August 24, 2007

California's Zaca Fire and Global Warming

Click to enlarge

Here's a question I haven't seen in the press...

What is the impact of public forest wildfires on global warming?

I have seen plenty of inferences that global warming is contributing to the cause of wildfire spread and ferocity but virtually nothing on how the burst of fire temperatures, soot, ash, carbon monoxide, and other toxic emissions impact global warming. No journalists make the connection between the rash of horrific megafires of the last two decades and the precipitous rise in carbon emissions during that same time.

U.S. Senator Pete Domenici recently testified...

When the Hayman Fire burned in Colorado in 2002, NASA scientists estimated that the fire was emitting more carbon dioxide in one day than all the vehicles in the United States emitted in a week.

That fire lasted over a month. The Spring 2007 megafire in Georgia and Northern Florida (the biggest in Georgia history) lasted even longer. The size, length, and ferocity of these fires is not normal - at least not prior to 1980.

Most animal deaths during and after a wildfire are caused by asphyxiation, not the flames themselves. In a sense, the "canary warning" to humans has been given. Now we must act to save not only forest wildlife, but all animals including humans who are in the path of wildfire plumes.

As the huge Zaca fire 9 miles north of bucolic Santa Barbara, California nears completion of its second month of devastation, it is time to ask some environmental questions:

Are we reaping the result of failure to adequately harvest excess forest fuel, reforest past forest acreage, and manage public forests as efficiently as private forests are managed?

Are public perceptions, litigation, and policies designed to protect wildlife diversity having the opposite effect? Stated another way, do efforts to preserve forests actually spell their doom and destroy the habitats of their occupants?

Can the federal and state governments ever be expected to allocate sufficient taxpayer funds to adequately manage the vast public forests under their stewardship?

Here are the latest facts on the Zaca Fire.

Basic Information
Incident Type: Wildland Fire
Cause: Human Caused
Date of Origin: 07/04/2007 at 1053 hrs.
Location: 9 miles north of Santa Barbara

Current Situation
Total Personnel: 2,545
Size: 235,601 acres (1/3 the size of Rhode Island)
Percent Contained: 83%
Estimated Containment Date: 09/07/2007 at hrs.
Fuels Involved: Heavy brush containing a high dead component. Some conifer at higher elevations. Live fuel moistures are at 49% which is well below critical levels. A continuous fuel bed lies ahead of the fire.

Growth Potential: Extreme.
Terrain Difficulty: Extreme.

I toured California in a motor home between Santa Barbara and Yosemite August 9th through 17. Here are some photos I took in Yosemite August 15th (click to enlarge)...

As I was travelling south August 17th on the 99 FWY near Bakersfield, we caught sight of the smoky plume of the Zaca fire which blotted out the sun at 5pm - actual darkness - (click to enlarge)...

This California roadtrip experience left an indelible impression - not the one I was expecting.

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