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Wildfires Are Spreading Quickly, So What the ‘Devil’ Can We Do About It?
Safety

Wildfires Are Spreading Quickly, So What the ‘Devil’ Can We Do About It?

By James Tehrani September 25, 2020

Bobcat, Bullfrog, Rattlesnake and Devil.

They might sound like codenames for top-secret surveillance teams, but these are actually the names of just a few of the 20 wildfires currently burning in California at this writing. In all, there are 74 wildfires in the United States with the 54 other fires taking place in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Through Sept. 25, more than 7 million acres have burned (an area larger than the state of Massachusetts), which is up from almost 4.4 million acres the same time period last year but not far off the pace set in 2018 when the deadly Camp Fire took place. The National Interagency Fire Center lists only one fire in the Golden State as being contained.

In the Bobcat fire alone, 29 structures were destroyed with more than 50 others in danger, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“This year in California has been a record year” in terms of wildfires, said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby in a virtual community meeting held Sept. 21. There’s currently “over 27,000 firefighters fighting fires throughout the state of California, which is unprecedented.”

Verisk Insurance Solutions says there are more than 2 million properties in California that are at high or extreme risk from wildfires with the next closest being 717,800 properties in Texas. In its “Wildfire Risk Insight-2019” report, the analytics company lists the largest insured wildfire loss as $14 billion in 2017 and the largest historical wildfire as the Mendocino Complex fire in 2018 when 459,100 acres burned.

“Climate change can affect the growing number and intensity of wildfires,” Verisk wrote in its report. “Rising temperatures, severe droughts, and evolving precipitation patterns are contributing to year-round wildfire ‘seasons.’ Data has also linked large wildfires to early spring snowmelt in mountainous regions, which extends the dry season and enhances conditions that lead to wildfires.”

And things are getting worse: Of the 20 largest wildfires in California dating back to 1932, five are currently underway and four of those are already considered the most destructive in that timeframe. The 2018 Camp Fire is listed as the most destructive, but the current North Complex fire is already No. 6 on the list from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, better known as Cal Fire.

Keep in mind, this is coming on the heels of a horrific 2019-20 wildfire season in Australia that saw 46 million acres burn from average maximum temperatures of 105.6˚F (40.9˚C). “As global warming due to greenhouse gases continues to raise the planet’s average surface temperature, the number of cool days in Australia and many other parts of the world has declined, while the number of days with extremely warm daytime high temperatures has increased,” Climate.gov wrote.

Additionally, the Fourth National Climate Assessment report states that: “As the climate warms, projected increases in wildfire frequency and area burned are expected to drive up costs associated with health effects, loss of homes and infrastructure, and fire suppression. Increased wildfire activity is also expected to reduce the opportunity for and enjoyment of outdoor recreation activities, affecting quality of life as well as tourist economies.”

Hopefully, one of those recreational activities will be safe gender-reveal parties moving forward. A gender reveal party, for instance, reportedly started the El Dorado fire in California, which has, at this writing, burned more than 22,000 acres. And it’s not the first time that’s happened. In 2017, a man started a massive wildfire in Arizona when he shot a target as part of a gender reveal stunt gone wrong. The explosion started a fire that burned nearly 47,000 acres.

Might we suggest a gender reveal cake instead?

All kidding aside, climate change—and especially wildfires—are no laughing matter.

In a recent blog post, Dr. Martin Baitz, Sphera’s senior life cycle sustainability expert, wrote: “Many people are unaware of what global warming will mean for human civilization. Too often it seems we underestimate the serious risks involved in failing to act. If we don’t take decisive and rapid steps toward securing a more sustainable future, both as individuals and as organizations, it will threaten the future of humanity’s ability to survive and prosper.”

Beyond the obvious challenges inherent with a warmer world, Baitz goes on to list infrastructure as a big concern. Building structures may need to be reinforced, he wrote, to deal with changing temperatures, related rising tides and weather incidents. And it’s not all related to warmth: “If we keep losing rainforest in the Amazon because of climate-related fires, and the Gulf Stream patterns shift, it could get much colder in Europe and the Middle East. Structures might no longer comply with safety specifications and need to be carefully inspected and maybe refurbished or reinforced. We will have to invest billions or perhaps trillions of dollars in completely new or refurbished infrastructure.”

Here are some suggestions from the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

  • Reduce hazardous fuels with prescribed burning and wildfire management.
  • Reduce forest stand density to increase tree vigor.

“A viable forest-based workforce can facilitate timely actions that minimize negative effects of climate change,” according to the report. “Ensuring the continuing health of forest ecosystems and, where desired and feasible, keeping forestland in forest cover are key challenges for society.”

Companies can help lead the way in combatting climate change by embracing carbon neutrality throughout the supply chain, among other Sustainability-related initiatives. A better future for all of Earth’s inhabitants is possible, but we must act now to help combat the spread of wildfires and other extreme weather events before it is too late.

As with anything this important, the “devil” is in the details.

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