California experiences subdued wildfire season
The 2022 California wildfire season was relatively subdued following years of record-breaking fires. The state has avoided the state’s recent plague of catastrophic wildfires as it exits its “peak” wildfire season. In fact, 2022 has seen the lowest number of acres burned since 2019.
This summer, California had more luck with the weather, as it avoided the devastation caused by wildfires in previous years due to moisture brought in by a monsoonal season, experts say. Despite another year of drought, much of the state avoided the worst of the heat and dryness that can cause wildfires. In some cases, timely rain even came to the rescue. Apart from the rain, California has experienced less dry lightning than in previous years. Furthermore, officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, attribute some of the mild wildfire seasons to their focus on clearing away vegetation that fuels fires. The $2.8 billion spent on forest management in the last two years has made a significant difference, this includes prescribed burns and new helicopters capable of flying at night and carrying more water.
Despite this, wildfires have destroyed nearly 800 structures in the state and killed nine civilians so far this year. The fires have also consumed approximately 362,455 acres of land, nearly a quarter of which tore through remote El Dorado and Placer counties during the Mosquito Fire in September and October. To put this in context, the acreage for 2021 was 2.5 million, which was roughly seven times larger than this year. And those years paled in comparison to the all-time high of 4.3 million acres burned in California in 2020. In addition, 7,490 fires were started in the state this year, 256 fewer than the five-year average of 7,746. Even modest gains (about 3% below average) are welcomed in the fire world.
The way forward
Moving forward, we must still remain vigilant at this time of year. More than six fires started in December in 2020, despite being a consistently cool and moist month. As climate change causes wildfires to grow larger and more destructive, especially across the West, it is time to take more proactive, integrative, and predictive approaches to mitigate and adapt to this disastrous consequence of climate change.
On this front, developing sustainable forest management plans is critical in both wildfire prevention as well as in preserving the nature’s forests for future generations. Some viable approaches include reducing wild vegetation, natural debris, and dead or diseased trees as well as properly spacing trees to make wildfires easier to suppress and less likely to spread. Furthermore, researchers also put forward a more innovative approach to wildfire research, recommending that data from various fields and scales be better integrated and shared, while also considering diversity, inclusion, and innovation in practice.
Minimizing disaster impact
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