More than 20,000 hectares of forest were charred. But in the middle of the devastation, a group of cypresses was still standing tall and green.
When a fire swept through an experimental plot in Andilla, in the Spanish province of Valencia in 2012, it gave researchers the perfect opportunity.
The plot, which was part of CypFire, a project financed by the European Union, was established during the 1980s to test the resistance of more than 50 varieties of Mediterranean cypress to a pathogenic fungus.
After the fire event of 2012, it also provided further anecdotal evidence of the peculiar resilience of the species in the face of fire.
Botanist Bernabé Moya and his brother, environmental engineer José Moya, both from the department of monumental trees in Valencia, had been involved in the project for several years.
“On our way to what we knew would be a Dante-esque scene during that tragic summer, we felt deep sadness at the thought of losing a plot of such value to the conservation of biodiversity,” Bernabé Moya told BBC Mundo.
“But we had hope that perhaps some of the cypresses had survived.”
“When we got there we saw that all the common oaks, holm oaks, pines and junipers had completely burnt. But only 1.27% of the Mediterranean cypresses had ignited.”
The fire in Valencia led to a three-year international study to find the reasons behind the resilience of the species and discover if it could provide buffer zones to hinder or prevent the rapid spread of wildfires…The study was published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Environmental Management…
The lab tests were performed by scientists from the Forest Fire Laboratory at INIA-CIFOR in Spain, and the Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection in Florence, Italy…
A crucial difference of the new tests is that they were performed not only on dead dry samples but also on live fine twigs with leaves taken from different crown heights, which revealed one of the key traits of the species: its high water content.
“We observed that the Mediterranean cypress, because of the particular structure of its leaves, is able to maintain a high water content even in situations of extreme heat and drought, and this is a very favourable starting point concerning fire risk,” explains Gianni Della Rocca.
“The cuticle is thick and the stomata are arranged on the inside and protected side of the scale-like leaves and therefore less subject to high water loss”…
The litter on the forest floor, made up of small fragments of leaves, also forms an intricate and compact layer and is slow to decompose.
“The thick and dense litter layer acts as a ‘sponge’ and retains water, and the space for air circulation is reduced”, says Della Rocca.
Plantations with selections of cypresses have already been made in Valencia, Spain, and Siena, Italy, to further research the role of crown structure.
“In a few years, we will have cypress barriers and observations at real scale,” Mr Della Rocca says.
Bravo! RTFA for more details, explanation of factors operating as a fire barrier.
Harley looks just like our Sheila
In the end, Ira and Carolyn Hodge drove out with some photos, their clothes, their horse and their dog, Harley.
Their home took seven years for them to build and contained everything they owned – vehicles, mementos from their parents, memories. All of it was reduced to fine ash when the fire swept down the high sides of the densely forested gorge that bottoms out at Canyon Creek in Grant County, Oregon, six hours’ drive east of Portland.
“It was a monster,” Ira says. “A beast.”
He and Carolyn were helping a neighbour hose down their house when it became clear the fire was moving with astonishing speed towards them. “We had five minutes to get out,” Ira recalls. They tossed the few things they had gathered in their car, rounded up their frightened horse and fled over a wooden bridge that burned behind them.
Ira has since talked to experts who came up to survey the damage. They said that the flames may have reached 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit – hot enough to melt copper and aluminium. They sifted through the rubble and there was almost nothing left.
Harley recovered just one possession: a charred bone he had buried somewhere in the yard.
When you drive south out of John Day, up into the canyon towards the Malheur national forest, the flattened homes and the blackened Douglas firs and ponderosas tell this summer’s story.
Wildfires are capricious, and some houses are untouched. But those that the fire found were razed, and the forest it burned will take decades to recover.
Thirty-six homes were destroyed in Grant County on 14 August. That night, the Canyon Creek Complex fire became the most destructive in Oregon for 80 years. The national media glanced and moved on, but the fire is still burning on just over 105,000 acres. That’s about 10 times the size of Manhattan.
In Oregon as a whole, there are 11 large fires burning on 435,799 acres. In Washington there are 14 burning on 900,000 acres. This season – which is still in full swing – has seen 1,422,880 acres burned in the two states, or 2,223 square miles, an area just a little smaller than the state of Delaware.
More than 11,000 firefighters are still in the field. Firefighting resources in the American west are completely committed, and both states have called out their national guardsmen to help contain the blazes. Firefighters have come from as far away as Australia and New Zealand to pitch in, and three firefighters died while in duty.
RTFA. These fires have become an annual national emergency. People are to blame, habits and carelessness are to blame, short-term weather is often to blame and, yes, climate change plays a significant role.
That may be hard to understand for someone who has never had their home or community threatened by a wildfire; but, it is true.
I do not count climate change deniers as relevant. It’s hard to count them as useful citizens of Earth.
Thanks to California’s historic four-year drought, some specialists are now referring to frequent wildfires as a “new normal” for the state. For the past two years, Los Angeles-based photographer Stuart Palley has been chasing these flare-ups to capture their unusual beauty.
“The fires move fast and you need to get there on the first night of the fire to capture its most intense behavior,” Palley told Quartz. “Two years ago I left my own birthday party early to go photograph a fire.”
Taken with a long-exposure or under a starry night sky, the 27-year-old’s shots of flames and smoke engulfing hills, forests, roads and homes are hair-raisingly gorgeous.
Some of the most dangerous moments in nature may also be beautiful. One more tightrope for a serious photographer.
Lightning strikes in the lower 48 U.S. states will increase about 12% for every degree rise in Earth’s average temperature, potentially sparking more wildfires, according to a new study.
The new estimate was based on calculations of convective energy and precipitation from future thunderstorms, and fits three independent data sets chronicling past strikes, according to the study, published online Thursday in the journal Science.
“You need two ingredients to make lightning in a storm,” said the study’s lead investigator, David Romps, a climate scientist at UC Berkeley. “One of those is that you have water in its three phases — vapor, liquid and ice — coexisting in the cloud. And the other is that the storm clouds be rising quickly enough to loft that liquid and ice into the atmosphere and keep it suspended. So we’ve built our proxy around those two ideas.”
Previous formulas were built around predicted cloud heights and did not account for as much of the variance in actual strikes as the new proxy does, according to the study. The new proxy explains about 77% of the variance in strikes.
It’s only conjecture; but, you would have to think an increase in lightning strikes will forge an equivalent rise in the number of wildfires – lightning causing about half of all wildfires. Not a feature of climate change that anyone in mountain and forest country looks forward to.
What you can expect from the Do-Nothing Congress
Congress took a five-week summer break without deciding whether to provide $615 million in additional money to fight wildfires this year, punting the debate into the fall.
Senate Democrats were unable late Thursday to secure 60 votes to advance a $3.6 billion emergency spending bill for a vote.
The bulk of that money was for the Obama administration to handle the influx of unaccompanied minors along the Southwestern border but it also had $615 million for the U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department to fight fires. That would have eliminated the need for “fire borrowing,” or transferring money from other activities including efforts to prevent fires
Senate Republicans blocked the $3.6 billion measure, arguing blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!…
Last month, along with requesting emergency money, President Barack Obama asked Congress to add wildfires to the list of natural disasters eligible for disaster assistance. That move would eliminate the need for the government to dip into wildfire-prevention programs to pay ever-increasing firefighting costs.
The right-wing clown show running the Republican Party won’t respond to that request until they sort out appropriate guidance from the Old Testament, the ghost of Joseph Goebbels and someone who channels Ayn Rand.
Conservative ideologues contribute as little of use to society as an epoch of plague.
What we in the Southern Rockies call Fire Season has already begun.
This tale needs no introduction. It is a wonder of American journalism, a superb work of narrative journalism – worth awards. I thank the Atlantic for publishing it and the special skill dedicated to the supplements part of the online edition. I thank Brian Mockenhaupt for his writing.
Thanks, Mike, for the suggestion.
It’s around 5 p.m. on a warm Sunday in April 2014, and there is a 1,000-acre wildfire burning in Northwest Texas. The area is under a “Red Flag” warning, meaning that high winds and low humidity are likely to make the fire extremely difficult to fight. By 10 p.m. the fire is just 60 percent contained.
April is near the peak of the region’s winter-spring fire season, and the Texas A&M Forest Service is working hard to stay one step ahead of its wildfires. Using NOAA’s monitoring tools, the agency’s Predictive Services team watches for environmental patterns that signal rough days ahead.
The 14-member Predictive Services department commands about $1.2 million, less than 2 percent of the Forest Service’s total budget, but it’s a key part of the agency’s wildfire response. Its findings underlie many of the preventive and proactive measures the state takes to defend against its sometimes cataclysmic fire seasons…
Predictive Service head Tom Spencer checks in routinely with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, making note of shorter-term weather predictions, longer-term climate models, droughts and other data. NOAA’s Fire Weather monitoring tool provides him with detailed forecasts for regions across the United States, including a 7-day forecast and hourly updates on conditions that may influence fire activity. Spencer also relies on NOAA’s drought monitors, which track drought outbreaks and provide perspective on drought scope and severity around the country…
On that particular April Sunday the agency was helping tackle at least six infernos, but this fire season has been a fairly moderate one for Texas. Around this time three years ago there were 1.5 million acres burning every day for about three weeks straight.
RTFA for the story of the systems brought to play on Texas wildfires. Understand what fire-forecasting has on offer especially for local and rural fire departments with nothing like the resources needed to fight a major wildfire.
Interesting stuff. Useful – like most real science. So far, most Texas politicians seem to be staying out of the way.
With a vast swath of the West primed for wildfires, federal foresters are preparing for the worst with a budget that might run dry and a fleet of air tankers that in some cases aren’t ready for takeoff.
A combination of extended drought, warming weather and an abundance of withered trees and grasses have created ideal conditions for fire — more than 22 million acres were blackened by wildfires from 2011-2013, primarily across the West…
In no place is the situation more worrisome than in California, where several years of stingy rainfall have turned forests and scrub into matchsticks and tens of thousands of homes are perched along fire-prone areas.
Firefighters battled a blaze in the mountains east of Los Angeles this week, where temperatures neared triple digits. And states from New Mexico through southern Oregon have been left sere by a lack of rain and snow.
About a decade ago the Forest Service had more than 40 of the big tankers at its disposal — the draft horses of firefighting aircraft that can dump thousands of gallons of flame-snuffing retardant in a single swoop, far more than a helicopter.
According to federal analysts, the fleet hit a low of eight aircraft at one point last year, depleted by age and concerns over the ability of the planes, in some cases flying since the dawn of the Cold War, to stay in the sky.
Be of good cheer. Contemplate the most reactionary members of Congress in your neck of the prairie – someone as backwards, say, as Steve Pearce in downstate New Mexico. You can guarantee he will shout and rail against Forest Service, state and federal fire-fighters as being Federal agents in practice and policy.
Almost as loud as he and his peers hollered when confronted with legislation in Congress which would authorize spending a few more tax dollars on those air tankers, better salaries and benefits for those first responders. They voted against it of course.
Our states may go up in flames before folks finally toss useless cruds like Pearce off his gravy train based on service to oil companies, mining companies.
Whether it’s wildfires in the West, drought in the Midwest, or sea level rise on the Eastern seaboard, chances are good your state is in for its own breed of climate-related disasters. Every state is required to file a State Hazard Mitigation Plan with FEMA, which lays out risks for that state and its protocols for handling catastrophe. But as a new analysis from Columbia University’s Center for Climate Change Law reveals, many states’ plans do not take climate change into account…
While FEMA itself acknowledged this summer that climate change could increase areas at risk from flooding by 45 percent over the next century, states are not required to discuss climate change in their mitigation plans. The Columbia analysis didn’t take into account climate planning outside the scope of the mitigation plans, like state-level greenhouse gas limits or renewable energy incentives. And as my colleague Kate Sheppard reported, some government officials have avoided using climate science terminology even in plans that implicitly address climate risks; states that didn’t use terms like “climate change” and “global warming” in their mitigation plans were docked points in Columbia’s ranking algorithm.
Michael Gerrard said he wasn’t surprised to find more attention paid to climate change in coastal states like Alaska and New York that are closest to the front lines. But he was surprised to find that a plurality of states landed in the least-prepared category, suggesting a need, he said, for better communication of non-coastal risks like drought and heat waves.
The Koch Bros and their tools in the Republican Party got one thing right. Americans are such a political lazyass nation that the easiest lie to sell is one that concludes we needn’t do a damned thing.
Between lying about climate change, ignoring the effects of climate change, staking absolutely NO claim either for causing climate change or taking responsibility to reverse climate change – reactionary politicians have charted the perfect course for American voters.
Just imitate the Do-Nothing Congress!
As the climate warms in the coming decades, atmospheric scientists at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and their colleagues expect that the frequency of wildfires will increase in many regions. The spike in the number of fires could also adversely affect air quality due to the greater presence of smoke…
Previous studies have probed the links between climate change and fire severity in the West and elsewhere. The Harvard study represents the first attempt to quantify the impact of future wildfires on the air we breathe…
Using a series of models, the scientists predict that the geographic area typically burned by wildfires in the western United States could increase by about 50 percent by the 2050s due mainly to rising temperatures. The greatest increases in area burned (75-175 percent) would occur in the forests of the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains.
In addition, because of extra burning throughout the western United States, one important type of smoke particle, organic carbon aerosols, would increase, on average, by about 40 percent during the roughly half-century period.
“By hypothesizing that the same relationships between meteorology and area burned still hold in the future, we then could predict wildfire activity and emissions from 2000 to the 2050s,” explains Jennifer Logan.
As a last step, the researchers used an atmospheric chemistry model to understand how the change in wildfire activity would affect air quality. This model, combining their predictions of areas burned with 2050s meteorology data, shows the emissions and fate of the smoke and other particles emitted by the future wildfires. The resulting diminished air quality could lead to smoggier skies and adversely affect those suffering from lung and heart conditions such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.
It’s important to understand these computer models only contained one qualitative factor that changed. Temperature. Everything else is presumed to function as normal. It only takes that one change to screw all of us in the Rocky Mountain West and the Pacific Northwest.