après nous, l'enfer
December 9, 2018 10:06 PM   Subscribe

The 2018 fire season in California has been the deadliest and most destructive in the state's history, and made visible smoke across the USA. The Carr Fire, in and around Redding, killed eight as it burned 359 square miles over a month and a week, whose deadliest day came from a fire tornado, a long 150 Minutes of Hell
The tornado signified with horrifying clarity the reality California faces. As wildfire season intensifies, conflagrations will increasingly defy efforts to control them, becoming more powerful and erratic as they race into communities, striking in ways that once seemed unfathomable. “As much as I hate to say it, this is what the future of wildfires looks like[ed],” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. “Except the acceleration hasn't ended yet.”

How To Prepare For A Wildfire

Smoke Days Are Now California's Snow Days.California's Air Is as Bad as Beijing's and It Will Only Get Worse from Here

The Mendocino Complex Fire[s] were the largest in California history, killed 3, and burned over 717 square miles (459,000 acres) (size comparison at 300,000 acres) from 27 July to 18 September.

The Camp Fire, which burned from 8 November to containment on 25 November in and around Butte County in NorCal, is the deadliest - at least 85 killed - and most destructive - over $7.5 billion in damages - wildfire in California history. It burned over 239 square miles and was the most destructive fire in the United States in 100 years. It moved for fast and firecely that many survivors could not evacuate, and had nowhere to go,left waiting during The Long In-Between

The Woolsey Fire burned from 8 November to 21 November, killed 3 and burned 150 square miles in and around Ventura, Malibu, and Santa Monica, CA. A Surfer's Perspective On Malibu In Flames. Letters: Should Fire Protection Be a Privilege? - "The recent wildfires in California lead readers to debate the implications of private firefighting teams." California's Wildfires Are Exposing the Rotten Core of Capitalism

The Ferguson Fire, near Yosemite National Park, killed 2 and burned 150 square miles from 13 July to 19 September.

After The Fires

Wildfire recovery is possible — for some Westerners as socioeconmic factors dominate landscape effects in the urban-wildland interface. The unequal vulnerability of communities of color to wildfire, Davies, Haugo, Robertson, Levin. But the ecological recovery will take so long it will Not be In Our Grandchildren's Lifetimes

California Wildfires Weren't Always This Destructive, and Don't Think It Will Be Easy To Fireproof California, especially as the notion of Defensible Space is deeply rooted in the myths and self-conceptions of The West, and Fires are doing things we aren’t used to them doing, driven by heat, wind, drought - and climate change

We must face the ecological realities of the world we are creating.
It may be that To Slow Down Climate Change, We Need To Take On Capitalism, or maybe it the structure of the United States government that prevents us from being able to tackle big problems. California is so often on the cutting edge, this time for fear and denial. How California's Efforts To Prevent Wildfires Reflect A National Crisis On Climate Change:
The battle that Wood and other state legislators in California waged to pass urgently needed climate-adaptation legislation offers something like a best-case scenario for the challenges faced by the entire nation. On Friday, scientists with the federal government released a harrowing and voluminous national climate assessment. Heat waves, heavy precipitation, shrinking glaciers, rising and acidifying seas, coastal flooding, drought, and more frequent wildfires pose a rapidly increasing threat to Americans’ physical, social, and economic well-being. By the end of the century, hundreds of billions of dollars could be lost each year, shrinking the U.S. economy by ten per cent. In 2018 alone, not counting the Camp Fire, there have been eleven disaster events in the United States caused by weather and climate, each costing more than a billion dollars in losses. The annual average of billion-dollar disasters from 1980 to 2017 was six, but the annual average for the most recent five years is nearly twelve.
The Simple Reason That Humans Can’t Control Wildfires
Many forest managers know that a certain tract of woodland is due for a catastrophic wildfire in the next decade, but feel they have no political ability to do a controlled burn there—lest it get out of control. If the public understood that huge swaths of western forest will soon burn, they may be more willing to allow controlled burns when the meteorological conditions are right.

“Today it’s completely impossible to say that we need to have a 100,000-acre fire in that forest. Any politician or fire manager who brought that up? It would be a death wish for their career,” Williams said.
Let's get ready for Life On A Shrinking Planet - previously
posted by the man of twists and turns (30 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
A terrible, and depressing, but welcome post. I am still planning on a Seattle to San Diego automotive round trip this year, hopefully outside of smoke season.
posted by mwhybark at 10:13 PM on December 9, 2018


And from our perspective down under - Australia and North America share critical fire fighting resources, but as the fire seasons get longer, this may not be possible - both California and Australia were burning in November.
posted by xdvesper at 10:18 PM on December 9, 2018 [15 favorites]


In Australia parts of the rainforest burned. This was thought to be impossible.
posted by um at 10:28 PM on December 9, 2018 [14 favorites]


That smoke was among the worst things I’ve ever experienced. I can’t describe how awful it made me feel, and it was just everywhere. Even closing the windows did nothing, and even with an air purifier running, you could feel this itchy heaviness in the air. I started getting night sweats and I had a random fever for three days after the fires went out.

If wildfire smoke becomes a regular thing here, that will be my catalyst for leaving. I can’t handle another event like that.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:33 PM on December 9, 2018 [14 favorites]


Fire tornado. I just...I cannot think of anything more terrifying than a tornado made of fucking fire.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:54 PM on December 9, 2018 [8 favorites]


Video re-creation of the fire tornado (650 feet tall, ~1,000 feet across, spinning at 125 miles per hour) after the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake in Japan:
Because the earthquake struck at lunchtime when many people were cooking meals over fire, many people died as a result of the many large fires that broke out. Some fires developed into firestorms[18][19][20][better source needed] that swept across cities. Many people died when their feet became stuck on melting tarmac. The single greatest loss of life was caused by a fire tornado that engulfed the Rikugun Honjo Hifukusho (formerly the Army Clothing Depot) in downtown Tokyo, where about 38,000 people were incinerated after taking shelter there following the earthquake. The earthquake broke water mains all over the city, and putting out the fires took nearly two full days until late in the morning of September 3.[21]

A strong typhoon centered off the coast of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture brought high winds to Tokyo Bay at about the same time as the earthquake. These winds caused fires to spread rapidly.
Given enough fuel density, we can plan and ignite our own firestorms, perhaps worse than Nature's: Dresden, Tokyo.
posted by cenoxo at 11:34 PM on December 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


Somebody hand Trump these links and ask him if he still feels it's just a matter or raking more. Jeebus...
posted by DreamerFi at 12:43 AM on December 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


It should be obvious to pretty much everyone at this point that the intensifying wildfires and droughts in California are related to climate change. That it isn't
is simply a testament to how comprehensively our country's discourse around climate change has been ratfucked for political gain.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:59 AM on December 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


Friggin' Canadians - buncha hosers
posted by jkaczor at 5:14 AM on December 10, 2018


We must face the ecological realities of the world we are creating:
We have reached a point in the human experiment where it is impossible to see ourselves apart from what we once called nature. This has been true for a while, but it is becoming more and more obvious. The realization that humans are an inseparable part of the natural world (a powerful, often destructive part) has major implications for how we think about ourselves as members of an ecological community.
This reminds me of Alan Watts, a Conversation With Myself [YT, 40 min]: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
posted by ragtag at 5:48 AM on December 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


We have reached a point in the human experiment where it is impossible to see ourselves apart from what we once called nature.

Maybe at an academic or activist level, sure (thought not universally). But this insight is not in the slightest informing public decision makers, voters, regulatory agencies, and so on. That disconnect is just growing wider and wider; at some point things will have to break and different actions be taken, but we don't seem to be there yet.

I work on projects that are meant to increase climate change resiliency, among other objectives. They are (mostly) great projects with good impacts, but even when you add up all the different things all the organizations and agencies are doing across the region and beyond, it is insignificantly tiny relative to the problem. If we collectively cared about this, our response would instead look like the "total mobilization" during WWII, with government, private section, and civil society all coerced into collective action.

The fire season here in the west has been getting brutal over some years, but now that it is starting to directly threaten urbanized areas maybe there is some hope for a different and more effective response.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:33 AM on December 10, 2018 [6 favorites]


I grew up in Los Angeles (specifically in the valley foothills) and I distinctly remember all of the dads in the neighborhood watering our roofs during fires every October, but the fires lasted a day or so and were pretty easily and quickly contained. This is completely different. I have never seen such devastation and there are so many fires all over, I wonder if they will just start picking which fires to fight and which to let burn. Just in Los Angeles, there were 4 or 5 major fires in different areas all at once. When that happens and then there's an apartment fire, or a car fire and resources are spread so thin, I fear for all of us.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:24 AM on December 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


If anything, the risk of wildfires is greater in Canada than the U.S.A.. The List of fires in Canada (1825-2018) includes the 1950 Chinchaga fire:
...a forest fire that burned in northern British Columbia and Alberta in the summer and early fall of 1950. With a final size of between 1,400,000 hectares (3,500,000 acres) and 1,700,000 hectares (4,200,000 acres), it is the single largest recorded fire in North American history. The fire was allowed to burn freely, a result of local forest management policy and the lack of settlements in the region. The Chinchaga fire produced large amounts of smoke, creating the "1950 Great Smoke Pall", observed across eastern North America and Europe. As the existence of the massive fire was not well-publicized, and the smoke was mostly in the upper atmosphere and could not be smelled, there was much speculation about the atmospheric haze and its provenance. The Chinchaga firestorm's.. "historic smoke pall" caused "observations of blue suns and moons in the United States and Europe."[2][3][4] It was the biggest firestorm documented in North America created the world's largest smoke layer in the atmosphere."[4]
...and the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire:
Initial insurance payouts were estimated to total as much as C$9 billion if the entire community had to be rebuilt.[95] By July 7, 2016, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) and Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ) reported that insured damage was estimated to have reached $3.58 billion,[96] making the wildfire the most expensive disaster in Canadian history, surpassing the 1998 ice storms in Quebec ($1.9 billion) and the 2013 Alberta floods ($1.8 billion).[5][95] The 2011 Slave Lake Wildfire, which destroyed one-third of the town of Slave Lake, cost approximately $750 million and was the most expensive fire-related disaster in Canadian history. The larger damage estimates were a result of Fort McMurray being 10 times the size of Slave Lake.[95] A further estimate based on current damage estimated insurance payouts reaching as high as $4.7 billion.[97].
How much forest does Canada have?
Canada’s 347 million hectares (ha) of forest make up 9% of the world’s forests. Twenty-four percent of the world’s boreal forests are found within Canada’s borders. Much of Canada’s forest land is in remote, sparsely populated areas and is not under the same pressure to be cleared for agriculture or urban development as forests in many other countries. Canada has nearly 10 ha of forest land per person, more than 17 times the world average.
...and nearly ten times as much forest area per capita as the United States (see chart in article).

Wildfires in both countries — especially along or near our shared border — should be considered a North American problem. No border wall or shortsighted “America First” policy will keep them out.
posted by cenoxo at 7:40 AM on December 10, 2018 [4 favorites]


I grew up in CA and miss it a lot. North Carolina is lovely but the light, the sightlines, the flora and fauna... I really miss home.

I know you can't go home again. But I do hope there is a spot in CA that is at least livable for some time into the foreseeable future.
posted by allthinky at 8:33 AM on December 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


The difference is that Canada isn't as populated as California, so even though the fires are ten times the size, the damage to life and property isn't nearly as great.

Fort McMurray 2016: 1,466,990 acres, 2,400+ homes and buildings destroyed, 0 fatalities, $3.5 billion in damages.

Camp Fire 2018: 149,000 acres, 12,786+ structures destroyed, 370+ structures damaged, 83 confirmed deaths (and there are still people who are missing), $7.5+ billion in damages.

The Camp Fire moved at 30mph. There wasn't time to evacuate. And a lot of the people who lost everything were poor to begin with. How do they start over?
posted by elsietheeel at 8:34 AM on December 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


Thank you for the excellent FPP. I had no idea that fire tornadoes are a thing.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 8:50 AM on December 10, 2018


The difference is that Canada isn't as populated as California, so even though the fires are ten times the size, the damage to life and property isn't nearly as great.

Fort McMurray 2016: 1,466,990 acres, 2,400+ homes and buildings destroyed, 0 fatalities, $3.5 billion in damages.

Camp Fire 2018: 149,000 acres, 12,786+ structures destroyed, 370+ structures damaged, 83 confirmed deaths (and there are still people who are missing), $7.5+ billion in damages.


The fatalities were low in Fort McMurray only just because they really understood the risk and the need to evacuate in addition to weather luck. In a lot of parts of Canada there are not a network of roads in and out. There's one or maybe two. In Fort McMurray's case there was a single highway passing through town to nowhere. They evacuated to essentially nowhere - oil sands work camps - because Fort McMurray is in the middle of wilderness. That single highway (63) just stops dead 40 miles to the north of Fort McMurray and becomes an unnamed oil sands access road.

The only reason this fire wasn't an absolutely horrific disaster is the luck that it moved slowly at first. It wasn't until day 3 that the winds picked up an the fire moved the 9 miles to burn the town. If those winds have been present from the start the story would be about how tens of thousands of people burned to death.

So it was a bad fire with a good luck outcome of just a lot of property damage.

The Campfire fire was pretty much the opposite with high winds making the danger almost instant but featured some of the same hazards as Fort McMurray: Limited escape routes - essentially a single road, dense forest and constraining geography. Perversely the things Campfire had in its favor over Fort McMurray, overall lower population density and proximity to civilization, probably worked to its disadvantage in terms of civilian response to the disaster because it meant that people were less survival oriented and also less able to work together with their neighbors to evacuate in the face of the threat.

Both fires are examples that communities really need to be prepared to respond really rapidly to existential threats.
posted by srboisvert at 10:46 AM on December 10, 2018 [4 favorites]


> We must face the ecological realities of the world we are creating:

Most Canadians won’t change behaviour to fight climate change, poll says

The vast, vast, vast majority of people everywhere will not do anything until there is no choice, and by then of course it will be far too late.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:10 AM on December 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


As a NorCal native, it was shocking to be in a haze of smoke for the entire drive from Redding to San Francisco last year. I grew up here and I've seen plenty of fires, and I've never seen anything even close to the scale we are now seeing them on.

It's absolutely fucking mind boggling that people want to rebuild in the same area where their house burnt down, when the fires are just going to keep coming. As a taxpayer it's complete horseshit that we're going to allow that kind of thing, and pretend that the same game-plan of not managing the forests and then just having to react to the fires is going to help anything.

Look, I'm sorry your house burnt down, but it was stupid to build it there in the first place (and your municipality shouldn't have approved of it), and to expect the rest of us to bail you out out endlessly so that you can live amid the forest that IS GOING TO BURN is just selfish to the point of astonishment.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:17 AM on December 10, 2018 [4 favorites]


The vast, vast, vast majority of people everywhere will not do anything until there is no choice, and by then of course it will be far too late.

Which is why our only hope is to enact change at the systemic level, so that the point where there is no choice can be made soon enough that it's not far too late. Capitalism can't do this.
posted by contraption at 11:26 AM on December 10, 2018 [5 favorites]


It's absolutely fucking mind boggling that people want to rebuild in the same area where their house burnt down

Not so boggling if it's your only home (perhaps paid for) in a community where you, your family, and friends have lived for many years. If you're a retiree or living in a low-income area, there may not be any affordable place to go.

The land itself, although damaged, is still there. Forest fire restoration and rehabilitation takes planning and time, but after the fire burnt trees can be logged out, infrastructure repaired/replaced, homes rebuilt, and grass/flowers/gardens replanted. Native grasses, plants, shrubs, and small trees (followed by wildlife) can return surprisingly soon. Local fuel accumulation may be reset to zero, reducing the chance of future wildfires in the same area.
posted by cenoxo at 1:54 PM on December 10, 2018 [4 favorites]


According to an investigative journalism piece on NPR last week, people are not just rebuilding - they're being given permits for expanding with new building. Developers apparently convinced the local council members (with one exception) that they would be including new fireproof construction techniques, but those same techniques had already failed in buildings that had just been burned. The program also noted that it's the buildings and their grounds, more than the forests, that fuel the spread of the fire so widely and quickly.
posted by mmiddle at 2:40 PM on December 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


Local fuel accumulation may be reset to zero, reducing the chance of future wildfires in the same area.

My understanding is that this isn’t correct, or only temporarily so. The young growth that succeeds the wildfires is more susceptible to drought and, when it dies from that drought, easier to spark than mature forest. That’s not to mention the increased mudslide risk in newly barren slopes.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 2:48 PM on December 10, 2018




cenoxo: Local fuel accumulation may be reset to zero, reducing the chance of future wildfires in the same area.

Not really. Here's a gif and an image of the last two decades of fire in the Camp fire footprint. Nearly all but the actual town itself had been burnt over at least once, the majority of it in the last decade. It's just that they managed previously to keep it out of Paradise by dint of ferocious firefighting work. That's no longer going to consistently save us going forward as the fires get worse. At least one model of climate change has California getting *more* rain, but more tightly compressed into less of the year. That means more fuel and a longer fire season for it to dry and burn in.
posted by tavella at 3:03 PM on December 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


True, hazardous fuel reduction and preventive wildfire mitigation may need to be done before, during, and after wildfires. Fire protection in forested areas is an ongoing process.
posted by cenoxo at 4:37 PM on December 10, 2018


It's absolutely fucking mind boggling that people want to rebuild in the same area where their house , when the fires are just going to keep coming. As a taxpayer it's complete horseshit that we're going to allow that kind of thing, and pretend that the same game-plan of not managing the forests and then just having to react to the fires is going to help anything.


Ok. But let's include Houston, New Orleans, New York, Florida, the coastal Carolinas--acutally just call throw in all of the Atlantic seaboard (hurricanes always seem to hit there and cause substantial damage), coastal and southern California, coastal Oregon and Washington, all towns along the Mississippi (flooding). Tornadoes also happen every year, should we not rebuild in the plain states and Midwest as well?

I think we could all fit into Utah, well, except for water.
posted by MikeKD at 4:39 PM on December 10, 2018 [6 favorites]


Living in SF there was a shift from "this is annoying" to "don't go outside today if you don't have to" to "the air is toxic, stay indoors, businesses are closed" around day 10, and at that point the fire was around 40% contained and no one was sure when it would be over.

I remember obsessively watching the air monitor indexes and seeing how far I'd have to drive to get out of the "hazardous zone" (at least 4 hours?!) giving me a sense of claustrophobia like I'd never experienced. I remembered reading All Summer in a Day when I was a kid, and began to feel that same broad sense of loss, extrapolating the experience into something that might lead to a more and more common and depressing future for the entire length of California. People out of the state saw mostly the tragedy of the fire, but the smoke had a widespread impact for millions of people across California for about two weeks.

At the same time, I also saw and heard people find ways to help each other through the mess, pointing out where N95 masks were still available, where there was clean air (malls and libraries, mostly) and people started to aggregate general tips for how to deal with the smoke. Like I learned how to make a makeshift air purifier from a box fan and a furnace filter. Then I spend a while reading up on how effective it is (pretty good, actually).

Then all of a sudden it rained, the skies cleared, and everything went back to normal.
posted by lubujackson at 12:26 AM on December 11, 2018 [3 favorites]


Then all of a sudden it rained, the skies cleared, and everything went back to normal.

For you.

But there's still thousands of people who have lost everything who are displaced in Butte County, which already had a shelter crisis before the Camp Fire.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:45 AM on December 11, 2018 [1 favorite]




« Older Met-Adrenalin   |   "I am a scavenger salvaging lost aesthetics" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments