California Burns

Published on June 29th, 2016

As last week closed, I read that multiple fires continued to burn across California as 4,500 firefighters battled the blazes. 4,500! The fires have claimed lives, tens of thousands of acres, homes and wildlife. But it’s not only California; 17 fires burned across six Western states as of the weekend.
Talking about one of the California infernos – the Kern County fire – a fire department spokesperson said, “Hot weather, hot winds, drought conditions and low fuel moisture – meaning the brush and trees have low moisture content making them more susceptible to fire conditions – contributed to what firefighters faced.”

Kern County Fire 2016
Kern County Fire, California.

Certainly no surprises there, given California is in Year No. 5 of record drought. With the long-term drought, some 40 million trees have perished during the last five years, by the U.S. Forest Service’s count, with about 75 percent of those in 2015. A California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesperson said dead trees are like matchsticks for forest fires.

Lake Isabella, June 23, 2016
Fire retardant is dropped on a wildfire near Lake Isabella
in Kern County, California, on June 23.
Photo: Casey Christie/The Californian

My mind wanders to the plagues of the Exodus story I learned about as a child, including pestilence, insect infestations and a hail of fire. If the Book of Exodus were written for today, would it be killer heatwaves, widespread fires and massive overpopulation?
I hate accepting that this is the “new normal.” But this is the world we’ve created in relatively short order.

My thoughts move from bible stories in Sunday school decades ago to The Washington Post headline: “What we’re doing to the Earth has no parallel in 66 million years, scientists say.” The gist of the piece is that things are worse – much worse – than we thought (climate change, mass extinctions, life as we know it, etc., etc.). The article is based on a study in Nature Geoscience, which summarized that “the present anthropogenic carbon release rate is unprecedented in the past 66 million years.

“Also, future ecosystem disruptions are likely to exceed the relatively limited extinctions observed at the PETM.” PETM is the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, before now, the fastest known massive carbon release in 66 million years.

Then I think, we’ve covered this ground before – just last month Leon Kolankiewicz again addressed the linkage between an increase in wildfires and climate change. But of course not just us here at CAPS. Information is so widely available on what our combined human impact is having on the planet; yet, change to lessen our impact is neither enough nor coming fast enough, I worry.

Maybe as one small thing on the wildfire front we need a reboot, a 10.0 version, of the Smokey the Bear campaign.

Smokey the Bear

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