When Climate Change Hits Close to Home

(U.S. Forest Service)

This is going to happen more and more as the planet warms. On Sunday my wife answered the phone and it was my mother saying that they were ordered to evacuate her home because of an approaching wildfire. My sister who cares for her was away on a short vacation and luckily my brother was there to help. I was not home at the time of the call and received the news when I got back. My sister was trying to keep everyone updated using Facebook and her resources in the area. I was trying to keep up to date by checking various news reports on the internet. My mother lives in Wofford Heights near Lake Isabella which is in Kern County which is in California. It is the most southern part of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. My parents retired there many years ago and I have many fond memories of the area. Below is the fire map and the approximate location indicated by the red arrow. The burned over area is in pink.




On Monday morning I noticed a report that certain people living on the east side of the road were allowed to return home. That seemed to apply to my mother’s home. I called and my brother answered. He said that he had a hard time convincing the sheriff to let them return but finally succeeded. My mother had had a hard time sleeping in his trailer with a dog and cat on her so she decided she wanted to sleep in her own bed and that was that. My brother related seeing the fire come over the last ridge between the fire and the house. He was going to evacuate again when a massive jet came over and dropped a load of whatever they use today and it pretty much put out the fire with helicopter water drops putting out the rest. 

Currently the fire is at 2,646 acres burned with 85% containment. The cost of that containment is at 7.5 million dollars. All evacuations have been lifted.

All of the reports that I saw had a version of this sentence….”quickly spread as it chewed through unseasonably dry underbrush, timber and grass.” That sentence is going to be used many times this year. The news of the Shirley Fire as it was called actually hit many of my climate change websites. This Grist article explaining the coasts of fighting wildfires is an example.

“Forest Service has made plans to beef up its force of over 100 aircraft and 10,000 firefighters in preparation for what it said in a statement “is shaping up to be a catastrophic fire season…But the real catastrophe has been years in the making: Federal fire records and budget data show that the U.S. wildfire response system is chronically and severely underfunded, even as fires – especially the biggest “mega-fires” – grow larger and more expensive.”

The total acres burned nationwide in an average year jumped from 2.7 million over the period 1984-1993, to 7.3 million in 2004-13. And of the top 10 biggest burn years on record, nine have happened since 2000″

“Meanwhile, dry conditions are also lengthening the season in which large fires occur, according to analysis by fire ecologist Anthony Westerling of the University of California-Merced. In 2006, Westerling counted instances of fires greater than 1,000 acres in Western states; the study, published in Science, found that “large wildfire activity increased suddenly and markedly in the mid-1980s.” Updated data provided by Westerling to Climate Desk shows that trend continued in the last decade:”

“Driving those trends are more sustained droughts that leave forests bone-dry and higher temperatures that melt snowpack earlier in the year. Both of those factors are at play this year, especially in the fire-prone West. California’s snowpack was at record lows this winter, and Covington says forest conditions across the region “are dominated by drought.”

“While climate conditions and urban development drive up the average cost of putting out a fire, Interior’s Douglas says his agency is still able to extinguish the majority of fires while they’re relatively small. The biggest concern, from a budgetary perspective, is the biggest 0.5 percent of fires, which according to Interior account for about 30 percent of total firefighting costs. While the average per-fire cost is now around $30,000, a handful of massive fires cost orders of magnitude more: In 2012 several dozen fires pushed into the multimillion-dollar range, with the year’s most expensive, the Chips Fire in California, reaching the stratospheric height of $53 million.”


Another interesting story on wildfires in California is this National Geographic article with the title, “Overwhelming Cause of California Wildfires: Humans”.


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