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They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen?

The sitation in California is just like the one in Australia

Tim Ingalsbee has been fighting fires or trying to prevent them since 1980. He founded Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology.

They know how to prevent megafires

Elizabeth Weil, ProRepublica

So what’s it like? “It’s just … well … it’s horrible. Horrible to see this happening when the science is so clear and has been clear for years. I suffer from Cassandra syndrome,” Ingalsbee said. “Every year I warn people: Disaster’s coming. We got to change. And no one listens. And then it happens.”

The pattern is a form of insanity: We keep doing overzealous fire suppression across California landscapes where the fire poses little risk to people and structures. As a result, wildland fuels keep building up.

This week we’ve seen both the second- and third-largest fires in California history. “The fire community, the progressives, are almost in a state of panic,” Ingalsbee said. There’s only one solution, the one we know yet still avoid. “We need to get good fire on the ground and whittle down some of that fuel load.”

Modern Californians are burning 0.1% of what indigenous California’s used to do:

Academics believe that between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California. Between 1982 and 1998, California’s agency land managers burned, on average, about 30,000 acres a year. Between 1999 and 2017, that number dropped to an annual 13,000 acres. The state passed a few new laws in 2018 designed to facilitate more intentional burning. But few are optimistic this, alone, will lead to significant change. We live with a deathly backlog. In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.

..is there is any meaningful scientific dissent about controlled burns? \

“None that I know of.”

The incentives are all wrong. There is a risk in doing cool burns, but no immediate risk in foregoing them. And among other things, fires are big business. Cal Fire may spend $1 billion this year. Full time Firefighters earn  $148,000 a year.

A lot of the money though, goes on late afternoon planes dumping fire retardant to save a few wild trees:

A lot of the “air show,” as he calls it, happens not on small fires in the morning, when retardant drops from planes are most effective, but on large fires in the afternoon. But nevermind. You can now call in a 747 to drop 19,200 gallons of retardant. Or a purpose-designed Lockheed Martin FireHerc, a cousin of the C-130. How cool is that? Still only 30% of retardant is dropped within 2,000 yards of a neighborhood, meaning that it stands little chance of saving a life or home. Instead the airdrop serves, at great expense, to save trees in the wilderness, where burning, not suppression, might well do more good.

So the Firies don’t necessarily want the fires to stop (though they must be pretty tired of them right now). The Greens use the flaming wrecks as advertising for climate change and fundraising for their party or club.

Then there’s the swamp — the cumbersome octopus of bureaucracy often shuts down the few prescribed burns people are ready to do. There’s smoke, PM2.5’s, there’s a risk.

Sounds a lot like Australia.

It’s a well written article (apart from a couple of token “don’t pick on me” handwaves to climate change.

Even progressive journalists are getting the message.






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