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Disastrous fire management wreaks havoc on California

October 18, 2017

By Paul Homewood





Like swarms of locusts devouring everything in their path, the wildfires that struck California’s fabled wine country and surrounding areas have left behind death and destruction on an unimaginable scale.

With no warning, the blazes began spreading rapidly on the evening of Sunday, Oct. 8th, and by the end of the week, there had been 31 confirmed deaths, over 400 people still missing, and 3,500 structures destroyed. In Santa Rosa, long considered safe from wildfires, whole neighborhoods went up in flames within minutes. An estimated 60,000 people were forced to flee or were evacuated from the fire-ravaged area.

All told, some 22 separate fires scorched 191,000 acres, or about 300 square miles. It is the second-deadliest wildfire in California since 1923. Adding to the misery were quirks of Mother Nature. The Diablo, a strong gusty wind prevalent in northern California, helped spread the conflagration. And while the arid region has recently recovered from a severe, years-long drought, the grasses that have grown back thanks to the much-needed precipitation enabled the fire to spread more rapidly.

Wildfires and the Environment

In addition to the dreadful loss of life, the wildfires, which are expected to last for several more weeks, have taken their toll on wildlife and air quality. Satellite images show a huge plume of smoke stretching from central California to northwest Nevada and into southern Oregon and Idaho. Sean Reffuse, an air quality analyst with the University of California at Davis, told USA Today that the fires have put 10,000 tons of particulate matter (PM), a leading cause of haze, into the air. He calculates that it would take about 35,000 on-road vehicles a year to produce that much PM pollution. Exposure to higher levels of PM have been associated with respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

At this writing, the cause of the wildfires remains unknown. Wildfires have been a scourge in California and other areas of the arid West for as long as anyone can remember. California’s dry climate and strong winds – Diablo in the north and Santa Anna in the south – are often a wildfire’s best friend.

Consequences of Bad Policies

The region is also dotted with huge national forests, which for decades were governed by disastrous fire-suppression policies. In forests, wildfires, usually caused by lightning, can be nature’s way of removing undergrowth before it has a chance to build up to dangerous levels. When these relatively small fires are suppressed, forests can become veritable tinder boxes. Even after enactment of the Healthy Forests Initiative in the last decade, a law that allows for the removal of dead and diseased trees in national forests, many of the lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, are still at risk of igniting a conflagration.

What’s more, restrictive zoning laws in cities like San Francisco and San Jose have put home prices out of reach for people of upper-middle, middle, and lower income. Unable to afford homes in high-end urban areas, many people are forced to live in distant suburbs, which puts them closer to areas where fire are likely to break out.

Wildfires will always be with us. They come with the territory. But when policies are in place that create conditions that make forests ripe for wildfires or that force people to live in high-risk areas, don’t be surprised if disaster ensues.



For the record, the hydrological year just finished has been one of the wettest on record in the part of California affected by the fires, the North Coast Drainage (Division 1).



  1. October 18, 2017 10:37 am

    Green policies invariably end in disasters. They are never fully thought through and the law of unintended consequences reigns supreme.

  2. October 18, 2017 11:09 am

    Look for these wildfires to claimed as evidence of necessity in the next valve turners trial.

  3. Tim Hammond permalink
    October 18, 2017 11:27 am

    The trouble with Greenery and much of what passes for “policy” these days is that it rests on the virtue of what is being done rather than a a cold-eyed assessment of the benefits and costs. It doesn’t matter that an action will cost more than it saves or that it will cause more damage than it stops provided you are doing it for the right reason.

    And to argue that there are virtually no decisions that are wholly good (we have surely already taken those) means that you are a homophobic, misogynistic racist Nazi who doesn’t care about the children.

    As an example, this morning in a different debate about the NHS, it was claimed that because immigrants make up some percentage of doctors and nurses, immigration was wholly good for the NHS. Pointing out that the benefits must be offset against the costs – for example approximately 75% of TB cases the NHS deals with are people born outside the UK – is nothing more than racism.

    Until we have the real ability to discuss serious issues on a rational basis, many of the actions of our politicians will cause significantly more serious problems than the ones they thik we they are solving.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      October 18, 2017 12:54 pm

      And that more NHS staff are needed to treat all the immigrants that we stupidly let in. 400,000 Romanian & Bulgarians since they were allowed in – not the few that was claimed by the BBC, Guardian et al – which is a city the size of Bristol.

  4. Rah permalink
    October 18, 2017 11:37 am

    The California “Perma-drought” was caused by man.

    That drought was ended by “drought-busting” heavy precipitation caused by man.

    The human caused heavy precipitation combined with human caused 400 ppm CO2 levels resulted in a spurt of growth in vegetation.

    During the late summer and early fall global warming caused by man resulted in the vegetation drying out.

    There can be no doubt that the ignition source was man and the winds which have driven the fires are not a natural occurrence either.

    And thus when steep slopes on which vegetation was burned slide after the next heavy rains because the web of stabilizing root systems are dead it will be man’s fault.

    Never mind that this cycle was going on long before humans ever showed up on the scene. The secular humanists will say it was the fault of humans.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      October 18, 2017 12:55 pm

      I stand to be corrected and can’t get access at work to check but I read an article saying that cuts to powerline maintenance had allowed lines to hit trees in the wind and spark off fires. So that is a human cause but not like the alarmists claim.

      • Tom O permalink
        October 19, 2017 8:39 pm

        I would question that. Powerlines that run through cut swaths are probably near 200 feet tall – not many trees get that tall, and certainly not in a short time. However, brush could well have filled in the cut area and dried out, much like the underbrush in a forest, allowing an easy path for fire to pass across what otherwise would have been a fire break.

        Sadly, many fires are started by people that have more to gain from the fire than to lose, and “collateral damage” doesn’t enter their thoughts.

      • RAH permalink
        October 20, 2017 12:34 am

        The cause of the ignition was not really my point anyway. Now it’s being blamed on an illegal alien that was protected by California from deportation.

        I’m not looking at the individual weeds, but looking at the whole patch of them and the very self centered humanistic dirt they grow in.

        The fact is that people are moving out into the woods and when one does that they better be prepared to accept the hazards of doing so. Particularly in a place where the state interjects it’s self into about every aspect of land use. It is no different than moving to the coast in hurricane country and then complaining or trying to blame what happens on others or climate change or whatever when a hurricane comes along and do what hurricanes were doing long before we showed up on the scene.

        I live in tornado alley. If one comes along and takes my hovel I’m not going to blame it on the state, global warming, God, or anyone else. We cannot control it. We can prepare and we can mitigate risks, but we humans are not in charge. Sometimes the crap I read in the Newspaper and see on TV makes me think I’m back on the playground in grade school.

        And to be quite frank, I’m damned sick and tired of everything that happens in the land of fruits and nuts being more important than tragedies that occur in other places.

  5. October 18, 2017 11:48 am

    “Like swarms of locusts devouring everything in their path …” made me think of BBC camera and radio crews, now chasing every “extreme” (according to them) weather event.

  6. Joe Public permalink
    October 18, 2017 12:16 pm

    “In forests, wildfires, usually caused by lightning, ….”

    In central Europe, 95% of wildfires are caused by humans. There’s no reason to suspect Americans behave substantially differently:

  7. October 18, 2017 12:26 pm

    Seems the blame is going to fall on PG&E . . . and its insurers, to be adjudicated by state organs in California known for serial blunders and scapegoating. Sorta resembles the post-2008 GFC govt. sponsored analyses.

  8. dangeroosdave permalink
    October 18, 2017 1:11 pm

    ‘At this stage, the cause of the fires remain unknown.’

    There are other areas of the world that have dense forests, windy days, droughts, poor resource management…there are no other areas of the world that have such a wide economic difference between the aristocracy and the peonage, such a vociferous inchoate hostility among the peonage, such easy access to surreptitious invasion and dispersal, such readily available to accelerants, and such celebratory support of the heroic arsonists.

    There are no other societies with such suicidal toleration of the heroic vandal.

  9. Athelstan permalink
    October 18, 2017 1:59 pm

    There can be little doubt that poor or non existent forestry management played a part in this quite awful tragedy, however how to you stop people wanting to live in what is a scenic region but one that is susceptible to forest fires and short of installing a sprinkler system in the forests, I don’t know the answer to it.
    I have read about the ‘gentrification’ of SF, the tech nerds move into an area and as a consequence local house prices do shoot up, pushing more poorly paid potential residents out of the city.

    One day soon (Geologically speaking) , there won’t be a San Francisco it’ll have shifted off into the Pacific, nature has its own way with problem solving and it’s not much fussed with the human scale. Either man has to get out of the way or else.

    • sean2829 permalink
      October 18, 2017 4:44 pm

      There are ways to build safely in fire prone areas. These include removal of vegetation close to structures, non-flammable roofing materials and other building product, choice of vegetation around structures. These are mandated in high fire danger zones but the areas in Santa Rosa that burned were not in such zones so were constructed with flammable roofs and outer surfaces.

  10. Curious George permalink
    October 18, 2017 2:31 pm

    The burnt areas are almost exclusively private lands.

    • mikewaite permalink
      October 18, 2017 2:43 pm

      They may be on private lands , but it does not mean that the private land owner , in US or in Australia (where similar fires occur) , has the right to control the dry underbrush or small trees which fuel these fires without local Govt permits and often very expensive permits . See the comments in the recent discussion on WUWT:

      • Curious George permalink
        October 18, 2017 5:30 pm

        Let’s hope that rules will change. (Greens lost badly in Austria.)

  11. October 18, 2017 2:34 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  12. October 18, 2017 3:01 pm

    FYI, have attached web link to an article that comments on this by Cliff Mass, a balanced voice in the climate debates. He is Professor, Atmospheric Sciences at University of Washington, Seattle. Good commentary on many weather/climate topics…

  13. KTM permalink
    October 18, 2017 11:35 pm

    You’re citing a very poorly sourced and argued article. The headline is an assertion unsubstantiated by anything in the text. They’re talking about housing prices in San Francisco at one point, as if that has anything to do with fire suppression policies in National Forests. I hate when the drive-by media does this sort of thing, it shouldn’t be encouraged when it tilts the other way.


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