Trump wrongly blames large California wildfires on water being diverted into the ocean

In a tweet Sunday afternoon President Trump said the wildfires in California are “magnified & made worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading?”

trump tweet wildfires water diversion ocean fires

It is nonsensical to think that water projects, whether or not the water is diverted into the ocean, would have any significant effect on the spread of, for instance, the Mendocino Complex of Fires currently growing east of Ukiah that at 273,664 acres has just become the second largest wildfire in the recorded history of California.

average size acres wildfires United States 1990-2017

Most scientists agree that the increase in acres burned and the average size of wildfires in the United States is due to a number of factors, including climate change (high temperatures, lower relative humidity, drought), fuel buildup due to fire suppression for 100 years, and people moving into areas with continuous vegetation. This migration can increase the number of fire ignitions, and can divert the limited number of firefighters from actually suppressing a fire to protecting structures, allowing fires to grow unhindered at times.

Even the Washington Examiner, a very reliable and strong supporter of Mr. Trump, had some mild criticism about this statement by the President.

And yes, “tree clear”, can help, if by that he means reducing fuels around inhabited areas through prescribed fires and other fuel management techniques. But we will never be able to conduct enough prescribed fires to prevent blazes from becoming megafires. And increasing logging is not the answer. Large, very wide fuel breaks around subdivisions be beneficial, but it is more important for residents in the wildland-urban interface to accept the responsibility to use FireWise principles. Burning embers can cause buildings to ignite at a great distance from the main fire.  Homes should be constructed with fire resistant designs and materials. Residents need to thin and/or remove flammable vegetation within 100 feet of structures.

It was just yesterday that we wrote about fires remaining very active at night in an article titled, “Record-setting heat helped keep California wildfires active at night“. Here is an excerpt:

There are many ways that a warmer climate can influence wildfires, causing them to burn more intensely. Higher temperatures can lower the relative humidity, lower the amount of moisture in the vegetation (fuel), raise the temperature of the fuel itself, and cause more powerful thunderstorms with  lightning. But one factor that we don’t think about very often is that the heat can persist through the night, influencing fire behavior.

When today’s senior firefighters began their careers, they could usually count on fires “laying down” at night. The intensity and rate of spread would decline to the point where night shift personnel could more easily and safely “go direct”, constructing fireline very close to the edge of the fire…

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.