Records Detail Dramatic Response to California Wildfire

25 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California wildfires: dispatch logs show small towns struggled to respond.

The persistent drought, coupled with the legacy of poor forest management practices, has produced historic fire conditions in California and much of the West. Those were just a few of the overwhelming number of calls the tiny Lake County sheriff’s department received during the fast-moving blaze that began 12 September about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

In the month since the publication of our report on the California drought’s major repercussions—which projected a growth in extreme fires if the drought continues another few years—California has experienced several new fires that are among the largest or most damaging in recorded history. Since this drought began in 2012, California has experienced two of the three largest fires on record, and four of the top 20, as measured by number of acres burned (see table).

Screams for help were reported from residents unable to get out of the fire zone, while other callers pleaded for deputies to rescue livestock and pets left behind. The 40 pages of logs involving dispatchers and deputies told the story of the unfolding disaster, detailing the frantic scramble to evacuate people and animals as the fire ripped through miles of dry vegetation. Martin said his department used social media, door-to-door notifications and reverse 911 calls to tell residents of mandatory evacuation orders but conceded that not everyone received alerts. From a previous fire in late July, he knew to expect a recorded call on his cellphone or look for someone coming through the neighborhood with a bullhorn yelling for people to evacuate. The dispatch logs show deputies racing around winding, single-lane roads in the community and maneuvering past downed power lines to rescue whoever they could.

Hotter temperatures and dry conditions have “reduced moisture in both live and dead trees, as well as shrub leaves and tree needles, which allows for more efficient fire initiation and high intensity burns,” says Stephens. A century of wildfire suppression and inconsistent fuel reduction efforts—such as thinning out trees and introducing more frequent, low-intensity fires—has increased the risk of major wildfires in California’s forestlands.

To avoid this, the state must increase fuel-reduction efforts to ten times the area that is currently treated. “The good news is this is possible,” Stephens says. “We have the techniques and research to show forest restoration treatments are in line with the ecology of these ecosystems.” Short-term fire suppression is extremely important for protecting human life and property, but experts agree that California needs to take a longer range view of forest management to limit damage from wildfires as the climate warms, and reduce the ever-growing cost of fighting fires. Some efforts are underway on private lands in California, but this has proven more difficult on federal lands (roughly half of our forestlands) due to permitting constraints. Until private and public forestland owners coordinate long term fuel-reduction efforts, California can expect to experience larger, more frequent, and increasingly severe wildfires.

Our partners
Follow us
Contact us
Our contacts

About this site