WILDFIRE lessons: 2018 "Camp Fire" - Paradise, CA
California wildfires in recent years, 2018 and 2019, have been bigger and more destructive than ever before. Amid the tragic loss of life and homes and damage to property and businesses, there are valuable lessons we can learn to protect millions more homes and lives from a similar fate in the future with more and wiser home and neighborhood wildfire preparations.
The November 2018 "Camp Fire," named after its point of origin, Camp Creek Rd., destroyed the small town of Paradise, CA, killed 85 people and destroyed over 18,000 structures, most in just the first 4 hours. A rapidly moving ground fire, as recent California W.U.I. (Wildland Urban Interface) wildfires have been, it was unstoppable, driven by 50mph wind gusts.
As with the 1991 East Bay's Hills Fire, the unrelenting high winds make a fire impossible to contain. Yet studies of the Camp Fire continue to teach us about wildfire behavior — and how to prepare for the inevitability of a future East Bay fire, especially fast-moving ground fires. These pose a greater threat to us than the forest fires most people have been taught to fear.
"Most of the pines that sheltered this community still had their canopies intact. The needles, yellowed from the intense heat, were not burned — evidence that the winds that morning had pushed the fire along so fast it never had a chance to rise into the trees. But as a surface fire, it lit up the homes that lay in its path."
"Drawing lessons from tragedy is never easy, especially when those lessons have been known for years. “Our problem is a society that is unintentionally, but actively, ignoring opportunities because of the cultural perception of wildfire,” said Jack Cohen, who is retired from the U.S. Forest Service where he worked for 40 years as a fire research scientist. That perception, he argues, is based on myth and fear and complicated by an ongoing narrative that attributes conflagrations like the Camp fire to such factors as climate change, overgrown forests and urban encroachment into rural areas. Each has played a role in perpetuating and prolonging recent fires, but they needn’t be entirely solved to minimize losses. There are steps that can be taken to protect homes and communities, he said, steps that require cooperation and political will."
"DEMONIZING WILDFIRE - The first step, Cohen said, is to address the misinformation about wildland fires. Over decades, Americans have become disassociated from the reality of fire. Smokey Bear was almost too successful in demonizing wildfire. There is a time and a place and a set of circumstances when fires are beneficial for the landscape."
"...the popular perception is that wildfires burn through these communities like a wall of flames. In fact, small, burning embers — firebrands — blown in advance of the fire are the primary cause of structural fires. “When we look at the big flames but not the firebrands, we miss the principal igniter and pay attention to the show,” Cohen said."
"Billions of these embers fly into neighborhoods, landing onto flammable roofs, into vegetation around the structure and rain gutters choked with leaves and needles. Big flame fronts, on the other hand, are less effective in igniting structures because they burn fast — often consuming their fuels in about a minute or less in one location — and move along often so quickly as to not consume the structures themselves."
"The mandate in CA... Public Resources Code Section 4291, is clear: A 100-ft perimeter of “defensible space” must be maintained in “land that is covered with flammable material.” While the 100-ft requirement is appropriate, it is important to begin thinking closer to the structure itself and work out in concentric circles, Cohen said. “We have to take care of everything from 5 feet out,” he said, 'so that when it burns, it doesn’t produce enough radiation to ignite the structure or produce enough flames to contact the structure.'"
"...Cohen said, and we don’t have to entirely eliminate fire from within the perimeter, just ensure that fires that occur within 100 feet don’t burn long enough or intensely enough to ignite other objects."
"A defensible perimeter also provides residents with more safety options as fire approaches. Cohen refers to the story of the medical staff and patients from the hospital in Paradise who took refuge in a home. Climbing on the roof with hoses and clearing pine needles from the rain gutters, they were able to survive. “A house that doesn’t burn is the best place to be during a wildfire,” he said."
"However, the 100-foot requirement in CA stops at the property line, which creates a situation where homes can be built beside one another within that perimeter. If multiple homes share this perimeter, then each home is a potential ignition source, and homeowners cannot create a defensible space beyond their property line if that means trespassing on someone else’s property. “All it takes is one house to catch on fire, and the heat and embers put the other houses in jeopardy,” [CA Dept. of Forestry & Fire Protection member, David] Pangburn said."
Thanks to the L.A. Times and reporters, Thomas Curwen and Joseph Serna.
READ the entire article HERE, and support the independent journalism of the L.A. Times.
"Embers, broadcast by the wind, find dry leaves, igniting one structure then another,
and the cycle is perpetuated block after block. Break that cycle and
the fire quits, and destruction can be minimized."
An article on California's Camp Fire appeared in the Nov. 20, 2018 Los Angeles Times. It has many relevant passages and quotes, including many by Jack Cohen, 40-year veteran USDA Forest Service fire science researcher we quote elsewhere. These excerpts are featured, below. READ the entire article HERE
Thanks to the L.A. Times and reporters of this story, Thomas Curwen and Joseph Serna.
The excerpts above highlight the evolving understanding of wildfires and the value of many of the mitigation programs and community actions HCN endorses. These include:
• making homes and structures ignition-resistant;
• keeping healthy forests intact as valuable windbreaks and moisture collectors;
READ MORE about each program (bolded) by CLICKING THE LINKS directly above.