Long-Term Solutions for California Wildfire Prevention

Nobody knew how the fire started. It took hold in the dry chaparral and grasslands and quickly spread up the sides of the canyon. Propelled by winds gusting over 40 miles per hour and extremely dry air (humidity below 25 percent), the fire spread over the ridge and into the town below. Overwhelmed firefighters could not contain the blaze as it swept through the streets, immolating homes by the hundreds. Even brick homes with slate roofs were not spared. Before it finally was brought under control, 640 structures including 584 homes had been reduced to ashes. Over 4,000 people were left homeless.

Does this sound like the “new normal?” Maybe so, but this description is of the Berkeley fire of 1923. In its time, with barely 4 million people living in California, the Berkeley fire was a catastrophe on par with the fires we see today.

When evaluating what happened in nearly a century since this fire, two stories emerge. The story coming from California’s politicians emphasizes climate change. From former Governor Jerry Brown: “In less than five years, even the worst skeptics will be believers.” From current Governor Gavin Newsom, speaking on the threat of wildfires in the state: “If anyone is wondering if climate change is real, come to California.”

The other story, which comes from professional foresters, emphasizes how different forest management practices might have made many of the recent fires far less severe, if not avoided entirely. Specifically, California’s misguided forest management practices […] Read More