A vehicle drives through smoke near Pulga, Calif., Sunday, 11 November 2018. Photo: Noah Berger / AP Photo

By Seth Borenstein
12 November 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) – Both nature and humans share blame for California’s devastating wildfires, but forest management did not play a major role, despite President Donald Trump’s claims, fire scientists say.

Nature provides the dangerous winds that have whipped the fires, and human-caused climate change over the long haul is killing and drying the shrubs and trees that provide the fuel, experts say.

“Natural factors and human-caused global warming effects fatally collude” in these fires, said wildfire expert Kristen Thornicke of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Multiple reasons explain the fires’ severity, but “forest management wasn’t one of them,” University of Utah fire scientist Philip Dennison said.

Trump tweeted on Saturday: “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests.”

The death toll from the wildfire that incinerated the Northern California town of Paradise and surrounding areas climbed to 42, making it the single deadliest single blaze in California history. Statewide, the number of fire dead stood at 44, including two victims in Southern California.

One reason that scientists know that management isn’t to blame is that some areas now burning had fires in 2005 and 2008, so they aren’t “fuel-choked closed-canopy forests,” Dennison said.

A satellite image taken 9 November 2018, shows smoke plumes from the Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire in California. Photo: NOAA / AP Photo

In those earlier fires, Paradise was threatened but escaped major damage, he said. In the current blazes, it was virtually destroyed.

The other major fire, in Southern California, burned through shrub land, not forest, Dennison said.

“It’s not about forest management. These aren’t forests,” he said.

The dean of the University of Michigan’s environmental school, Jonathan Overpeck, said Western fires are getting bigger and more severe. He said it “is much less due to bad management and is instead the result of our baking of our forests, woodlands and grasslands with ever-worsening climate change.” [more]

Scientists: Wind, drought worsen fires, not bad management


  1. opit said...

    One would swear that you thought the situation was unprecedented and unnatural.
    NASA study finds 1934 had worst North American drought of last thousand years

  2. opit said...

    Counterpoint. https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2018/11/12/droughts-famines-and-floods-in-the-1870s-2/  


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