According to researchers who published a recent paper in the International Journal of Wildland Fire (Volume 18 2009), climate change will increase the number and burn severity of fires in Yosemite National Park. Using fire records, weather data, and satellite imagery they analyzed the fires in the park that occurred between 1984 and 2005. Comparing snowfall records with fire severity, they determined that during those years, decreased spring snowpack exponentially increased the number of lightning-ignited fires and the proportion of the landscape that burned at higher severities.
The researchers then made some predictions:
Using one snowpack forecast, we project that the number of lightning-ignited fires will increase 19.1% by 2020 to 2049 and the annual area burned at high severity will increase 21.9%. Climate-induced decreases in snowpack and the concomitant increase in fire severity suggest that existing assumptions may be understated – fires may become more frequent and more severe.
Here is the way this is supposed to work. There is some evidence to suggest that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will lead to more lightning strikes. With less snow, the lightning strikes are more likely to ignite fires. The dryer fuels will result in the fires burning more intensely.
UPDATE, November 5, 2009:
Dust devils can be the bane of the wildland firefighter, sometimes throwing burning embers across the fireline or even turning into a little fire tornado if it involves flames from burning vegetation.
But as far as I know, the dust devils on Mars don’t cause any problems for firefighters.
NASA describes the photo above this way:
Who’s been marking up Mars? This portion of a recent high-resolution picture from the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows twisting dark trails criss-crossing light colored terrain on the martian surface. Newly formed trails like these had presented researchers with a tantalizing martian mystery but are now known to be the work of miniature wind vortices known to occur on the red planet – martian dust devils. Such spinning columns of rising air heated by the warm surface are also common in dry and desert areas onplanet Earth. Typically lasting only a few minutes, dust devils becoming visible as they pick up loose red-colored dust leaving the darker and heavier sand beneath intact. On Mars, dust devilscan be up to 8 kilometers high. Dust devils have been credited with unexpected cleanings of mars rover solar panels.
It is a busy day in the world of wildland fire.
The California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday rejected the plan proposed by the San Diego Gas and Electric Company to turn off the power to large sections of the county during periods of high fire danger. The company’s power lines have caused numerous large fires over the last 40 years and critics have said the company thought it would be less expensive to turn off the power than to harden their infrastructure.
We have written about the power company’s proposal a number of times.
The USA Today has a story about the third year of a drought in California. Here is a brief quote:
California is in the third year of a drought that has contributed to extreme fire conditions. Fire officials say the lack of rain makes brush burn more easily. And when fire hits parched forests, the fire tends to burn faster and do more damage.
“You can have a fire go through the same area, and the damage to a forest is always more significant in drought years,” says Del Walters, director of CalFire. Trees and logs burn hotter and more completely in droughts, he said, and their heat kills nearby trees that might otherwise survive.
Remember “You’re doing a heck-of-a-job Brownie”? Michael Brown who was run out of the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the hurricane Katrina debacle, has been hired by Cold Creek Solutions to be their vice president of its disaster recovery practice, the company said on Thursday.
Cold Creek Solutions is quoted as saying:
With Michael’s experience and his unique view into what possibly could go wrong when looking at a plan, we can truly help clients be prepared for the unexpected.”
Seriously. No shit. (Note to self: do NOT buy any stock in Cold Creek Solutions.)
The Station fire came within one-eighth of a mile of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles. They do a lot more than just study jet propulsion there, they manage the Deep Space Operations Center which controls spacecraft that are whizzing around our solar system. At one point all but essential personnel were evacuated, but, according to a NASA news release…
Two of the five Deep Space Network operators on weekend duty were sent to Monrovia, but three volunteered to stay at the control center at JPL, to ensure systems continued to operate normally, to keep connections open with the flight projects, and to maintain the flow of engineering and science data to flight projects and scientists around the globe.
The three who stayed at JPL – along with about 40 other mission-critical personnel at any given time – were told not to spend much time outside. Hodder called frequently to check on the health of the crew and to obtain status reports on the network.
On Saturday afternoon, Sible and Hodder were ready to pull out those remaining three operators and put further communications with the network on hold if the fire reached the Mesa, a flat helipad and testing site at the northern edge of JPL.
That afternoon, the fire burned to within an eighth of a mile of the northern border of the lab. Emergency managers told staff to be ready to evacuate in 30 minutes.
Thankfully, with fire department handcrews cutting firebreaks, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft dropping water and flame retardant, and the wind shifting, the danger passed on Saturday night. An unpleasant haze of smoke settled on the lab, but the air had cleared enough for the network operators in Monrovia to return to JPL Monday evening. The rest of JPL opened as usual on Tuesday morning at 6 a.m.
In the end, the Deep Space Network was able to complete its 182 scheduled uploading and downloading sessions with spacecraft over the weekend without interruption.
A reward of $150,000 is being offered for the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for setting the 160,000-acre Station fire.
I have probably already given researcher Jon Keeley more attention than he deserves, such this article. He has a theory that says it is unlikely that age class manipulation of fuels can prevent large fires. He is featured in an article written by Judith Lewis in the High Country News.
Thanks Dick and Kelly
The Predictive Services section of the National Interagency Fire Center has issued their wildfire outlook for the next several months. It looks to be pretty quiet except for northern California and south Texas.