It’s about Flammable Homes, not forests

Here’s how to respond to those misleading posts claiming our recent fires are all about tree huggers preventing logging and a supposed fuel build up via past fire suppression.

1. Most of California’s most devastating fires were far from any forest (see map below).

2. For those few devastating fires that were near forests, most if not all of those forests around the communities destroyed had the kind of suggested thinning and fuel treatments misinformed commentators claim didn’t exist.

3. The majority of the area burned during the Camp Fire before it hit the town of Paradise had burned 10 years ago and was composed of habitats other than forest (e.g. post fire shrublands). The wind-driven ember rain that ignited the town came primarily from these 10-year-old sparse to dense shrublands, grasslands, areas damaged from salvage logging, and young tree plantations northeast of the town. A large percentage of the trees within the devastated town did not burn. See the fire progression map here and match it with the current view on Google Earth.

The Los Angeles Times discussed the science behind the fire’s path.

Here is an excellent map of the fire from the New York Times.

4. Climate change is drying the state. Dryer conditions lead to a more flammable landscape. We may also see more of the kind of winds that powered the Camp Fire into Paradise.

“The major factor is climate change across the west. Regardless of fuels management, we just wouldn’t be burning like this, especially in Northern California, in a normal year.”
– Dr. Leroy Westerling, UC Merced

More fires will dramatically alter the kinds of habitats we are used to seeing. Highly flammable, non-native weed-filled landscapes that dominate places like Riverside County will likely become more common. More on this issue here.

Tree Mortality 14 Final

It is more than discouraging when someone claims our wildfires are all about forests, dead trees, lack of logging, or unnatural fuel build up via past fire suppression. Such claims are a disservice to the families who have lost so much and hamper our efforts to solve the problem.

What is it about? Flammable homes and communities built in fire corridors (where wind-driven fires have burned historically or are likely to burn due to topography).

Please see our solutions and understand why Governor Brown and the California State Legislature failed us – they ignored the real problem. Unfortunately, Governor Newsom has followed the same horrifying path.  Please read our 12 recommendations.

And the insanity continues…

Additional information

A well-researched article on the Woolsey Fire from the LA Times.

How to protect your home from wildfire.

Information flyer on external sprinklers.

An explanation why much of what you hear about forests and dead trees is inaccurate.

Here are the most devastating wildfires in California to November 17, 2018 as per Cal Fire’s list of 20 (fire, structures burned, fatalities):

Fires 2017-2018
Tubbs/ 5636/ 22
Redwood/ 546 / 9
Carr/ 1599/ 8
Atlas/ 783/ 6
Nuns/ 1355/ 3
Thomas/ 1063/ 2
Ferguson/ 131/ 2
Mendocino/ 277/ 1 (forest burned within fire perimeter, but not generally involved in losses)

Previous devastating fires prior to 2017 where losses were also unrelated to forests and dead trees:
Tunnel (1991)/ 2900 /25
Cedar (2003)/ 2820/ 15
Harris (2007)/ 548/ 8
Witch Creek (2007)/ 1650/ 2
Butte (2015)/ 921/ 2
Erskine (2016)/309/2 (not part of the Cal Fire top 20)
Jones (1999)/ 954/ 1
Paint (1990)/ 641/ 1

Significant forested area involved, but not seriously impacted by dead trees:
Old (2003)/ 1003/ 6 (some of the home losses were near forested areas)
Valley (2015)/ 1955/ 4
*Camp Fire involved forest inside the fire perimeter, but most of the area within the fire’s path prior to hitting the town of Paradise was a mix of habitats.

10 Comments on “It’s about Flammable Homes, not forests

  1. California has to learn from Australia, which has had a very coordinated fire response plan in place for many years. For example, in the kind of climate we had 50 years ago, fires moved more slowly. Now, with a much dryer climate, fires move very quickly. That means that water bombers are pretty much a waste of money, something Australia decided a long time ago. Having a rural fire authority that depends very much on volunteers, having a red alert system throughout the State that can focus on specific counties, establishing a network of fire-proof shelters in every town together with subsidies for homes installing them, and a few other things. In Australia, you just get people out of the way of a major fire because they cannot be easily stopped. Time for strategic planning, something Americans seem pretty bad at usually.

  2. What if we truly used wild horses to keep the range/forest clean of dried grass/shrub?
    “…Further evidence of the ‘grass and brush’ wildfire paradigm is seen by way of the large burn scars that are now devoid of trees (trees previously destroyed by wildfire), which nevertheless are the breeding grounds of regularly occurring catastrophic wildfires fueled by the un-grazed annually recurring grass and brush on burn scars in and around our forests. In some cases these burn scars over five-hundred thousand acres in size.

    Wild horses can help save our forests and watersheds. The ~50,000 wild horses sitting in the BLM/USFS corrals costing taxpayers $50-M annually can be legally deployed into and around carefully selected forests where they will naturally abate the ground fuels at the rate of 1.5 million pounds per day, or about 274,000 tons of grass and brush annually. The value of this annual fuel abatement service in minimally hundreds of $-millions of dollars.
    In total, the concept is known as the Wild Horse Fire Brigade….”


    • While some grazing can help in areas where native shrublands have already been type-converted to non-native grasslands, grazing can seriously compromise the ecological integrity and biodiversity of healthy, intact shrublands. The best place to address fire risk is not in modifying the natural environment, but within the communities themselves. In California’s fire climate, fires can and will be fueled by whatever is available – grass, shrubs, or trees.

      • This response is contrary to evolutionary fact. Wild horses, which evolved on the North American continent 55-million years ago and are a ‘native species’, also co-evolved with the native flora. And as such have evolved symbiotic relationships with all of the native species flora and fauna (including apex predators which prey on Equids).

        For instance; wild horses are monogastric digesters (single stomached animals) and pass most of the native plant and grass seeds they have eaten onto the ground in their droppings. The seeds in the droppings of wild horses remain viable and have a strategic advantage for germination due to the humus in which they are embedded. This evolved process also keeps carbon compounds sequestered into the soils as opposed to allowing prodigious fuels burn in catastrophic wildfires and sending hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, thus accelerating climate change.

        On the other hand; cattle, sheep and goats (invasive species on the N. American continent) have complex (multiple) stomachs and are very efficient digesters, thus digesting the seeds of native flora and plant they graze, which are unable to germinate when deposited back onto the ground in their droppings. As they graze, they strip-off native grasses and plants and ultimately eliminate the flora that co-evolved native species wildlife depend upon for their existence. Furthermore, the depletion of native species flora via invasive species grazing by cattle, sheep and goats, opens up the landscape for opportunistic invasive species plants, which can take-over an area where native flora have lost their foothold.

        Rewilding Europe recently published a 5-year study; ‘Impact Of Wild Horses On Wilderness Landscape And Wildfire’. This Study should be required reading to update outdated and obsolete beliefs. That Study can be read at GrazeLIFE; here:

  3. Don’t forget the Klamathon Fire, the earliest one, again burning the town of Hornbrook, and open juniper -oak -grass country .

    • Hi Jim. Thanks for the question. We’ve clarified it with an edit:

      What is it about? Flammable homes and communities built in fire corridors (where wind-driven fires have burned historically or are likely to burn due to topography).

  4. Pingback: Fire Policy at the Wildland-Housing Interface: The Unsolved Problem Land Use Lawyers Are Well-Positioned to Help Solve | Greener Land Law Blog

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