Wildfires Heidi Ertman Jessica Morgan Audra Parmer Jennifer Paulsen Jill Witzman
Wildfires occur in California every year, threatening forests, homes, and causing hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of damage, not to mention billions of tax dollars. Wildfires also threaten and sometimes even claim the lives of our firefighters and citizens. Wildfires are different than other fires because of the magnitude of their size and the speed at which they spread and engulf our land. They have the ability to change direction with the force of the wind and are unpredictable. We can help prevent the severity of California wildfires. Human carelessness is the major cause of forest fires. Smoking or disposing of lit cigarette butts in wooded areas, leaving campfires unattended or improperly extinguished, can all lead to wildfires. The goal for the following pamphlet is to educate individuals as well as communities regarding risk, cause, and prevention of California wildfires.
Severity of Wildfires • The most prevalent areas are the western United States where heat and drought are common. • The state of California houses many opportunities for wildfires. Alarming Statistics • 2008-Over 516,356 acres damaged and 2,013 homes destroyed in California (CalFire, 2009). • California spent $106.5 million fighting wildfires (CalFire, 2009). • 2010-4,872 fires with 27,973 acres burned (CalFire, 2010)
What fires need to survive • There are 3 conditions that need to be present in order for a wildfire to burn: • Fuel: Anything that can be burned that surrounds the fire. • Oxygen: Air, supplies the oxygen that fire needs to burn. • Heat source: Helps to spark fire. Lightning is an example of a heat source.
The severity of wild land fires can greatly differ. “Components of the ecosystem such as forest structure, fuel condition, and vegetation composition interact with location to determine a fire’s severity” (U.S. Dept of Agriculture, 2003). • Even though the majority of wildfires are started by people, nature can contribute to the severity of the disaster. • Fire behavior is strongly influenced by fuel loads. “For example, when forests become overcrowded, tree tops may merge together and form a closed canopy, which fuels the fire” (U.S. Dept of Agriculture, 2003). This type of fire is classified as a crown fire. • Crown fires are intense and fast burning. They are a major challenge for fire management because the fire can spread from tree to tree very quickly in a densely packed forest.
Surface fires are the most common type which burns slowly along the surface floor and ground fires burn below the forest floor (Veenema, 2007). • California’s population has increased which creates an added risk to wildfires. • Homes that are close and far away can be ignited by burning embers. Reducing the fuel supply by thinning forests, called fuel treatments, will help to change the fire behavior and have the ability to suppress a wildfire easier. “Fuel treatments can help produce forest structures and fuel characteristics that then reduce the likelihood that wildfires will cause, large rapid changes in biophysical conditions” (Graham, et al., 2004). • The process of global warming has also been a debated claim to increasing forest wildfires.
Is the risk California wildfires increasing or decreasing? As wildfires have transpired from natural events to natural disasters, one can ascertain through the presented data that the risks of wildfires are on the increase in California. Initially, the data reflects that the primary cause of wildfires is the increase in population regions once dominated by California wilderness. This influx in population has resulted in “Isolated homes surrounded by natural vegetation are probably the most dangerous combination of fires” says Jon Kelly, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geographical Survey (Walsh, 2007).
Climate Changes • The climate changes affecting California have given rise to wildfires. • According to the Union of Concerned Scientists many factors contribute and will continue to contribute to this increase for centuries to come. Factors • “Increased temperatures causing an increase of 20% by mid century and 50% by the end of the century”(Union of Concerned Scientists, 2006) related to global warming and precipitation. • The hotter, drier climates in Northern California can potentiate vegetation fires (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2007). • Hotter, wetter climates can also increase the risk and cause (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2007).
Climate Changes • A study by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2006 found as “temperatures increased in the West…so did the length of the wildfire season and the size and duration of the average fire” (Walsh, 2007). • Gail Kimbell, the U.S. Forest Service Chief, reported wildfires are “burning hotter and bigger, becoming more damaging and dangerous to people and to property. Each year the fire season comes earlier and lasts longer” (Fimrite, 2007).
Climate Changes Cont. • “By 2050, the number of large wildfires in California is projected to increase by 12-53 percent” (Moser, Franco, Pittiglio, Chou, & Cayan, 2009). • Thom Porter, staff chief at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), feels climate change plays a role in responsibility and states “As a firefighter I’m a student of the weather and I’ve noticed that there is a change that has occurred over the last several years. These patterns are not what I’ve grown up with. They are also not what I’ve seen in the historical record. We are starting to see more monsoonal style weather which is causing more dry lightening which ignite fires” (The Telegraph, 2011).
Study A 2006 study reported in Science journal states “In recent years, wildfires have increased in frequency, duration and size. The forested area burned in the western United States from 1987 to 2003 is 6.7 times the area burned from 1970 to 1986. Land management is often blamed for the increase in wildfire frequency. A century of fire suppression has lead to increased forest densities and accumulation of fuel wood that can result in more severe fires when this excess buildup of fuel is ignited. Yet climate also plays an important role: Warmer temperatures and longer dry seasons are the main reasons for the increasing trend in forest wildfire risk. Reduced winter precipitation and early spring snowmelt deplete the moisture in soils and vegetation, leading to longer growing seasons and drought. These increasingly dry conditions provide more favorable conditions for ignition. In addition, higher temperatures increase evaporative water loss from vegetation, increasing the risk of rapidly spreading and large fires. In the last three decades the wildfire season in the western United States has increased by 78 days, and burn durations of fires >1000 ha in area have increased from 7.5 to 37.1 days, in response to a spring‐summer warming of 33.6°F. Forests at mid‐elevations are at a greater risk for wildfire than lower or higher elevational bands. At high elevations the conditions are less favorable for wildfires because even if the dry season is longer, it is still relatively short and is more protected from the drying effects of the higher temperatures” (Westerling, Hidalgo, Cayan, & Swetnam, 2006).
California Wildfires=Increase in Risks • From ecologists, scientists, studies, forestry experts including the Service Chief, and the Cal Fire staff chief, these professionals reflect that wildfires are indeed currently at risk for increase as well as the future of wildfires in California.
Health Implications • Wildfires affect different types of the population; adults to newborns. • The fires not only affect the people living in areas at risk; smoke can travel and affect the surrounding communities. • The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states, “Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases” (CDC, 2007).
Most Common Signs and Symptoms of Smoke Inhalation • Coughing • Shortness of breath • Headache • Ringing ears • Chest pain • Runny nose (CDC, 2007)
Populations are also at risk for getting burned by the fire, if they are not careful and do not follow proper evacuation procedures. “Morbidity and mortality associated with wildfires include burns, inhalation injuries, respiratory complications and stress-related cardiovascular events” (Veenema, 2007). • With all of the complications possible, health care systems could be very overwhelmed with patients suffering from symptoms of smoke inhalation or suffering from severe burns. • Hospital workers may have to work more days and longer hours in order to properly care for these patients. • Hospitals may not be adequately equipped with enough ventilators or supplies to care for patients suffering from complications related to the fires.
Prevention • Learn and teach safe fire practices • Always build fires away from nearby trees or bushes • Have a way to extinguish a fire quickly and completely • Never leave a fire , even a cigarette burning unattended • Avoid open burning, especially during dry season Report hazardous conditions that may cause a wildfire • Always be ready for emergency evacuation Know where to go and what to bring with you Plan an escape route in case roads are blocked
Prevention Create Safety Zones Around your Home • Safety zone around the house should be 30-100 feet • Have several garden hoses long enough to reach any area in the house • Keep a ladder to reach the roof • Keep items that can be used as fire tools, rake, axe, bucket, chain saw • Regularly clean roof and gutters of leaves and debris • Keep trees trimmed 6-10 feet off the ground, remove dead branches • Avoid flammable roofing material, wood, shake, shingle are more vulnerable to embers and flaming debris • Use fire resistant materials when building, renovating
Prevention • Assemble a Disaster Supply Kit Sturdy work clothes, gloves and boots Disaster Supply kit basics Evacuation Supply Kit • Teach Children Stop, drop and roll Matches and lighters are for grown ups Firefighters are friends, and they can help if there is a fire
Prevention What to do after a Wildfire: • Use caution when returning to a burned out area (Wildfire). • Be careful around damaged trees, fallen power lines (Wildfire). • Inspect roof, house and surrounding area for sparks and potential embers (Wildfire). • When returning home, have water tested before use (Wildfire).
Wildfires will continue to ravish our beautiful land. We need to make a conscious effort and commitment to do our part to prevent this from happening. When Mother Nature plays a role in the start of California wildfires related to global warming or lightning we need to take the initial steps to prevent adding fuel to the fire. Be diligent and create a safety zone around your property. Fire needs fuel, oxygen and a source. Eliminate any potential fuel sources within a safe distance of your home. If a fire were to occur, an emergency evacuation plan should be in place to help prevent injury or even death. Educate yourself and children regarding fire safety. Wildfires can affect the population in both the immediate and surrounding communities as the smoke travels. Know the signs and symptoms of smoke inhalation and seek medical attention when necessary. Know what you need to do to protect yourself and your family.
References California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. (2011). Retrieved from www.fire.ca.gov/ Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2007). Emergency Preparedness and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/wildfires/facts.asp Graham, R.T., McCaffrey, S., Jain, T.B. (2004). Science basis for changing forest structure to modify wildfire behavior and severity. Rocky Mountain Research Station. Retrieved from http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/6279 PBS. (2008). Destructive Fires in Southern California Highlights Risks of Dry Season. PBS Newshour Extra. Retrieved from http://wwwpbs.org/newshour/extra/features/us/july-dec08_fires11-18.html PBS. (2009). Scientists: More Wildfires in West a Consequence of Climate Change. PBS Newshour Extra. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/environment/july-dec09/climatefire_09-02.html Prepare for a Wildfire. (2011). Retrieved February 2011, from FEMA: http://www.fema.gov/hazard/wildfire
Telegraph, The. (2011). Californian firefighter warns of increase wildfires due to climate change. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/6537436/Californian-firefighter-warns-of-increase-wildfires-due -to-climate-change.html Union of Concerned Scientists. (2006). Global Warming and California Wildfires. Retrieved from http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/global_warming/ucs-ca-wildfires-1.pdf United States Department of Agriculture. (2010). Influence of Behavior and the Severity of Its Effects. Retrieved from www.usda.gov/18.104.22.168/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsbdev7_007729.pdf Veenema, T.G. (2007). Natural and Environmental Disasters. In T.G. Veenema (2nd Ed), Disaster Nursing and Emergency Preparedness (p 339). New York, NY: Springer Publishing. Walsh, B. (2007, October 25). The Great California Fires. Time, 1-3. Wildfire. (n.d.). Retrieved February 2011, from Disaster Center: http://www.disastercenter.com/guide/wildfire