, use that to start their own fire, save some embers from that fire for starting the next one, and so on, for generations on end. But we couldn't have done that if there weren't any natural fires to start with.
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Old 11-12-2018, 03:09 PM
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That's a misleading statistic because acreage burned by lightening strike fires is higher than human caused.
That's also a misleading statistic. It's looking at the forest as a resource rather than an ecosystem. One in which, as you point out, fire is a natural part. So who cares if a lot of remote acreage burns?

Quote:
From an NFPA source
The answer is these people as well as logging companies. And unfortunately, much of the Forest Service. Call it a fire-industrial complex.

The real answer to wildfires is twofold: 1) modify the urban-forest interface so that fires in the wild will not move into the towns. 2) Let the wildfires burn themselves out.

People do not like #1 because it means thinning trees and removing brush near their houses. That's a lot of work. They also have to modify their houses so that firebrands (burning bits of trees blown in the wind) do not set them on fire. That's potentially expensive and may uglify the house.

But if we do #2, it means a lot less money spent on fire suppression. The benefits to the forest ecology will be great. Fire will eventually return it to its natural state and we won't have all those fire suppression chemicals poluting the waterways.
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Old 11-12-2018, 03:32 PM
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Pacific Gas & Electric is usually ordered to pay home owners for burned homes when it's proven that their wires caused the fires. So PG&E wants to pass on the fines to their customers, and the state has said no, they can't do that. So PG&E has now taken to turning off the power to their customers in areas where there are high winds.
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Old 11-12-2018, 08:32 PM
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So these fires burns hundreds and thousands of acres even with all of the modern firefighting equipment we have. I'm curious what happened before such equipment existed. The fires must have just burn thousands and even millions of acres unabated before dying out naturally, right? Are there any records of massive fires like that?
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Old 11-12-2018, 09:07 PM
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So these fires burns hundreds and thousands of acres even with all of the modern firefighting equipment we have. I'm curious what happened before such equipment existed.
As noted above, when active firefighting wasn't happening, fires burned regularly, keeping the amount of accumulated fuel low, which tends to significantly limit the extent and severity of the next fire. *

For a good chance of truly damaging fires, one thing that helps is a lot of active fire suppression.


* This is an oversimplification. Over thousands of years, occasional long periods of cooler, wetter weather would have produced few fires and much growth. At some point this would end with an extensive fire.
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Old 11-12-2018, 09:10 PM
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I recall reading years ago a quote from some firefighter who said the way to fight a forest fire is to "pour money on it until it goes out."

Last edited by TSBG; 11-12-2018 at 09:10 PM.
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Old 11-13-2018, 02:05 AM
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There were a couple very large widfires in Tillamook County, Oregon during the 1930s that gave a lot of impetus to the current practice of suppressing wildfilres. They were called the Tillamook Burn.

I understand they also gave the Japanese the idea to burn forests in WWII. They first tried with a float plane launched from a submarine that dropped bombs near Brookings, Oregon and when that didn't work, balloon bombs

Last edited by dtilque; 11-13-2018 at 02:10 AM.
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Old 11-13-2018, 06:55 AM
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Originally Posted by dorvann View Post
So these fires burns hundreds and thousands of acres even with all of the modern firefighting equipment we have. I'm curious what happened before such equipment existed. The fires must have just burn thousands and even millions of acres unabated before dying out naturally, right? Are there any records of massive fires like that?
You don't need to look very far.

Australia's worst fires (probably the world's) were the Black Saturday fires in February 2009 when even modern equipment and organisation was overwhelmed by the combination of 46C, 100km/hr winds on areas under prolonged drought with up to 400 fires started by Power lines, Arson, Lightning and Machinery often converging such as the most devastating blaze which destroyed the Kinglake Marysville townships. These fires burned about 1,1million acres.

The Black Friday fires in January 1939 burnt nearly five million acres through the Victorian Alps at a time when there was no organised fire fighters and equipment wasn't much more than beating flames with a damped hessian bag.
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Old 11-13-2018, 08:06 AM
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I remember seeing years ago a satellite study of wild fires on the unmanaged Baja peninsula. (So scrub, not actual forests.) They found a bunch of modest old fire scars of different ages.

A fire in older growth would burn for a bit until it the edges of more recent fires where the growth was more modest (no litter buildup) and greener. Then it would stop.

(Note also that in these scrubland areas, including S. CA, large, hot fires also affect the soil making runoff higher when the rains come increasing the problems that ensue from that.)

Similar patterns also existed in the aspen forests of the Rockies.

To get really damaging wildfires you need: 1. Humans suppressing natural wildfires. 2. People building in or near wild areas.
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Old 11-13-2018, 08:27 AM
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I wonder how expensive it would be to cropdust the dry areas with some flame retardant substance (e.g. water) as a preventative measure, rather than just crossing your fingers, hoping for the best, and then dumping a whole bunch of money into cleanup after everything's been destroyed?

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Old 11-13-2018, 08:59 AM
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They start when climate changes.

California and southern Oregon is a fire ecology, i.e. the plants are adapted and in some cases require fire to pass over them periodically. Native cultures used fire to encourage useful species and suppress others (as is true in other parts of the Americas).

When humans caused California to experience longer and longer droughts and hotter and hotter temperatures, small occasional light fires turned to huge inferno fires which now do not pass lightly through, they kill every single living thing.

A big factor is all the newly dead timber, also caused by climate change. Drought stress kills trees outright or weakens them so insects kill them. Insects once held in check by cold winters now just keep reproducing. Billions of trees have already succumbed to climate change, west of the Rockies.

The worst is yet to come. Believe that.
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Old 11-13-2018, 09:30 AM
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I wonder how expensive it would be to cropdust the dry areas with some flame retardant substance (e.g. water) as a preventative measure, rather than just crossing your fingers, hoping for the best, and then dumping a whole bunch of money into cleanup after everything's been destroyed?
The scale of the problem really doesn't allow for that. There is no way to prevent this fuel from burning eventually. You can either have it all at once or repeatedly in smaller doses.
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Old 11-13-2018, 09:36 AM
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If you mean while adjacent areas are already burning, to try to stop the spread, that's already standard practice. If you mean to replace the rain, so that the forest never dries out so much that it'll burn, then you're basically talking about a very inefficient method of irrigation, over all of the wild space in the West, when California is already straining under the burden of trying to keep the cultivated land irrigated.
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Old 11-13-2018, 09:49 AM
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You could create a grid system of irrigated lines, to split the land into subsections?
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Old 11-13-2018, 12:21 PM
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When humans caused California to experience longer and longer droughts and hotter and hotter temperatures, small occasional light fires turned to huge inferno fires which now do not pass lightly through, they kill every single living thing.
Supression is probably the bigger factor, but the native perennial grasses in California where overwhelmed by invasive annual species long ago. In the central valleys, at least, it's no longer the same plants as when it was only Native Americans there, even in the wild areas.

Last edited by DesertDog; 11-13-2018 at 12:23 PM.
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Old 11-13-2018, 02:08 PM
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The strong suspicion is that the Camp Fire started from sparking PG&E lines. A property owner right by the ignition site said she got notified by PG&E in an email that they needed to access her property to take care of sparking transmission lines.

I read today that PG&E is already up to almost $3Billion in owed damages for fires caused by their transmission lines and/or transformers over the last four years. I wonder how they stay in business.
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Old 11-13-2018, 02:29 PM
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You could create a grid system of irrigated lines, to split the land into subsections?
In national forests? National forests are expected to be natural.
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Old 11-13-2018, 02:43 PM
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You could create a grid system of irrigated lines, to split the land into subsections?
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In national forests? National forests are expected to be natural.
National forests are run by the Agriculture department, managed for multiple use including forestry, recreations, resource protection, and wildlife. In principle, they could do something like this and not violate the spirit of the law.

But the scale of a project like that is enormous, with a corresponding cost. And it's fairly useless without water available, as that's the reason the forests are so dry to begin with. And it would have to be massive in size since 100 MPH winds will carry flames huge distances that a simple water-soaked barrier won't contain.

Bottom line, there's no economical technical solution to this problem once the forests are in their current state. The only solution we have is to burn the fuel in smaller doses more frequently.
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Old 11-13-2018, 04:02 PM
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...I read today that PG&E is already up to almost $3Billion in owed damages for fires caused by their transmission lines and/or transformers over the last four years. I wonder how they stay in business.
I wonder if they could insulate and bury transmission lines for less than $3 billion.
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Old 11-13-2018, 04:21 PM
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I was reading the Wikipedia article on the Great Miramichi Fire of 1825 and it says it burned 16000 square kilometers (6177 square miles) of forest in northern New Brunswick. It also states its among the three largest forest fires ever recorded in North America. Does anyone have any idea what the other two fires would be?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1825_Miramichi_fire
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Old 11-13-2018, 04:24 PM
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Supression is probably the bigger factor, but the native perennial grasses in California where overwhelmed by invasive annual species long ago. In the central valleys, at least, it's no longer the same plants as when it was only Native Americans there, even in the wild areas.
True of grasslands, which were once much taller perennial grasses which stayed green much longer (the water table was also much, much higher before it was all pumped out). But the replacement annual grasses also come from mediterranean climate zones and hence are also fire adapted.
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Old 11-13-2018, 04:52 PM
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There were a couple very large widfires in Tillamook County, Oregon during the 1930s that gave a lot of impetus to the current practice of suppressing wildfilres. They were called the Tillamook Burn.
Holy crap, I remember going to the coast in the late '60s and driving through the damage Ė more than 20 years after it happened.
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Old 11-13-2018, 06:24 PM
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I was reading the Wikipedia article on the Great Miramichi Fire of 1825 and it says it burned 16000 square kilometers (6177 square miles) of forest in northern New Brunswick. It also states its among the three largest forest fires ever recorded in North America. Does anyone have any idea what the other two fires would be?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1825_Miramichi_fire
Wikipedia has an article listing notable forest fires, but if you sort the U.S. and Canada section by size, the Great Miramichi Fire is only #7. Interestingly, the top 7 are all Canadian fires.
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Old 11-13-2018, 06:40 PM
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National forests are run by the Agriculture department, managed for multiple use including forestry, recreations, resource protection, and wildlife. In principle, they could do something like this and not violate the spirit of the law.

But the scale of a project like that is enormous, with a corresponding cost. And it's fairly useless without water available, as that's the reason the forests are so dry to begin with. And it would have to be massive in size since 100 MPH winds will carry flames huge distances that a simple water-soaked barrier won't contain.

Bottom line, there's no economical technical solution to this problem once the forests are in their current state. The only solution we have is to burn the fuel in smaller doses more frequently.
If you're talking about the National Forests then it wouldn't have to have any cost. It would make money. Fire treatment in the scrubby stuff is where the cost would be.
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Old 11-13-2018, 06:53 PM
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If you're talking about the National Forests then it wouldn't have to have any cost. It would make money. Fire treatment in the scrubby stuff is where the cost would be.
I don't know about the making money part, but I think the part about the scrubby stuff is true. That is where the danger lies - with the brush and dead/downed trees that have piled-up for generations. The problems are that there are more people living in these areas than ever before, and those residents do not like the idea of a permanent state of fire treatment going on in their area - people with chainsaws and machinery roaming the woods and causing smoke, year-round. Then there is also the issue of building roads into previously road-less areas to provide access for said machinery, which can cause water quality issues as well as ever-expanding access into pristine areas (e.g. good news for loggers).

I don't know how we restore order to the forests with all this dead fuel piled-up and ready to spark. Maybe just clear a perimeter around communities and hope for the best, and let wild land fires burn themselves out. Of course, when the winds are blowing embers at 60 MPH even a clear space around a town will not stop the spread of the flames.
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Old 11-13-2018, 06:55 PM
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If you're talking about the National Forests then it wouldn't have to have any cost. It would make money.
How do you figure? Do you have an estimate of the cost?
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Old 11-13-2018, 06:56 PM
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Wikipedia has an article listing notable forest fires, but if you sort the U.S. and Canada section by size, the Great Miramichi Fire is only #7. Interestingly, the top 7 are all Canadian fires.
But four of those are sets of wildfires, rather than single fires. The Great fire of 1919 and the Chinchaga Fire are the single fires listed there which are larger than the Miramichi fire (According to that list - estimates for older fires may not be that accurate.
Note that they list the Chinchaga fire (1950) as the largest "on record"). The Carr fire, and the current Camp Fire are nowhere near those in size, in spite of the damage and deaths they're causing. The crucial point is their proximity to inhabited areas.

Last edited by yabob; 11-13-2018 at 07:00 PM.
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Old 11-13-2018, 07:28 PM
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How do you figure? Do you have an estimate of the cost?
I could work up some better numbers but off the cuff.

Average value for the wood would be $400 per thousand board feet (mbf). Subtract out $120 per mbf "stump to truck" cost and another $125 per mbf for hauling. $40 per mbf for profit and risk. That leaves a residual value for the landowner of $115 per mbf.
With an average per acre volume of 20 mbf, that calculates out to $2300 per acre in profit to clearcut. If we chose to do a selective cut and say remove 50% of the basal area based on the current or historical diameter classes and come up with a prescription that includes leaving most dominants as legacy trees. We would be well on our way to creating the types of horizontal and vertical structure thatís valued as old growth while making around $1000 per acre.
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Old 11-13-2018, 07:47 PM
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I could work up some better numbers but off the cuff.
Thanks for the informative calculations of the value of the wood. There is good money in properly managed forest. If that's what you're talking about I'm in complete agreement.

But I'm more concerned with the cost of whatever projects were proposed to soak the forests to prevent fires. It's not clear to me what is being proposed or where the water would come from.
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Old 11-13-2018, 08:12 PM
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Soaking sounds like a silly idea. Fires get bad when they crown, and once that happens, a moderate wind will propel the flames with relative ease. The idea that you could soak the forest enough to protect the crowns seems absurd, and the water would rapidly steam off as the fire travels. And some of the Western forests I have been in, you simply do not want the understory to be wet all the time, even if you could prevent it from percolating. The better plan is to just maintain very large amounts of forest, in the expectation that some of it will burn now and then, and then recover. Going up against Nature with a half-baked plan will not play well for anyone but Nature.
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Old 11-13-2018, 08:19 PM
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Soaking sounds like a silly idea. Fires get bad when they crown, and once that happens, a moderate wind will propel the flames with relative ease. The idea that you could soak the forest enough to protect the crowns seems absurd, and the water would rapidly steam off as the fire travels. And some of the Western forests I have been in, you simply do not want the understory to be wet all the time, even if you could prevent it from percolating. The better plan is to just maintain very large amounts of forest, in the expectation that some of it will burn now and then, and then recover. Going up against Nature with a half-baked plan will not play well for anyone but Nature.
I agree with this. Soaking is not going to work out. The time of year this would be most effective is exactly the same time as there is nearly no surface water around. If we are talking about irrigating the mountains I am sure the farmers would like to have a word.

Also, wouldn't constantly keeping the forest moist exacerbate the problem? Plants would grow more robustly and they already do, creating even more fuel if you could not keep the cycle going.
  #44  
Old 11-13-2018, 09:08 PM
sitchensis sitchensis is offline
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But I'm more concerned with the cost of whatever projects were proposed to soak the forests to prevent fires. It's not clear to me what is being proposed or where the water would come from.
Sorry, I think my brain rejected the pretreating idea so fast it didn't register.

I was more commenting on how with a few law/regulation changes we could accomplish a lot without costing a lot of money. The problem is that it would still take 20 years even if we could all agree and start tomorrow.
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Old 11-13-2018, 09:22 PM
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What if, instead of waiting for the fires to happen on their own, we set controlled burns during the least fire-prone time of year? That way, even if they did get out of control, they still wouldn't be as bad as an uncontrolled burn at the height of dry season.

Of course, it wouldn't happen, because unlike an accidental fire, the lawyers would have someone to point at if anything did go wrong, and nobody wants the potential liability. So everyone agrees to the greater danger, as long as they won't get blamed for it.
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Old 11-13-2018, 09:30 PM
Xema Xema is online now
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... humans caused California to experience longer and longer droughts ...
Long term, one effect of droughts is to mitigate fire problems by reducing the total amount of biomass added as fuel.
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Old 11-13-2018, 09:46 PM
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Wikipedia has an article listing notable forest fires, but if you sort the U.S. and Canada section by size, the Great Miramichi Fire is only #7. Interestingly, the top 7 are all Canadian fires.
My great-great-great-great aunt and her family most likely died in the 3rd(? you can't sort on body count and not all have deaths listed) of those. It wasn't as huge in area as some though, it just happened to blow through a town. And by "just happened to" I mean that it was a lumber town and a contributing factor was the practice of leaving all bark and branches behind which meant clear cut areas in the region would burn like tinder.

And I write most likely because records aren't exactly perfect after a fire burns up all records and a significant portion of the inhabitants of a region.
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Old 11-14-2018, 12:05 AM
gotpasswords gotpasswords is offline
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So PG&E has now taken to turning off the power to their customers in areas where there are high winds.
Southern California Edison also does this. Itís called a Public Safety Power Shutoff. So far, itís been little more than tornado repellent in that itís nearly impossible to say whether or not itís actually prevented any fires. The bad part with a PSPS is that they can remotely cut power immediately but they have to visually inspect every line before re-energizing them to be sure no lines have been damaged, a process that can take days.
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Old 11-14-2018, 06:21 AM
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Maybe, Xema, but that's for a long term measured in centuries. Trees will stand for a very long time.
  #50  
Old 11-14-2018, 01:06 PM
MarvinKitFox MarvinKitFox is offline
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Lots of ways to start fires. That isn't the important part. The important part is stopping them.
Nope.
The important part is to correctly manage your forests, so they do not become deathtraps.
.
Forest fires are a natural part of life. Raging wildfires devastating hundreds of thousands of acres are not.
.
The difference is correct forest management.
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