Prevent wildfires with controlled burns, brush thinning

Camp Fire from space. NASA photo.
Camp Fire. NASA photo.

The Camp Fire destroyed 90% of the homes in Paradise CA. The forests in the area hadn’t burned for years and were overgrown. The fire became a conflagration due to extreme dryness and forests that had 10 times more trees than in a normal, healthy forests.

Not only are these forests overgrown, the bark beetle has killed millions of trees, which creates more kindling for fires. The solution is to do controlled burns (yes, sometimes they get out of control), cut down small trees, and clear underbrush in vulnerable areas. This would absolutely cut the risk of huge fires. However, it’s also expensive to do. No one knows where the money will come from.

Increasingly, people in areas that can burn realize it behooves them all to find common cause. Hippies and ranchers may disagree on much. However, no one want their town to burn.

Lumber companies are redoing mills to accept the smaller trees that need to be cleared out of forests. Trees killed by the bark beetle would make great fuel for biomass plants. No one is quite sure how to get dead trees in inaccessible areas to the mills though.

Native Americans who lived in the Malibu CA area routinely let the hills burn. When the Spanish came, they stopped the controlled burns, with the predictable results that their buildings burned. There’s a lesson there for all of us.

In many Northern California forests, they are so overgrown there are 10 times as many trees as there would be in a healthy, natural forest. All of that overgrowth, dried out from hotter and longer summers and a history of suppressing wildfires, is a big reason why we’re now seeing deadly infernos like the Camp Fire.

Attention also needs to be paid way out into the forests, doing selective thinning projects, brush clearing and controlled burns.

North of Paradise near the town of Mount Shasta, Halpern is organizing her neighbors — from hippies to ranchers — into community groups that will conduct prescribed burns on private land.