NY Times: California Wildfires Mostly Not Due To ‘Climate Change’

California is a state long known for wildfires. But, why? The NY Times’ Kendra Pierre-louis gives it a whirl in explaining the four key ingredients

Why Does California Have So Many Wildfires?

A pregnant woman went into labor while being evacuated. Videos showed dozens of harrowing drives through fiery landscapes. Pleas appeared on social media seeking the whereabouts of loved ones. Survivors of a mass shooting were forced to flee approaching flames.

This has been California since the Camp Fire broke out early Thursday morning, burning 80 acres per minute and devastating the northern town of Paradise. Later in the day, the Woolsey Fire broke out to the south in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, prompting the evacuation of all of Malibu.

What is it about California that makes wildfires so catastrophic? There are four key ingredients.

Of course, she has to go with climate change

The first is California’s climate.

“Fire, in some ways, is a very simple thing,” said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “As long as stuff is dry enough and there’s a spark, then that stuff will burn.”

California, like much of the West, gets most of its moisture in the fall and winter. Its vegetation then spends much of the summer slowly drying out because of a lack of rainfall and warmer temperatures. That vegetation then serves as kindling for fires.

But while California’s climate has always been fire prone, the link between climate change and bigger fires is inextricable. “Behind the scenes of all of this, you’ve got temperatures that are about two to three degrees Fahrenheit warmer now than they would’ve been without global warming,” Dr. Williams said. That dries out vegetation even more, making it more likely to burn.

She makes no determination whether this is mostly/solely anthropogenic or mostly/solely natural. And it sure seems that she’s over-estimated the actual temperature change in California by at least half a degree F. Regardless, the world warms and cools. This is what has happened during the time since the end of the last glacial period. No need to make it all about witchcraft.

California is a state that is historically dry. A slightly warmer world might make it easier to start a fire, but, someone has to actually start it

Even if the conditions are right for a wildfire, you still need something or someone to ignite it. Sometimes the trigger is nature, like a lightning strike, but more often than not humans are responsible.

“Many of these large fires that you’re seeing in Southern California and impacting the areas where people are living are human-caused,” said Nina S. Oakley, an assistant research professor of atmospheric science at the Desert Research Institute.

Deadly fires in and around Sonoma County last year were started by downed power lines. This year’s Carr Fire, the state’s sixth-largest on record, started when a truck blew out its tire and its rim scraped the pavement, sending out sparks.

That’s right, it has to start somehow, and it’s usually a person or something like a downed power line or something that causes it. ‘Climate change’ isn’t making it happen.

Fire suppression
It’s counterintuitive, but the United States’ history of suppressing wildfires has actually made present-day wildfires worse.

“For the last century we fought fire, and we did pretty well at it across all of the Western United States,” Dr. Williams said. “And every time we fought a fire successfully, that means that a bunch of stuff that would have burned didn’t burn. And so over the last hundred years we’ve had an accumulation of plants in a lot of areas.

Forgotten in this are the enviro laws that stop the clearing of brush that is basically like leaving large drums of lighter fluid sitting around. Remember the scene in the first Saw movie where the guy was covered in a flammable coating and had to carry a candle around to see the codes for the safe? Yeah, that’s large swaths of California.

The Santa Ana winds
Each fall, strong gusts known as the Santa Ana winds bring dry air from the Great Basin area of the West into Southern California, said Fengpeng Sun, an assistant professor in the department of geosciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Dr. Sun is a co-author of a 2015 study that suggests that California has two distinct fire seasons. One, which runs from June through September and is driven by a combination of warmer and drier weather, is the Western fire season that most people think of. Those wildfires tend to be more inland, in higher-elevation forests.

But Dr. Sun and his co-authors also identified a second fire season that runs from October through April and is driven by the Santa Ana winds. Those fires tend to spread three times faster and burn closer to urban areas, and they were responsible for 80 percent of the economic losses over two decades beginning in 1990.

So, dry state with lots of winds. What does a hand-dryer do? And now you’re putting lots and lots of homes and other buildings in areas that are prone to being rather dry, where a tiny spark can start a massive conflagration. There’s really not much reason to assign ‘climate change’ more than a minor cause rating. But, they are out there running lots of stories and sending lots of tweets blaming it all on ‘climate change.’ Because that’s what members of a cult do.

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2 Responses to “NY Times: California Wildfires Mostly Not Due To ‘Climate Change’”

  1. Rodney Stanton says:

    We have fires because we get no rain in the Summer. 70 years ago, when I was a kid, we would help fight them. Go to the fire, rangers give us wet gunny sacks. beat the fire with the gunny sacks til they were dry. Get new gunnies from ranger, repeat….
    Lawyers took care of volunteers about 50 years ago. so the fires SEEM to be worse. Only worse because much fewer folk fighting.

    Thank God for [email protected]#$?!&#! Where would we be without the ACLU?

  2. Mangoldielocks says:

    I would surmise that California does not thin out their forests and brush. Like the rest of the West does in order to keep the wild fires to a minimum. That does not mean they dont have them its just the more brush there is to burn the hotter, longer and larger the fires become.

    Its called conservation management, but CA is afraid they will offend some homeless bum in Tijuana if they cut down a bush or a shrub to thin and reduce the severity of wildfires.

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