wildfire

As California Burns, Experts Anticipate a “New Normal”

Tens of thousands of Californians have evacuated as massive fires, driven by intense winds, rage in both Northern and Southern California. The Camp Fire in Butte County, which destroyed the town of Paradise, grew to 70,000 acres overnight. It sent up a pall of smoke that has triggered air quality advisories across a large swath of the northern part of the state, including the Bay Area. In the South, two fires—the Hill and Woolsey fires—are being fanned by Santa Ana Winds and have forced some 75,000 homes to be evacuated in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.

Tensions Rise In the Battle To Save Old Trees

The timber wars are heating up again in Northern California, this time at Rainbow Ridge, a tract of mature Douglas fir near the remote community of Petrolia in Humboldt County. As reported in California earlier this year, the property is the focus of a dispute between the Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC), which intends to log it, and local residents who steadfastly oppose the proposed cutting.

Up in Arms about Flamethrowers? Take Aim at Handguns Instead.

Elon Musk has taken some heat over the past few months for selling flamethrowers through his firm, The Boring Company. The devices aren’t actual flamethrowers, though, hence their name: Not a Flamethrower. ­They’re more like hypertrophied blowtorches, perfect for caramelizing a crème brulee the size of a garbage can lid, perhaps, but thankfully unsuited for combat. Musk’s devices use propane and spout a three-to-four foot fixed flame. True military flamethrowers spew burning jellied gasoline up to 150 feet.

Press-Democrat Staff on Surviving the Fires and Winning Pulitzer

The North Bay fires were national news mere hours after they ignited early in the morning of October 9. The dawn sun, glimmering wanly through the pall of smoke cloaking Sonoma and Napa Counties, illuminated the smoldering ruins of hundreds of homes. No relief was imminent: the hot, dry winds that had sent the flames howling from Calistoga to Santa Rosa continued unabated, and the forecast was for more of the same.  This was a natural catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina—possibly worse.

Are Wet Winters or Drought Worse for California Fires?

Disastrous wildfires are popularly associated with drought. But the North Bay fires followed one of the wettest winters in decades.

The nightly news tends to make things even more confusing. During drought, newscasters sound the alarm about dead trees and the general flammability of parched forests. After wet winters, dire warnings are issued about the abundant growth of grass and brush that will become tinder during the hot, dry days of California’s summer and fall. So are wet winters worse for fires? Or are dry winters worse?

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.

Fired Up: Controversy Still Raging Like Wildfire Over Tree-Cutting Plan in East Bay

As drought continues to crisp up the state—increasing the potential for catastrophic fire and further taxing plants already competing for water resources—many conservationists are supporting a plan by UC Berkeley, the city of Oakland and East Bay Regional Parks District plan to cut, chop, mulch and deter the future growth of many non-native trees.

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.

Fanning the Flames: Dire Forecast for the American West

So far, the Rim Fire has been California’s worst wildfire for 2013, scorching more than a quarter-million acres in and around Yosemite and destroying more than 100 homes. Take it as a harbinger.

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.

Fire Forecast

As summer approaches, the potential for catastrophic wildfires looms large in California. Several big blazes already have scorched the south state, including one north of Santa Barbara that forced the evacuation of 4,000 campers and residents earlier this week.

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