Sunday, June 08, 2008

Fires in the West

As we continue into the fire season here in California, a central event, the Yellowstone Fires of 1988, remain as a learning tool for what needs to be considered in the strategy we continue to evolve and use.

The author makes this compelling point in this excerpt from his article Yellowstone Fires of 88’

“In the American West, we live in a new world of fire--a world that appeared in 1988.

“The 1988 fire season seemed an aberration. It was among the hottest years on record. The drought across North America was the worst since the 1930s. In the former Dust Bowl states--from Montana to Nebraska and Kansas to Texas--farmers reported dark clouds of dust as their topsoil blew away. By June 1, the Soil Conservation Service estimated 12 million acres were damaged by wind erosion.

“Record temperatures hit cities across the country. American companies sold 4 million air conditioners and could not keep up with demand. Congress held hearings on the greenhouse effect and climate change.

“Twenty years later, conditions like those of 1988 are the norm. In 2006, 9.5 million acres burned, followed by 9.3 million acres in 2007. With six out of the last eight years among the worst fire seasons since 1960, it is "the indefinitely bad season," says Tom Boatner, the Bureau of Land Management's just retired chief of fire operations and a 30-year firefighting veteran.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its 2,500 scientists from around the world have concluded that the wholesale burning of fossil fuels has contributed to the warming, drying, and longer fire seasons we are experiencing today. If it continues, the forests, which capture 20 to 40 percent of the carbon that scientists say contributes to the climate’s change, will burn and turn from net carbon sinks to net carbon sources, according to scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and University of Washington.”