Wildfire news and discussion

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caltrek
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Australian Bush Fires Belched Out Immense Quantity of Carbon
by Smriti Mallapaty
September 15, 2021

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02509-3

Extract:
(Nature) The extreme bush fires that blazed across southeastern Australia in late 2019 and early 2020 released 715 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air — more than double the emissions previously estimated from satellite data, according to an analysis published today in Nature.

…The key question is how these forests will recover, says Cristina Santín, a wildfire researcher at the Spanish National Research Council in Asturias. Wildfires have long been considered net-zero-carbon events, because the emissions they release are recaptured when the vegetation regrows — but an increase in the frequency and intensity of fires in Australia could mean that ecosystems never fully bounce back. If these fires “threaten the recovery of the ecosystem, then we really need to worry”, she says.

…The second paper, also published today, could give researchers reason to hope, however. It suggests that the emissions generated by the bush-fire crisis were nearly offset by gigantic phytoplankton blooms in the Southern Ocean, recorded over the summer of 2019–20.

…The ocean seems to achieve “an amazing sleight of hand — like a magician”, says (David) Bowman (a fire ecologist at the University of Tasmania in Hobart). But he and other researchers say that more work needs to be done to understand where the carbon taken up by the plankton eventually goes, and whether it makes it back out into the atmosphere.
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caltrek
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Wildfires in Australia Caused an Explosion of Sea Life Thousands of Miles Away
by Benji Jones
September 15, 2021

https://www.vox.com/down-to-earth/2021/ ... -australia

Conclusion:
(Vox) As the Nature study shows, fires can spur large algal blooms, but a lot depends on the local environment. If the ecosystem already has plenty of nutrients, for example, an influx of iron or phosphorus might not produce a bloom.

Even if there is a bloom, it’s not always clear if it’s good or bad. Phytoplankton, like plants, are photosynthetic, absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) as they grow. In a basic sense, more algae mean fewer carbon emissions. That’s why some people have proposed fertilizing the ocean with iron as a way to combat climate change. But even big algal blooms may not absorb enough carbon to offset the CO2 stemming from the wildfires that fuel them. Some kinds of algae are also likely to release the carbon they store back into the atmosphere when they decay, whereas others, such as diatoms, are more likely to lock it up permanently, (Sasha) Kramer (a doctoral student at the University of California Santa Barbara) said.

“The best thing is to not rely on this carbon drawdown from phytoplankton, but to stop emitting CO2 in the first place,” (Douglas) Hamilton (a researcher at Cornell University) said.

Algal blooms can also wreak havoc on wildlife and throw ecosystems off balance. Blooms in Florida, for example, have killed thousands of fish, and even manatees. They have also caused “dead zones” around the world, including in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay, where there’s not enough oxygen for animals to survive. If nothing else, they’re likely altering the food chain, Hamilton said.

This research raises a lot of new questions, such as how fire-fueled phytoplankton affect ocean biology and carbon sinks, and stands to further complicate future climate models. It also highlights an uneasy juxtaposition: We can be both amazed by the science of catastrophe and gravely worried about what it tells us. It’s mind-boggling that fires in Australia are fertilizing oceans off the coast of South America — and troubling to think of what it might mean for the marine animals that live there.
weatheriscool
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Sequoia National Park's Giant Forest unscathed by wildfire
Source: AP
THREE RIVERS, Calif. (AP) — The ancient massive trees of Sequoia National Park’s famed Giant Forest were unscathed Tuesday even though a wildfire has been burning near them on the western side of California’s Sierra Nevada for nearly two weeks.

“As of right now we don’t have any damage to any of our trees,” said fire information officer Mark Garrett.

The KNP Complex, two lightning-sparked fires that merged, has spread over more than 39 square miles (101 square kilometers), feeding on other types of trees that also live on the high-elevation slopes of the mountain range.

Giant Forest is home to about 2,000 sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree, which is considered the world’s largest by volume and is a must-see for visitors to the national park.

Read more: https://apnews.com/article/fires-enviro ... a42ca26ec7
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caltrek
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Finding Common Ground Between Loggers and Environmentalists
by Warren Cornwall
September 16, 2021

https://www.science.org/content/article ... mentalists

Introduction:
(Science) MALHEUR NATIONAL FOREST IN OREGON—In a Sun-dappled glade here, James Johnston could see two possible futures for the forests that blanket the Blue Mountains. During a recent visit, the ecologist stood among orange-hued ponderosa pine trees with trunks so broad it would take two people to encircle one with their arms. Grasses carpeted the wide gaps between the pines, creating the feel of an alpine park.

Just 200 meters away, however, swaths of dead trees, their trunks weathered to a polished silver, rose from powdery dirt. “That’s old-growth ponderosa pine killed by the southern edge of the Canyon Creek Fire,” which struck in 2015, explained Johnston, who works at Oregon State University (OSU), Corvallis.

A key difference? The living trees sat within a forest tract that had been carefully logged—“treated” in the parlance of researchers—as part of an ambitious experiment, launched in 2006, that aims to prevent the kinds of intense wildfires now destroying forests across western North America. The effort seeks to demonstrate ways of reversing more than 100 years of mismanagement that have transformed many forests into tinderboxes. It is also a study in how to overcome decades of disagreements among scientists, environmentalists, and forest workers on how to best protect both ecosystems and local economies. Here, environmentalists are welcoming chainsaws, and loggers are collaborating with scientists once reviled by the timber industry.

The massive experiment involves intensively monitoring some 550 plots, each 1000 square meters, scattered across nearly 700,000 hectares, to learn how best to deploy two standard techniques for making a forest more fire resistant: prescribed burning and limited logging. It has made the Malheur National Forest “one of the best studied national forests” in the United States, Johnston says. Funded chiefly by state and federal land management agencies, the research has become increasingly relevant as a warming climate increases the risks of wildfires so intense that they sterilize soils and kill massive old trees. Helping forests become more resilient is critical, Johnston says, because “we’re going to have a hard time growing trees under hotter, drier conditions.”
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caltrek
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We Can’t Just Run Away From Wildfires
by Umair Irfan
September 24, 2021

https://www.vox.com/22677693/california ... ribed-burn

Introduction:
(Vox) It has been yet another breathtaking year for disasters. While Hurricane Ida drenched a path from New Orleans to New York, leaving flooding and power outages in its wake, wildfires forced thousands to evacuate and sent choking smoke across the US.

Such disasters are a fact of life in many parts of the country, and the risks are only growing as human activity continues to warm the planet. For those living in the West within reach of devastating blazes, that raises a difficult question: Should I stay or should I go?

Retreat from dangerous areas may seem like the obvious solution to people watching from afar. Why stay in the crosshairs of deadly fires?

The reality is a lot more complicated, because pulling back from high-risk areas brings its own problems. “Managed retreat, relocation, that’s one of the tools in the tool-kit, and it’s a tool that has a lot of potential social costs,” said Aaron Clark-Ginsberg, a social scientist at the RAND Corporation who studies disasters.

If people do decide to pull up stakes, they will have a hard time finding refuge: Just about every part of the US is going to face impacts from climate change, be it extreme rainfall, storm surges, or life-threatening heat.
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caltrek
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Russia's Fire Season
by Nathanael Johnson
September 30, 2021

https://grist.org/wildfires/you-thought ... uch-worse/

Introduction:
(Grist) In mid August, the leader of the Republic of Sakha, in Russia, told residents not to go outside, and to avoid breathing unfiltered air if at all possible. Wildfire smoke filled the streets of Yakutsk, reducing visibility to less than a block. Smoke spread to the North Pole for the first time ever. It spread across the Pacific Ocean.

Fires in California this year stunned forest stewards with their size and intensity. But they look puny compared to the fires raging in Siberia.

We don’t yet know how much land has been consumed by wildfires this season, that satellite data is still coming in. A report from Greenpeace, based on statistics from Russian fire services, estimates that 65,000 square miles have burned — more than six times the area burned in the United States so far this year. At their peak, in August, 190 blazes were spreading across Sakha and Chukotka, Russia’s farthest northeastern regions.

In July and August, wildfires in northeastern Russia released 806 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to a new report from Copernicus, the European Union’s satellite program. “That’s more carbon than the emissions of the entire country of Germany, one of the largest economies in the world,” observed James MacCarthy, a mapping expert who keeps an eye on the state of the world’s woodlands for Global Forest Watch. “And you are looking at a trend that’s increasing.”
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caltrek
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Wildfires Contributing to the Great Bee Decline
by Dustin Manduffie
September 30, 2021

https://www.courthousenews.com/wildfire ... e-decline/

Introduction:
(Courthouse News) — Bee populations have been in decline since at least 2005 due to habitat loss, invasive species, pesticide use and climate change. Now, one of nature’s most important pollinators faces a new threat: fire season.

Out of nearly 4,000 bee species native to North America and Hawaii, close to one in four are already considered to be under threat, and ongoing wildfires are widely believed to be adding to their ordeal. Across the pond, new research out of Australia shows that the number of threatened bee species there is expected to increase almost five-fold after the country’s widespread Black Summer bushfires in 2019-2020.

Scientists from across Australia teamed up to investigate the impact that wildfires are having on bee populations in a new study published Thursday in the journal Global Change Biology. They found that increasing numbers of bee species can be classified as vulnerable or endangered as a direct result of the fires, fortunately the authors developed a new method for assessing some of the less famous species under threat.
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"Take it easy, nothing matters in the end."
– William Shatner
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caltrek
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Declaration of Fire Prevention Week
by President Biden
October 1, 2021

https://www.federalregister.gov/documen ... -week-2021
(Federal Register)

Fire Prevention Week, 2021

A Proclamation

During Fire Prevention Week, we honor our brave firefighters and first responders who risk their lives to protect us every day and reaffirm the importance of fire safety and preparedness. This week, I call on all Americans to educate themselves about fire prevention and safety and recommit to taking the necessary steps to prevent fires. Whether you are in your own home or camping in one of America's majestic National Parks, taking the proper precautions and safety measures can help prevent fires and save your life and the lives of your family and others while protecting our natural wonders.

Already this year, more than 44,000 wildfires have burned nearly 5.3 million acres of our land—an area roughly the size of the State of New Jersey. These fires have destroyed homes and priceless memories. They have forced families into shelters and filled the air with smoke for hundreds of miles. Precious lives have been lost. The fires have ground local economies to a halt, swallowed up family farms, and disrupted supply chains that fuel jobs, businesses, and communities all across the country.

These fires represent a code red for our Nation—and we know that, unless we take bold action to address climate change, they will only continue to gain in frequency and ferocity. Scientists have warned us for years that extreme weather will only get more extreme, and today we are living it in real time. Extreme weather, including wildfires, cost America $99 billion last year; unfortunately, we are poised to break that record this year.

That is why my Administration is committed to taking on the threat of climate change and investing in America's resilience. We have proposed investing billions of dollars to strengthen our wildfire preparedness, resilience, and response. These investments will not just save lives and homes—they will also save industries and create new jobs. When I think about climate change, I always think about the millions of good-paying, union jobs we can create—but we also need to think about all of the jobs and industries we stand to lose if we fail to act boldly enough. The evidence is overwhelming that every dollar we invest in our resilience saves us six dollars down the road, when the next fire does not spread as widely and homes and businesses are spared.

Our response to this threat starts with our brave firefighters, who put their lives on the line every day. To better support the wildland firefighters who serve our Nation so courageously, my Administration is committed to making sure that we have enough firefighters on call who are trained, equipped, and ready to respond. That is why I took action this summer to ensure that all of our Federal firefighters will earn a minimum of $15 an hour. My Administration has increased wildland firefighter pay through bonuses and retention pay, extended seasonal firefighter employment to ensure robust response throughout the fire season, deployed new fire detection and air monitoring technologies, invoked the Defense Production Act to increase the supply of equipment, and brought additional aircraft and personnel to bear from both the Department of Defense and our partner nations. Start Printed Page 55470

During Fire Prevention Week, I call on all Americans to educate themselves about fire safety, take the appropriate precautions when encountering fires, and honor our courageous firefighters, volunteers, and first responders. I also encourage everyone to install and maintain smoke alarms in their homes—critical elements of fire safety that have helped significantly decrease United States home fire death rates over the past 40 years. By testing alarms every month and replacing them every 10 years, we can be better prepared to respond quickly to fires and prevent tragic loss of life.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 3 through October 9, 2021, as Fire Prevention Week. On Sunday, October 3, 2021, in accordance with Public Law 107-51, the flag of the United States will be flown at half-staff at all Federal office buildings in honor of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service. I call on all Americans to participate in this observance with appropriate programs and activities and by renewing their efforts to prevent fires and their tragic consequences.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.
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caltrek
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Are California’s Wildfires Really “Disasters”—or Just Something Natural?
by Piper McDaniel
October 8, 2021

https://www.motherjones.com/environmen ... -burns/

Introduction:
(Mother Jones) When a forest is torched by wildfire, what’s left behind is something resembling a dystopian hellscape. There are no green things, just a carpet of scorched earth and telltale piles of ash and debris: Here was a house, here a garden, here the shell of a car—and thousands of trees, stripped and blackened. It feels postapocalyptic, this flora-less wasteland. When the skies turn a burnt orange, Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t seem off base.

California’s runaway wildfires have been a harbinger of climate change that’s impossible to ignore—the heartbreak of each new season’s losses of homes and communities, the months of tainted air in portions of the state, the shattering of records for acreage burned. Fire has disrupted life for many residents and has raised questions about the longevity of the state’s iconic landscapes.

Already, California trees are threatened by drought and warming temperatures. By 2100, according to one projection, Joshua Tree National Park could lose the ability to host its Seussian namesake. California’s soaring redwoods and sequoias, too, face habitat loss. To save imperiled trees in California and elsewhere, scientists are even looking to assisted migration—the movement of organisms beyond their usual habitats—to help various tree species survive changing climate conditions.

But while recent fires have been more severe than those in the past, the associated harm has more to do with human priorities than the health of the forests themselves. Fire generally isn’t damaging to forests. On the contrary, it plays a restorative function. The perception that fire is bad originated with colonialism, when forests became a source of profit, and fire suppression disrupted the natural processes of forest ecosystems.

“California forests are fire-adapted, which means they need fire to thrive,” says Crystal Kolden, an assistant professor of fire science at the University of California, Merced. “Precolonization, much of California’s forest would burn every five to 20 years.”
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