California Drought Report #18

As the current drought progresses, Governor Brown continues to bring up the threat of wild fires, claiming they are increasing in frequency and intensity as the drought progresses. Lets look at some Wildfire Activity Statistics, developed by the CA Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Fires 2004-2013

While it is true that from 2010 to 2013 the number of fires increased, but if you look at the larger picture, we can see there were far more fires before the current drought stated.  The validity of the Governor claim depends on the beginning and end points he selected for his argument.  What about the intensity claim?

Acres Burned 2004-2013

Again, as you can see there were more acres burned before the drought started. The Governor is factual if he picks a starting point of 2010. 

After looking at the numbers with more fires and more acres burned form 2004 to 2008, which are years not part of the current drought, one has to conclude the Governor is not being square with the people of California. 

Supervisor Beason recently attended meeting concerned with the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires in rural regions.  I wonder if Supervisor Beason was presented the full range of statistics or, was he just presented the scary statistics from 2010 to 2014, years associated with the current drought? 

About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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8 Responses to California Drought Report #18

  1. stevefrisch says:

    With the clarifications above would you say that Supervisor Beason actually had a pretty good point presenting his concern about increased fire risk in rural regions? Or do you still question the veracity of his statistics, and if so on what basis?


  2. stevefrisch says:

    There is a pretty good explanation here of the difference between fire intensity and fire severity.

    Fire intensity and severity are not a function of the number of acres burned, but the units of energy output and the severity of the impact on vegetation respectively.


  3. Russ Steele says:

    The Charts were taken from the CalFre Red Book for 2013.

    It does not appear that CalFire has a definition for “intensity” nor any stats that I could find. Big fires burn more intensely than small fires, due their ability to make their own weather, thus sucking in O2 to intensify the fire.


    • stevefrisch says:

      Russ I think there may be some inconsistency here on the tools you are using to measure measure incidents and acreage. I think the Redbook measures fires that occur in Calire jurisdictions and not all fires. I cite as evidence the Calfire list of large fires (above 300 acres) from 2013, which shows fires in Calfire jurisdiction as roughly equal to your figures above, but total fires at 546,000 acres not 114,000.

      I can see where there might be some confusion over this because when I went back to look at the Redbook the Calfire page does not make the jurisdictional issue clear.


      • stevefrisch says:

        By the way, comparing 2013 to 2014, the Calfire list shows 535,000 acres.

        I think the place we could agree, and agree that existing policy is insufficient to deal with the destruction these fires cause, is that Mr. Dahle’s bills (AB 590–transferring approximately $120 million from the state Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to support biomass utilization & AB 417 creating a process to approve alternative stocking standards for forests to encourage timber harvest and biomass utilization) are both good ideas for starting to get a handle on the incidents of wildfire.

        The place where we might also agree would be creating some alternative standards for federal lands, where the majority of fires start and where the average burned is much higher than state jurisdictional lands, that encourages streamlined processes.


      • Russ Steele says:

        Agree we need to increase timber harvesting and biomass utilization.


  4. steve frisch says:

    You really don’t understand what “intensity” means when referring to a wildfire do you?

    Could you point directly to the source of your graphs please? I think there is a problem with your data. 2013 was the year of the Rim Fire. The Rim fire started on August 17, 2013, during the 2013 California wildfire season. It was the third largest wildfire in California’s history, having burned 257,314 acres (402.053 sq mi; 1,041.31 km2), It is also the largest wildfire on record in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.


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