Sunday, September 13, 2015

California wildfires

This fire season out West has been brutal. But for the most part, the fires were just news stories. Tragedies on TV. This weekend, I have been following two fires that have more context because I have been to the areas affected.

Butte Fire:

This is the fire I was following closely yesterday during the day. It is huge and covers Amador and Calaveras Counties. This is in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Gold was discovered in this area in the 1840s and was essentially the birthplace of modern California. Calaveras County was made famous by Mark Twain and some jumping frogs.

What made it personal? It is a beautiful, bucolic area full of small Old West towns. We love going there. My elderly step-aunt and her husband live in Pine Grove, near the northern end of the fire. They had to evacuate.

A friend and his family live near Angels Camp, almost an hour south of Pine Grove. His place is at the southern end of the fire. His family and small ark of farm animals also had to evacuate. He had to leave his goats behind.

Valley Fire:
What is even more remarkable is the Valley Fire, which is consuming Lake County and a small part of Napa County. This fire exploded last night. It started at 1:30pm on Saturday. By Sunday morning, it had consumed 40,000 acres and is 0% contained. Small communities and Harbin Hot Springs have burned to the ground.

Though global warming and the historic drought played a part in these ferocious fires, that is not the whole story. Just as foolhardy and fully insured people have built homes in flood zones, others have been building homes in areas prone to wildfires. And with protection of private property a high priority, over the decades, firefighters have not allowed these areas to naturally burn and thin out the trees and brush. All of these factors have exacerbated the problem.

My old roommate, a forestry major, had a Smokey the Bear poster on his wall. He covered the word "prevent" with "prescribe".

This week's Economist talks about how by 2030, American forests will emit more carbon due to fires than absorb carbon.

There's not much we can do except hope for rain, and donate to the Red Cross.

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