Sunday, August 5, 2018

The ugly truth about the USA's western forest fires

This article explains how we have caused the massive, destructive California (and Oregon and Washington and Idaho) wildfires: In nature, about a quarter of that area's forests would see a fast-moving fire every year, which cleared out the brush, pine and fir needles, and understory plants, while sparing the large trees. Those are relatively "cool" fires, which pass through an area quickly. But they still do cover the area with smoke and haze.

But we fight the fires, preventing them from doing what nature wants, and allowing the understory brush to thrive, until a fire comes along that is so hot and fast-growing that it can overpower our firefighting efforts, and then there is so much fuel that even the large trees burn, which makes the fire linger over any one particular place and burn much hotter. And of course our homes and barns burn then, also.

What we should do is allow the frequent fires to keep the forest floor clean, and design our rural homes to survive a fast-moving "cooler" fire (large no-plant buffer around the homes). That is the price of living in the dry West--a very sparse yard, and a house made of fire-resistant materials.  Then, we could save many billions in firefighting costs, and lives. But the dry West would be smoky every summer.

But smoke is not good for grapes. It taints the flavors. Hot fires can even kill the grapevines.

So maybe we shouldn't be growing grapes in the dry West, you say? Hmm. Maybe that's right.

I have been saying "dry West," because there is a "wet West"--it's the area west of the Cascades in OR and WA. However, smoke blows wherever the wind takes it, and often lately, therer's been too much smoke and haze in the wet West for ideal grape conditions. So it's an issue in the entire west. But in most years, the wet West has enough good onshore winds, blowing from the cool, clean Pacific, that the grapes here do fine.

Lots to think about. I believe a wise government would start requiring homes to be built (and retrofitted) to be more fire-safe, and then let the forests burn, and fight the fires only to protect designated "safe areas" that are small towns and large cities. We are unable to defeat these megafires, so we need to let their awful destructive power occur once, and then perhaps the frequent cooler fires that keep the floor clean won't be so difficult to deal with, as we let them burn.

(photo credit: Google images)

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