Scott Stephens

Burning Question: Can California Prevent the Next Wildfire?

Santa Rosa and Sonoma County officials are now in the post mortem phase of the North Bay fire storms, asking what could’ve been done to avoid the tragedy and what can be done in the future to prevent similar conflagrations. Discussions largely have focused on tighter zoning and fire ordinances. Those are appropriate areas to focus on, say many wildfire experts, but municipalities and counties inevitably face pressures that make effective wildfire risk reduction difficult. Read more about Burning Question: Can California Prevent the Next Wildfire? »

I Thought I Knew What It Was Like to Be Displaced. I Was Wrong.

As the late, great Tom Petty put it, you don’t have to live like a refugee. Except, of course, when you do, as I recently found out.

Or at least, like an evacuee, which can feel distinctly refugee-esque to a citizen of a developed country who has never been forced to leave home and possessions due to conflict or natural catastrophe. Read more about I Thought I Knew What It Was Like to Be Displaced. I Was Wrong. »

Fire Fight: FEMA Yanks Fuel Reduction Funds After Conservation Group Wages Legal Battle

Next month will mark the 25th anniversary of the Oakland Hills Fire, the epochal conflagration that started on October 19 and, driven by strong northeasterly winds, burned more than 1,500 acres over three days, killing 25 people and destroying some 2,500 homes and 400 apartments.

Anyone who lived in the Bay Area at that time will recall the massive column of smoke that rose from the East Bay during the day and the walls of flame that limned the topography of the hills at night. Those three days felt nothing short of apocalyptic. Read more about Fire Fight: FEMA Yanks Fuel Reduction Funds After Conservation Group Wages Legal Battle »

Fried to a Crisp: Why Some Experts Say We Must Burn the Trees to Save the Forests

The recent rains have blunted the psychological impact of California’s four-year drought, washing down the streets, perking up the landscaping, and heightening anticipation for a stormy El Nino-driven winter. We know, however, that one wet year is highly unlikely to end water shortages. What we may not fully grasp is that the damage done to the state’s forests is so far reaching that it may be permanent. Read more about Fried to a Crisp: Why Some Experts Say We Must Burn the Trees to Save the Forests »

Feel the Burn: To Avoid Year-Round Wildfires, California Needs to Up Its Forestry Game

If you have the feeling that “wildfire season” is anything but seasonal these days, you’re right. Drought and climate change are combining to make wildfires a year-round phenomenon in the Golden State and much of the West, a trend that already is changing the character of our forests and straining government budgets. Read more about Feel the Burn: To Avoid Year-Round Wildfires, California Needs to Up Its Forestry Game »

A Brush with Flame—King Fire Narrowly Misses Proving Fire Prevention Research

The King Fire continues to rage. As of this writing, it has scorched 87,000 acres of Sierra forest and burned down at least 10 homes and 22 outbuildings. The fire also menaced Berkeley’s Blodgett Forest Research Station, the site of a seminal study on fuel-reduction treatments.

“It got within a mile, and then the wind shifted,” says Berkeley fire science professor Scott Stephens. “Firefighters have conducted some successful backburning, so the situation is fairly secure.” Read more about A Brush with Flame—King Fire Narrowly Misses Proving Fire Prevention Research »

Rim Fire Reprise Warning: Restoring Forests the Wrong Way May Fuel Future Fires

As the U.S. Forest Service finalizes plans to restore forests torched in last year’s Yosemite-area Rim Fire—the third largest in state history—conservationists are worried that the scheme skimps on environmental protection. Also concerned is one of the state’s top forestry experts, a UC Berkeley professor who warns that replanting trees the traditional way will simply sow the seeds for the next conflagration. Read more about Rim Fire Reprise Warning: Restoring Forests the Wrong Way May Fuel Future Fires »

To prevent another Sierra inferno, thin and clean forests

If a transcendent lesson is emerging from the Rim Fire, it’s this: we need to manage our forests aggressively, thinning thick stands of young trees and clearing deadwood on the forest floor. Doing so would reduce fuel in second-growth and third-growth coniferous forests—the kind of fuel that has driven the Rim Fire to become the fifth largest wildfire in the history of the state.

And it would be well worth the cost. Read more about To prevent another Sierra inferno, thin and clean forests »

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