r/science 10d ago All-Seeing Upvote 1 Wholesome 3 Silver 2

Stanford researchers find wildfire smoke is unraveling decades of air quality gains, exposing millions of Americans to extreme pollution levels Environment

https://news.stanford.edu/2022/09/22/wildfire-smoke-unraveling-decades-air-quality-gains/
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u/[deleted] 10d ago Helpful

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u/LastKing3853 10d ago

What causes these fires?

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u/okblimpo123 10d ago Silver hehehehe Table Slap

The truth is a whole myriad of causes. First and most importantly the prolonged drought. Secondly the land management, both in building and resourcing, but also the style of fire/forest management. Overarching all of this is anthropogenic induce climate change.

Also gender reveal parties

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u/phoenix0r 10d ago

No one has added the massive Bark Beetle infestation but that has had a HUGE effect on building up a giant tinder box of dead trees all across the Pacific Northwest and northern CA. The root cause is the prolonged drought which weakened trees and made them less able to fight off the beetle infestation, but the beetles themselves killed all those trees way faster than the drought alone would have.

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u/superRedditer 10d ago

the beetle problem is a massive problem under the radar if people don't know.

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u/DjCyric 10d ago

There are entire forests here in Western Montana where 'beetle kill' has turned everything to dead fuel just waiting to go up in the next blaze.

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u/MASTODON_ROCKS 10d ago

I really wish there were more opportunities to log beetle kill ethically, the wood has a blued look and the "veins" actually look really cool when made into furniture.

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u/McMandar 9d ago

I'd never heard of/seen that before! Did some googling and there's a bunch of pretty cool arts/crafts and building material "beetle kill pine" products. Why can't it be logged ethically? Seems like an all around win, fire fuel gets cleared and made into products that may reduce the demand for logging live trees at least a little bit.

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u/stabamole 9d ago

My guess is that any normal logging practices would spread the beetle to as yet undamaged areas

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u/KuntaStillSingle 9d ago

Probably contamination risk, you rent tools or tucks or knock trees into live stands and end up facilitating further spread

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u/IWasLyingToGetDrugs 9d ago

My assumption would be that if there’s sufficient demand for beetle kill wood, it would create an incentive to introduce even more bark beetles to increase the supply.

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u/PartyPorpoise 10d ago

I work in a forest and I find the bark beetle marks on so many trees, it’s nuts.

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u/FrustratingBears 10d ago

i was actually wondering about exactly this when i was looking at a government fire report and it mentioned beetle-infested trees as a fuel

i was like “why does it matter if there’s beetles???”

(Washington State BTW)

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u/Mrbeakers 10d ago

Without any research on the topic, I guess they hollow stuff out allowing flames to climb faster/easier?

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u/SuperWeskerSniper 10d ago

they also kill the trees and dead trees are drier and thus burn easier

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u/RS-Ironman-LuvGlove 10d ago

We had the fire in Colorado near Boulder last year. During a snow storm. But the beetle kill was so bad it went from nothing to second largest fire in like 2 days. During the snow. The beetle kill is no joke

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u/evolving_I 10d ago

Yea snow doesn't really do much to slow fire spread unless you get like a foot of it and it doesn't melt off in the next few days. I was on that fire in the Zirkel Wilderness a couple years ago outside Steamboat Springs and it snowed on us like 3 times over the course of two weeks, fire didn't care at all.

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u/RS-Ironman-LuvGlove 10d ago

this was at top of continental divide, and it did snow a TON.

but the fire was so fast and so hot, it went crazy.

but the fire didnt smoulder for very long atleast

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u/[deleted] 10d ago

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u/WonderWall_E 9d ago

Advocate for more action on climate change and more money for the Forest Service. Write your senators and representative and demand they do more to combat climate change. That's basically it.

Management of beetles is complex and largely ineffective. Reversing the massive damage caused by poor forest management through controlled burns and thinning is incredibly expensive. The beetles are only this bad because of drought, forest management, and warming temperatures which expose more northerly forests to beetles which were formerly limited by cool temperatures. It's a problem that's going to get worse before it gets better.

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u/soupinate44 10d ago

Pine beetles have done the same thing in Colorado. We appear to be on the downside of the issues for the past 6-8 years, however they ravaged us and caused so much available tinder for fire fodder for a decade. It felt like we were constantly on fire during that time.

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u/smartguy05 10d ago

If the air had been as bad this summer as it has been the last 3 I was seriously going to consider moving. It was so bad the last 2 I could hardly go outside without coughing, not a great thing during COVID lockdowns.

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u/Mulawooshin 10d ago

They have torn up the western side of Canada too.

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u/BoltgunOnHisHip 10d ago

The bark beetles are exasperating the problem, but fuel loading has been a rising issue for a long time. Poor fire management in the past let fuel levels build up, not to mention impacting wildlife by creating changes to an ecosystem which was adapted to regular fires.

The 'silver lining' to these fires is that they are addressing that issue...albeit in a suboptimal fashion.

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u/TheGruntingGoat 10d ago

Isn’t it true though that most of the fires now are ecologically destructive “crown fires” instead of the regenerative forest floor fires that used to be more common?

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u/ajlark25 10d ago

Idk about most, but yeah - the fires that make the news are largely ecologically damaging. We need to drastically increase the pace and scale of prescribed fire and fuels reduction work

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u/pornoporno 10d ago Silver

Exacerbating

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u/FrakkedRabbit 10d ago edited 10d ago

Man, I am just exasperated at the misuse of exasperating, it's really just exacerbating my issues.

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u/mr_jim_lahey 10d ago

The 'silver lining' to these fires is that they are addressing that issue

My understanding is that this is not entirely the case. At least in some areas, more vegetation is growing in spring due to more carbon dioxide and more rain in winter and then drying out more in hotter, drier summers, thus creating a continuously replenishing source of wildfire fuel.

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u/Hunt3rj2 10d ago

Yep. Also when the trees burn and go away what replaces them is fast-growing grasses that dry out and burn even more intensely in the summer. It's a vicious cycle and we are in for a lot of pain.

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u/kartoffel_engr 10d ago

Aside from the air quality and possible loss of life and property, I love a good burn. Always comes back beautiful in the spring. I live in the desert of Southeastern Washington so the rebound is generally pretty quick and the lack of trees keeps the fuel low, most of the time.

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u/kartoffel_engr 10d ago

Not all of that smoke is from WA. Canada and Oregon contributed pretty heavily depending on the weather pattern. Pretty decent fires in the Cascades and northeastern WA too.

We did have a wetland area full of Russian Olive trees and cottonwoods go up last year I think. Lots of fuel there, but honestly that area was so choked with overgrowth that it was needed. Fortunately it was all locked between highway and rivers so the containment piece was pretty easy. Just control the burn and let it snuff itself out.

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u/Kdean509 10d ago

Pretty large fire south of Kennewick today, the wind made it worse.

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u/Apprehensive_Ad1744 10d ago

This is very different in other places. Burn scars here in Colorado can take centuries to recover.

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u/kartoffel_engr 10d ago

Forested areas are really a huge loss for large flora. Ground cover generally does pretty well. Loads of nutrients deposited.

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u/Apprehensive_Ad1744 10d ago

Not so much here, takes decades even for just the yucca to fully move in. In many places, we've built up so much fuel that the fires can obliterate the microbiome and any organic matter in the soil.

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u/Nervous_Interview453 10d ago

Yea I thought they stopped alot of the control burning so decades of stuff built up to what we've been having go on recently

No source I thought I read an article about CA fire management b4

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u/Star_pass 10d ago Helpful

You’re exactly right. Landscapes are all adapted for regular fire- called “fire return intervals”. Some are more often, some are less often. Over a century of fire suppression without introducing managed fire causes all kinds of problems. Not only an accumulation of what should have burned, but an increase in “light flashy fuels” that ignite quickly and can carry the fire faster than large, dense fuels. (I’m convinced the wind patterns have changed also, because the wind is horrendous during these big fires. But fire creates its own weather, which may be why I feel that way.)

Fire would normally burn off what we think of as fuels on the ground- broken tree branches, leaves, etc. but it would also burn off shrubs and small trees as they start growing. Without fire, shrubs are much larger than they would have been with regular fire, and there are more middle-sized trees which causes what’s known as “ladder fuels”, creating a ladder for the fire between the ground and the tree canopy.

Removing fire has completely changed the forests. In the Sierra Nevadas, the historic trees-per-acre was about 100, but is currently about 300. That’s 300 trees competing for the resources that would historically be given to 100 trees. This makes trees “stressed”, and can increase their susceptibility to things like fungus or beetle outbreaks, and the closeness of the trees makes it easier for these pests to spread. Combine that with warmer winters that don’t freeze long enough to kill off the beetle population, it is a prime environment for them to kill off huge areas of the forest.

As you can imagine, increased ladder fuels and more dense canopies also make it really difficult to keep fire manageable. So even though we want to reintroduce fire into the forests, it takes a lot of prep work to ensure a control burn is truly under control.

That said- I’ll throw in a shameless plug. We need foresters. Not many people know that’s a profession you can pursue, and many of the current foresters are retiring. I can’t think of any place in California that is fully staffed, there is major job security and truly a need for the work. I don’t think people grasp how much land there is to manage. There is more forested land in California than there is total land in Mississippi.

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u/watusiwatusi 10d ago

Similar to drought, the beetle proliferation is a second order effect from climate change.

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u/Beautiful_Welcome_33 10d ago

Like an opportunistic infections in AIDS.

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u/f-150Coyotev8 10d ago

That started a while back and you can still see the devastation up in the Colorado Rockies. Dead pine trees everywhere

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u/hunnyb33_ 10d ago

we have bark beetle infestations in alaska too :( spruce beetles to be exact. it’s terrible.

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u/howstop8 10d ago

Also, natural regulators, such as previously colder winters and frequent and smaller wildfires (not catastrophic fires) would keep a lot of these beetles in check so they were less destructive. So again, human caused climate change and poor wildfire management practices of the 20th century. Now, dead forests are not capturing carbon and burning forests are releasing it. In short, there’s a lot going on.

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u/transmogrified 10d ago

Climate Change, AND the fact that we replant monocultures instead of mixed species stands, which allows them to very quickly establish themselves through an entire forest. Mountain Pine Beetle, for example, can only travel about 20 feet from the tree it hatched on. If there's no other pine trees close enough, it's stuck in one location.

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u/ReallyFnCleverName Grad Student | Geology | Environmental Geosciences 9d ago

Yes, this is a big part of it. That is actually the remedy as well, clearing the forest around an infested tree. You can mark and report infested trees to your local forestry department while you're on a hike so they can take care of it before it spreads. The problem is too big to control for any department so citizen help is super appreciated.

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u/Evolvtion 10d ago

Northern Canada has been ravaged by pine and spruce beetle too. Not too well versed on causes, but of course human disturbance and climate change are some of the main reasons for the spread of invasive species'.

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u/Howfartofly 10d ago

The bark beetles are also so numerous due to decades of wrong cultivation - monocultures, sizes of clearcuts and thus sunexposed edges of forest. Also due to changed climate, which is good for the beetle.

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u/loggic 10d ago

The beetles are a side effect of the drought. Less water = less pitch in the trees = easier infestation = wider spread, which eventually becomes a runaway issue. The forests would need several good water years for the trees to get back to baseline, which would just slow the beetles down.

Many forests that are alive today have already passed the point of no return.

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u/gd2234 10d ago

Home owners should landscape for the environment they live in more, and in wildfire prone areas have fire breaks directly surrounding the houses (areas with no flammable material). I’ve watched a lot of documentaries about bush/wildfires and the people who work with nature (almost) always end up better off than those who have trees and shrubs practically touching their houses.

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u/Chartreuseshutters 10d ago edited 10d ago

I’ll preface by saying I’m going to go all out on this topic. I have thoughts.

Firebreaks help a ton, but the reality of living in the mountains (at least where I live) is that your neighbors might not give a crap, might break rules about fires or shooting on their property during bans, and there is likely to be few (or likely only one) exit from your area in the event of fire.

I have a 30 ft firebreak from my house, then and additional 30-50 ft firebreak on my property at all points. Then there is the road, then 10-15ft before wetlands and a creek, more wetlands, then another 30-50ft before the next likely ignition source.

That being said, I do not trust some of my neighbors at all to not start the next wildfire, much less the dumbasses that rent airbnbs, then set off fireworks from the patios randomly towards other peoples properties or the National Forest.

Another huge issue is elderly people who have large swaths of land who cannot do fire mitigation or afford to have it managed responsibly by someone else. In our area we do weekly parties in the summer to help clear brush and thin trees for our elderly neighbors, but it’s not enough.

The bigger problem is people who have inherited land, sit on it, don’t manage it, don’t ever see it, don’t do anything but wait for it to appreciate. These are the places where pine beetles are taking hold and spreading, unmitigated. Often these are huge swaths of land close to highways or major roads that have potential ignition sources from cars going by, but also don’t have roads to access most of the land so that tree harvesting and mitigation can happen easily. They are also often at steep grades that makes putting roads in cost prohibitive. This is why controlled burns need to occur—and regularly, but there is no mechanism (to my knowledge) for the forest service or others to do that on private lands (and they are in dire need of it).

As for xeriscaping or native planting… yes! Do it! It’s not enough to fix the wildfire situation, but it’s great to not be a part of the problem.

Where I live, with an overly abundant well that we had to down regulate because it was too abundant by law (thank goodness!), I am not allowed to water plants at all outside my home, I’m only allowed to use my spigots in the case of a wildfire, I have to haul in water for any livestock I may have, and cannot even do so much as fill up a water bowl for my dogs outside by law. I can have, I think, 110 gallons of water barrels for rain collection to use for my garden and any plantings I do. I follow these rules and have many 5 gallon jugs I fill at natural grocers with reverse osmosis water to water things beyond that. I think it’s wild that those are my rules though, in a headwater state and an abundant well, when people 40 miles downstream from me are watering sidewalks, non-native grasses, etc. with impunity. I’m running a tiny organic farm off of rainwater and trucked in water while my neighbors downstream can do whatever they like as long as they’re willing to pay for the water the rest of us kindly don’t use.

It’s a ridiculous situation. We need across the board water use rules. I have neighbors all around me who have dry wells. I can’t share my water with them. By law I’m not allowed to fill up a few jugs of water for them. It’s all saved for downstream waste, for the most part. Water law in CO is wild.

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u/Richiesthoughts 10d ago

Thank you for the perspective. Public radio talks about these issues but not with the depth or shared experience you’ve described.

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u/SquashInternal3854 10d ago edited 10d ago

Thank you for going all out and sharing your thoughts. It seems we (nationally) ought to be talking more about this. Water use and rights are wild. Water is life.

Regarding the article above: In terms of wildfire smoke and air pollution: air quality is so important for quality of life, especially pertaining to folks with respiratory issues and other vulnerable groups.

There are so many facets to this.

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u/LauraPringlesWilder 10d ago

you say you've watched a lot of documentaries, but I'm curious if you've lived through a few fire seasons? Living in california and now oregon has taught me a lot about what can theoretically be prepared.

Prepping houses like this can't really happen in suburbs with no room, and we're seeing more town and suburban fires than ever in the last few years on the west coast. It also creates issues like heat islands within suburban areas when it is not fire season, and it definitely causes increased use of AC, which is a net negative.

It doesn't stop CalFire, ODF, or WA DNR from asking people to fire prep their homes with fire breaks, and it does definitely apply to the less inhabited areas, but it would not have stopped Paradise, CA from burning down, nor would it have stopped many of the lightning complex fires in 2020 (especially the Sonoma/Napa fires), because wind was a significant factor in the fueling of those fires (one of the reasons fire season is worse in September is wind, specifically the Santa Ana and Diablo winds in California, and in Oregon/Washington, winds coming from the east). When wind is blowing 30-40mph, sparks are not going to be stopped by fire breaks.

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u/Roger_Cockfoster 10d ago

It depends on the size of the fire. Most of the recent ones in California were massive and fast moving. Fire breaks won't slow them down in the slightest (at least not at the scale that a homeowner could achieve through landscaping). These fires can jump rivers and six-lane highways.

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u/Y0tsuya 10d ago

Yes those wind-driven wildfires are something else. There's not a whole lot you can do to save your house there.

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u/Roger_Cockfoster 10d ago

Yeah, having seen it first hand, these fires are essentially unstoppable. Nothing against the other commenter, but the idea that a homeowner could save their home by cutting beck the hedges is absurd in the face of fires like these. If your home is in the fire's path it's gone, and there's nothing you could have done to prevent it. Those fires flatten entire towns in minutes.

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u/[deleted] 10d ago

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u/Roger_Cockfoster 10d ago

That's the crazy part, these megafires are always wind-driven because they literally create their own weather! They create hurricane force windstorms and even fire tornadoes, which sounds too terrifying to be true but it is.

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u/SprlFlshRngDncHwl 10d ago

Is there video of this? It sounds fascinating.

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u/CrabsolutelyBullshit 10d ago

There's not too much actual footage of fire spread, because sticking around and filming is a death sentence.

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u/Roger_Cockfoster 10d ago

I've seen footage on YouTube of people fleeing the fire as it spreads around both sides of the road, and just barely surviving. It's so terrifying. And of course, the fire crews also find charred cars with cremated bodies inside. Those are the ones that weren't as lucky.

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u/spacelama 10d ago

Eucalyptus oil has a flash point of 48 degrees Celsius. Told ya Australia wants to kill ya.

So what farmers have been observing is on their hectares of freshly plowed land, next to a forested area on a 45 degree day is that the air above the bare dirt burns because of all the oil in the air ahead of a fire front, transporting the front for kilometres. Not that that's needed - ash landed in our suburban backyard in January 2020 from a bushfire in another part of suburbia 10km away. That's the usual way of spot fires routinely jumping 10km past controls here.

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u/NorthernerWuwu 10d ago

Keep in mind also though that many of these fires are perfectly natural, we just happen not to like the results. The fire cycle is normal for many regions.

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u/GamermanZendrelax 10d ago

You might be surprised. For centuries, indigenous groups used fire as a tool for active land management, burning away brush to clear out room for new growth, in large part because that attracted game like deer for them to hunt. And it worked for them for long enough that they lasted those centuries.

It's accurate that a fire can be perfectly natural, but if the landscape has a much more dense layer of undergrowth because that hasn't been manually burned away, well, that's kindling. And like kindling, it helps the initial spark last longer and grow hotter, except instead of logs it ignites the trees.

On top of which, the Forest Service spent decades maximizing the number of trees per acre in regions where they could for use by lumber concerns.

Put those together and you get bigger, hotter, and more dangerous wildfires that the ecosystem evolved to handle. Sometimes even hot enough to scorch the soil, destroying its fertility for years to come.

So it's complicated. Fires are natural, yes. But the natural concerns are exacerbated by mismanagement of the land. The state's essentially been turned into a tinderbox, so when that spark shows up, even if it is natural, the results are far, far more destructive than they otherwise would be.

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u/EmptyBanana5687 10d ago

On top of which, the Forest Service spent decades maximizing the number of trees per acre in regions where they could for use by lumber concerns.

Mst timber land in CA is private or state owned not USFS. There has been extensive clear cutting in areas that burned in the past few years and the fire just burned through those areas. The Paradise fire burned through and area (Concow) that had burned 10 years before and then burned again a few years later on. Grass burns just as well as trees when it's that hot and dry or when they are all standing dead due to beetle kill or drought.

It will always burn, always. People just keep building into more and more fire prone areas.

The land management choices that definitely has led to increased fire severity and that I never see discussed places like reddit are draining and filling of large wetlands and removal of beaver dams over 4 centuries and the subsequent loss of wet meadows and green vegetation into fire season. If had land and was worried about fire I'd be asking someone to transport beavers onto my property asap.

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u/adeliepingu 10d ago

Part of the issue now is that the climate - and thus, the fire season - has changed, so it's harder to do prescribed burns even if you want to. You can't do controlled burns during wildfire season because resources are needed elsewhere and it's easy for things to get out of control when it's hot and dry out, but California's wildfire season is practically year-round at this point.

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u/BellEndRing 10d ago

Not to mention California is absolutely a massive state that has both federal and state forests. The terrain is extremely rugged most of the way. You are talking millions and millions of acres.

You can't manage that in any meaningful way.

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u/greenmachine11235 10d ago

Fire is normal in the western US but you're missing the point that the intensity of the fires has hugely increased. Natural fires burned under growth and a few small trees, now fires burn full grown fire resistant trees.

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u/Byte_the_hand 10d ago

That is 100% due to 100 years of extreme fire suppression. Native Americans did prescribed burns for 1,000 of years (according to the carbon/charcoal records) and largely kept fires smaller and less intense. Even that didn’t always stop the mega fires. Some in Oregon in the 1700’s burned nearly 1.5 million acres of old growth forest. Not often, but those were 100 year type fires. 20 year fires were more on the scale of 200-300 thousand acres.

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u/pgriss 10d ago

Some in Oregon in the 1700’s burned nearly 1.5 million acres

And the Great Fire of 1910 that prompted the fire suppression efforts burnt 3 million acres.

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u/shreddy-cougar 10d ago

It's a never ending cycle at this point... everyone knows we need to do controlled burns, but no one wants to be blamed for causing a fire that spreads outside of the control zone. The controlled burns should have happened decades ago.

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u/DCBillsFan 10d ago

^ See “land management” above.

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u/BDGreenRiverThriller 10d ago

smokey the bear has known for a few decades that we need to do control burns, etc to undo the 100 years of complete fire suppression

but that takes funding and the department of interior is chronically under funded

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u/PM_ME_BAD_FANART 10d ago

Forest Service is under USDA. While it’s funded under the same bill that the DOI is funded under, it’s not funded through DOI.

You’re right that they’ve been underfunded for years. And when they do get money (like via the Infrastructure Bill), they don’t usually get a heads-up so it’s exceedingly difficult to do the sorts of long term plans needed for proper land management.

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u/BDGreenRiverThriller 10d ago

it also doesn't help that forest service, blm and nps share the responsibility depending on place

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u/BJWTech 10d ago

Right, and we stop smaller fires for decades, the forest becomes a tinder box.

The problem is always prioritizing property over the environment.

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u/machine_yearning 10d ago

Insured private property near public land, but most importantly salable timber. Which is the primary function of the FS, along with catering to welfare ranchers.

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u/LastKing3853 10d ago

True statement

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u/autistic_noodz 10d ago

In Northern California it’s often caused by neglect and deferred maintenance from Pacific Gas & Electric. They’re just now starting to bury power lines underground, but many fires here are started by downed power lines from above ground poles. They’re an awful, for-profit utility company that should be taken over by the state.

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u/long-lankin 10d ago

Yep, they have an incredibly bad track record on this, and have directly caused multiple catastrophic wildfires due to gross negligence, particularly over the last few years.

To be honest though, basically all private US energy companies have similar issues, one way or another. Owing to loopholes intended to prevent them from exploiting their natural monopolies and gouging consumers, it's actually more profitable for them to deliberately let infrastructure fail and then replace it, rather than perform proper maintenance.

This is because they get to keep a portion of the construction costs as profit, which serves as their main form of profit. This also incentivises US power companies not to invest in renewable energy, as it's now by far the cheapest form of power generation.

Anyway, I can't remember the exact figure off the top of my head, but I think PGE are directly responsible for up to 200 deaths in the last two decades, from gas explosions, wildfires, and other events, all of which stems from the fact they have chosen not to maintain their infrastructure.

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u/Asparagus-Cat 10d ago

Ironically, fewer smaller fires has been one factor. More brush can build up, so when a fire does happen, there's a lot of a lot more fuel than in the past. Meanwhile hot dry weather can make it easier for them to start, and more turbulent weather can mean more storms, and in turn, more lightning.

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u/[deleted] 10d ago Facepalm

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u/Fallen_Comm_Godz 10d ago

Hot dry weather, Drought, politicized Forrest Management

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u/Soytaco 10d ago

Also human geography

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u/cobaltandchrome 10d ago

PG&E choosing profit over safety, on purpose, to a criminal degree

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u/Curazan 10d ago

Then passing their fines onto the consumer by increasing rates.

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u/Lagviper 10d ago

Didn’t the lawsuit for PG&E go from billions to just ~25ish millions?

How can you be responsible for wiping 20k houses and get a slap on the wrist like that? The justice system is corrupted.

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u/smokedosh 10d ago

Rapid climate change

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u/nthcxd 10d ago Helpful

Wildfires now engulf and scorch entire towns. It is horrific on its own, but think about EVERYTHING in people’s houses and commercial properties burning, EVERYTHING, household chemicals, equipments, batteries, tires, synthetic anything, anything that require special handling for disposing of, anything regular waste management folks wouldn’t take to landfill.

All of those things get burned up in a big big open bonefire with the ashes getting blown up high into atmosphere to be carried by the jet stream to blanket the continental US eastward starting from the west coast.

Any and all EPA regulations on burning materials is entirely and completely disregarded by the nature. Smoke and ashes of any and all things.

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u/asshair 10d ago

The vast majority of harmful particulate comes from forests burning. Consumer goods are a drop in the bucket compared to the wooded acreage burned every year.

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u/EmptyBanana5687 10d ago

They contaminate the land and water where people want to rebuild though.

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u/FrozenSeas 10d ago

Y'know, that's not actually something I'd have thought about. Have there been fires that led to major secondary contamination issues? Surface debris cleanup would probably scrape off a lot of the stuff like burnt rubber and melted plastics, but there has to be some lingering problems from like...are there many high-voltage transformers filled with PCBs still out there?

Come to think of it, that's a minor plot point in Warday by Whitley Strieber (this was back when he was a B-list horror author, not "that guy who got probed"), which is about a limited nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union. A major chunk of southern NYC and New Jersey ends up being basically written off and quarantined after the war, not because of the radiation, but because the whole area basically became a toxic nightmare after the post-attack fires and evacuation caused huge industrial chemical releases.

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u/EmptyBanana5687 9d ago

Have there been fires that led to major secondary contamination issues?

Yes all of them. If your place burns you typically have to have the topsoil removed and a new well dug and you may never be able to rebuild depending on what's in the water. Fire fighting foam is full of PFOAs too, so that's nice.

There are numerous articles on this issues written after every fire. I know a dozen people or more who've lost homes to wildlife in the last 10-15 years, they all had to deal with the fact their lot was now a hazmat site.

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u/adventure_in_gnarnia 10d ago

Rural properties often have very large above ground propane tanks as well. Like 500 gallon tanks.

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u/aaaaayyyyyyyyyyy 10d ago

Propane is just about the cleanest burning material though.

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u/madmaxturbator 10d ago

Farms also have manure. More fuel to the fire.

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u/adventure_in_gnarnia 10d ago edited 10d ago

Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is like 1000x more dangerous than manure… it’s what caused the Beirut explosion.

In California most of the farming is in the Central Valley though… not where the fires are burning for the most part.

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u/WonderfulShelter 10d ago

During the big fires over the last years my house has been covered in ash like 2-3 times completely. My lungs have been so fucked by COVID and those events.

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u/Confident_Bridge9811 10d ago

so those N-95s outside may be a good thing to wear?

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u/timmerwb 10d ago

Oh hell yeh. I saw a study from Israel that reported an 80% reduction in asthma admissions when the covid mask mandate took effect. That was under normal air conditions. Most people have no idea how bad the air quality is generally.

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u/VariousBid4587 10d ago

Was it pollen season there? The mask mandates/shelter at home where I was living at the time were in peak pollen season.

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u/oscdrift 10d ago

in-home air purifiers that can move a lot of air too.

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u/burlycabin 10d ago

Same thing happened in the US. The west had a really bad fire season right before Australia did.

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u/cantquitreddit 10d ago

CA has been using N95s in bad smoke for years.

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u/spacelama 10d ago

In December ('19) to February 2020, most of Australia burnt. For over a month, visibility in all of Melbourne was a few brown kilometres. And Sydney. And Canberra. Probably Brisbane too.

I investigated buying land in Tasmania because if this is the new normal, that might be a respite for a few years, but it burns down in almost entirely every decade too, so it wouldn't be much shelter. But covid meant that that real estate quickly doubled too and also became unaffordable.

Either way, it was oppressively hot for 3 months, you couldn't breath and masks just made it hotter. But it's all you could do. And don't ride your bike. Making the root cause worse, of course because now you're burning even more fossil fuels.

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u/devwolfie 10d ago

Yes. During the Bay Area fires a few years ago I had to wear one in to work in order to breathe. We got special work notices that it was okay to work from home for those weeks due to how bad the air was in the city. I lived down in Mountain View at the time and we had to keep all of our windows closed, it was that bad, and we were HOURS away from the fires by car.

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u/ILikeNeurons 10d ago

Together, these advances mean the Stanford model can help researchers better understand societal impacts from wildfire smoke pollution, including severe smoke events, which are becoming more common as climate change extends wildfire season, accelerates fire frequency, and expands burn areas.

Every time I read findings like this, I can't help but wonder, why don't we just curb climate change? We generally agree it's what we need to do.

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u/burros_n_churros 10d ago

$$$ in the pockets of politicians. Go look up the revenue and profits that big oil makes on a quarterly basis.

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u/ILikeNeurons 10d ago Silver

I'm not sure the data really backs that up, actually.

Americans tend to overestimate how many people in the U.S. have urged an elected official to take action to reduce global warming.

I'd like to see what happens if we can greatly increase our calls to Congress.

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u/Alan_Shutko 10d ago

My rep already wants to take action, one senator is retiring and doesn't give a crap about anything, and the other is a traitor who doesn't even live here. Hopefully things look better after November, but odds are low.

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u/jzaprint 10d ago

does calling do anything? are there actual data to back that up?

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u/ILikeNeurons 10d ago

Lawmakers are biased by contact from constituents, yes.

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u/smokeydaBandito 10d ago

Their nominal constituents, or their fiscal constituents? I don't imagine there is much data available on the direct pull under the table dealings has on representatives.

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u/Bazabatak6484 10d ago

smaller scale is bigger impact. Town level politics your voice matters more

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u/TanelornDeighton 10d ago

FYI, this is a picture of the bushfire smoke in Canberra in January 2020. This is the Air Quality Index at that time. Anything over 100 is considered hazardous. Currently it is 10 here, which is normal. At one stage the AQI went to 7000. This smoke was here, like this, for 2 months.

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u/BrandoCalRizine3330 10d ago edited 9d ago

Imagine what the firefighters getting paid $16 an hour get exposed to.

Edit: Starting wage for our federal (USFS) firefighters is $15.63 and they are are not even called firefighters. The positioned are hired as “forestry technicians”. This is the largest firefighting workforce in the nation. Here’s a decent article on the issue:

Wildfire Today

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u/Standard_Trouble_261 10d ago

An initiative to improve properties for fire safety wouldn't be bad to do. Sometimes people want to make improvements but don't have the money. Aside from that, they could create fire breaks on federal land.

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u/Soup-Wizard 10d ago

We need to stop building new developments in the WUI. Fuels breaks can only do so much. Paradise is a good example where even when firewise principals were applied it didn’t matter. The fire had too much wind on it and moved too fast.

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u/Blockhead47 10d ago

Check out the documentary “Bring Your Own Brigade”.
It’s worth a watch.

Part of it gives an eye opening look at how even in the community of Paradise that burned to the ground with 85 deaths people rejected new regulations to fire resistant construction and vegetation clearances around their homes during rebuilding.

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u/BirdEducational6226 10d ago

We need better land management.

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u/gils555 10d ago

And who is paying these people?

The federal BLM employee makes $15 an hour. Worse than the local Wendy’s

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u/neagrosk 10d ago

Land management needs to pay a living wage. Starting salary for a forestry tech in the forest service pays $15. They're out competed by pretty much every fast food chain in California...

Pretty much every forest could gladly use double or even triple the manpower to help with their fuels reduction/fire management programs but there just simply isn't the money to hire the people they need.

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u/EasternAssistance185 10d ago

It’s astonishing every state doesn’t up their forest management and wildfire fighting budgets. We need to better manage forests and be able to respond with A LOT of man power when they happen, but we can’t, ever. It’s probably only going to get worse and we are losing a lot of valuable resources but gov just pretends the fires don’t exist until they are raging out of control.

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u/AJRiddle 10d ago

It’s astonishing every state doesn’t up their forest management and wildfire fighting budgets

I mean only like 12 states regularly get large wildfires. When was the last big wildfire in Ohio

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u/ILikeNeurons 10d ago

Yeah, there was a reason there's been so much focus on individual carbon footprints. We should be focusing on collective calls to Congress, instead.

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u/IBuyDSPriscillaArt 10d ago

This was always the case

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u/chalk46 10d ago

Alaska had like hundreds of wildfires raging at some point this year, and the best explanation I saw for it was lightning

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u/AftyOfTheUK 10d ago

Lightning is a VERY common cause of wildfires. We have a ranch in California, and I've personally tended smoking tree stumps after being hit by lightning twice in the last three years. When the dry lightning storms come over, everybody keeps their eyes open, and our firefighters get busy.

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u/rplej 10d ago

A challenge is that when the fires get big enough they create their own weather systems which spawn lightning strikes, further spreading the fire.

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u/Squatch7802 10d ago edited 10d ago

Long time mismanagement of the forests causing a lot of dead and down fuels as well as beetle kill adding to the fuel loads causing mega fires. Also the “10am” policy that was established in the early 1900s in response to the Big Burn. Fires are a natural part of nature and the landscape and have many beneficial effects but when you have the added fuels which cause the mega fires it leads to scorched earth.

Edit: corrected Mann Gulch to the Big Burn of 1910 (thanks soup_wizard)

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u/Soup-Wizard 10d ago

10 AM rule came after The Big Burn in 1910.

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u/FactualNeutronStar 10d ago

Fun fact: before Europeans arrived, an average California wildfire season burned at least as much as the "unprecedented" 2020 wildfire season, sometimes 2 or 3 times more. While much of this was low intensity burns started by Native Americans, there were still megafires that burned for months and hazy, sometimes unhealthy air quality was probably just a fact of life during times of drought.

The issue nowadays is manyfold, but the core of the issue is:

  1. Poor land management practices have led to ripe conditions for severe wildfire. But that alone doesn't fully explain it, as many areas like the chaparral fire regime is naturally uncommon, but always severe. The next problem is:

  2. We are building houses and entire communities where they never should have been built. California is the worst offender of this, but there are cases of this all throughout the west. Entire towns are built in forests. Paradise is one example, Greenville another, and South Lake Tahoe (which only narrowly escaped being engulfed in the Caldor Fire) is perhaps the largest example. These communities simply should not exist, or they should have more or less clearcut the forest in the city itself. There is absolutely nothing preventing a crown fire from burning nearly every building to the ground.

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u/eYeS_0N1Y 10d ago edited 10d ago

What were the adverse health effects when the Santa Susana Field Laboratory was fully engulfed in flames 4 years ago? Did the highly toxic chemical waste & nuclear waste magically disappear? Is anybody from Stanford researching that?

https://www.psr-la.org/massive-woolsey-fire-began-on-contaminated-santa-susana-field-laboratory-close-to-site-of-partial-meltdown/

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u/Virtuous_Pursuit 10d ago

Then you’ve never actually looked into it! Air quality has massively improved in the US, due to regulations. Leaded gasoline alone was awful. White collar workers in Gary, Indiana used to bring a second shirt to work, because the first one would get discolored.

The world used to be awful.

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u/PerfectiveVerbTense 10d ago

We only hear about the good things when they’ve been undone. Like you hear way more about crime had been going down now that it’s going back up again.

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