7 thoughts on “Final Report, 2011 Fire and Climate Synthesis (FACS) Project”

  1. “The FACS analysis of modern fire climatology indicates the prevailing influence of seasonal climate (temperature and precipitation) in annual area burned, with snowpack duration acting as a mediating factor. For managers, the implications are similar to those from paleofire climatology: widespread fire years are set up by regional and subcontinental climate variation, including secular trends due to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, and are unlikely to be controlled by local fire suppression effort.”

    This key analysis quote from page 40 says it all. This critical point needs to repeated time after time to leaders and politicians who demand and expect man’s puny efforts to overcome extreme fire weather situations in western mountain forests.

    • “…man’s puny efforts…” I contend that the effects of Indian burning STILL are evident, for many, many decades after it ceased. NOT puny at all! I’ll never buy into the doing nothing mindset.

  2. Ed-
    That is a strange quotation. At the risk of revealing my experience at diagramming sentences (as well as other arcane knowledge)

    “widespread fire years” appears to be the subject of sentence 2. If that is the case and we read the sentence it says “widespread fire years .. are unlikely to be controlled by local fire suppression efforts.” But people don’t control years, they try to control fires. And a “widespread fire year” is composed of many local fires. Which in fact are very likely to be controlled by local suppression efforts, since I’m not sure a widespread suppression effort exists. Anyway, this sentence doesn’t make sense as written.

    Also people have been fairly successful at keeping communities from burning down in the last 30 years or so, thanks to lots of efforts at learning and improving fire suppression efforts.

    And for those who think fire suppression was a bad policy, it was also a “puny effort” whose ramifications may not have been so puny.

    It doesn’t seem like you can have it both ways (not that you, Ed, are trying to). Either we can’t make strong impacts on the landscape (not the Native Americans, not the policy of fire suppression, those were insubstantial) or we can.

    Now whether we have the bucks, the joint vision, and the political will, that’s something else. But the fact is we have to do something; either protect people or move them all out. Those are both big things.

    • “Also people have been fairly successful at keeping communities from burning down in the last 30 years or so.” — Sharon.

      That statement requires a generous definition of “success.” Over half of the worst U.S. forest fires have occurred during the last 30 years. And, drum roll, please, for the list:

      Sept. 26, Laguna, Calif.: large-scale brush fire consumed 175,425 acres and 382 structures.

      Aug.–Sept., western U.S.: fires destroyed over 1.2 million acres in Yellowstone National Park and damaged Alaska woodlands.

      June, Santa Barbara, Calif.: Painted Cave fire burned 4,900 acres and destroyed 641 structures.

      Oct. 20–23, Oakland–Berkeley, Calif.: brush fire in drought-stricken area destroyed over 3,000 homes and apartments. At least 24 people died; damage estimated at $1.5 billion.

      April–May, northern N.M.: prescribed fire started by National Park Service raged out of control, destroying 235 structures and forcing evacuation of more than 20,000 people. Blaze consumed an estimated 47,000 acres and threatened Los Alamos National Laboratory.

      June–early July, mainly western U.S.: Hayman fire in Pike National Forest destroyed 137,760 acres and 600 structures, making it the worst wildfire in Colorado history. In central Ariz., the 85,000-acre Rodeo fire, which had already been declared the worst in Arizona’s history, merged with the Chediski fire, destroying 468,638 acres and more than 400 structures. Large wildfires also burned in Alaska, southern Calif., N.M., Utah, Oregon, and Ga.

      Oct. 25–29, southern Calif.: 15 devastating forest fires burned for two weeks, primarily in San Diego County, Ventura County, Riverside County, and San Bernardino County, forcing more than 80,000 people to evacuate their homes and burning 800,000 acres. More than 15,500 firefighters battled the blazes that killed 24 people and destroyed 3,640 homes. The Cedar Fire in San Diego, which burned through 200,000 acres, was the largest fire in California’s history.


      March 6–7, Texas: more than 200 wildfires in a 24-hour period destroyed 15 homes, killed 10,000 cattle and horses, and burned 191,000 acres. Since December 26th, Texas wildfires have killed 11 people, destroyed 400 homes, and burned more than 3.7 million acres.

      Oct. 21–25, southern Calif.: 16 wildfires from Simi Valley to the Mexican border were fanned by 50 to 60 mph winds and burned nearly 500,000 acres. Three people died, 25 firefighters and civilians were injured, and nearly 1,300 homes were destroyed. Over 500,000 people evacuated their homes while nearly 1,000 firefighters fought the flames.

      For those who lost count, that’s over 10,000 homes lost to wildfire during the past 30 years. I wonder how many more we would have lost if not for “lots of efforts at learning and improving fire suppression efforts?”

      In a nutshell, we’re really quite good at suppressing fires during environmental conditions that don’t threaten much of anything. We’re not so good at putting out fires during conditions of drought, heat and wind that threaten homes and communities. The irony, not lost on firefighters, is that our success in the former helps fuel our failures in the latter.

      • Andy: If you look at the dates on those fires, they correlate fairly well with clearcutting history — when broad bands of fuels were being systematically removed from the forests while a network of roads was being built, and thousands of experienced young men — used to taking orders — were deployed across the landscape with the latest in cats, trucks, chain saws, and fire fighting equipment.

        In Oregon, the last fire of the Tillamook “Six-Year-Jinx” fires was in 1951 — and was (relatively) quickly snuffed out. The previous 1933, 1939, and 1945 wildfires did a lot more damage; despite “fire suppression” activities involving aircraft, lookout towers, and thousands of local citizens and CCC “boys.”

        I think “fire suppression” is given far too much credit for the current state of unmanaged forests bursting into flames. Same with “climate change.” These are vacant lots, covered with Canadian thistles and old newspapers that are burning these past 20 years. These fires are out of control because they are burning in forests that are out of control.

        If you add the Silver Complex and the B&B to your list — and correlate these things to Wilderness areas, where man is but a visitor — the pattern becomes even clearer.

  3. That report that I quoted was full of data that to me was somewhat arcane and caused head-scratching…guess it was one researcher talking to another. That quote seemed to be the culmination of all their data, and I can’t argue with that data!

    I guess it just confirmed my experience and observations over the past 40 years, that there are some seasons and some fires in some areas when fires will burn in spite of man’s best and most expensive efforts. There are mega-fires where the most practical action is to sit back and monitor, and wait for the weather (wind, humidity primarily) to moderate before you expend men and treasure for naught. I believe that is the crux of that report’s findings. It has nothing to do with forest management, fire prevention or WUIs, logging or thinning, or politics. It is a fact that can’t be denied.

    And Larry, I seriously doubt those native Americans burned in those rare climate conditions, or if they did, they didn’t send thousands of “braves” out to extinguish the fire. I am sure they sat back and watched. And moved the village over the ridge for a decade or two. Why this comment re aboriginal burning popped up in this thread has me questioning the true motives of some participants. Trying to sell a “product” (logging, thinning and prescribed burns are good, old forest management methods are bad) in each and every discussion is becoming tiresome.

    • Ed: The reason Indian burning keeps getting mentioned here is because people had successfully used these forests for thousands of years (“sustainability”), with fire as their principal tool. After 10,000 years or more of these methods, European emigrants appeared here and began inventing “biodiversity” to account for all of the abundant “wild” plants and animals they “discovered” here: including beaver, corn, tobacco, turkeys, condors, and potatoes.

      Another reason is that American citizens are almost uniformly ignorant of the role of people and fire in the environment prior to European and African occupation. There are valuable lessons to be learned regarding this relationship over time, and this blog presents a good opportunity to discuss these things.

      Ed, you can have all the “serious doubts” you want but, until you become more knowledgeable about this topic your comments will continue to appear to be unfounded, false, or ignorant. Your statements regarding human use of fire in “those rare climate conditions” (people use fire every day, under all kinds of conditions) and sending “thousands” of “braves” to fight wildfires (there is good evidence that people didn’t experience many wildfires at all prior to European immigration, and much smaller and less destructive than today’s occurrences) clearly demonstrate the need for more public information on the relationship between people, fire, and wildlife prior to contact with Europeans. There is, for example, zero information on anyone ever (including Indians) of “moving their village over the ridge for a decade or two” in response to wildfire — that’s just getting silly and making things up. I’d recommend reading some Stephen Pyne, Kat Anderson, Charles Kay, and Tom Bonnicksen for starters.

      These post-1987 wildfires are unprecedented events, for the most part, in the areas they are taking place. Could Indian burning history contain information for better managing these areas to reduce wildfire risk and severity (and save resources)? My personal experience says “yes.”


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