Wildfire is on all of our minds these days, and rightfully so. My own home and those of many of my friends burned in the August Complex fire. It is awfully easy to blame climate change for such a horrifying event. But, are we talking about climate change or weather change? Yes, we are experiencing a drought in the West and we are faced with a number of fires but this is not the first time that this has happened.

The problem is that many people are asserting that wildfire is evidence of climate change. The media hypes it every time there is a significant fire and the politicians never miss an opportunity to add it to their repertoire of things from which they will save us. Those who are using these fires as evidence to advance their agenda that the climate is changing (warming) as a result of the combustion of hydrocarbons have either not researched wildfire history or chose to ignore it.    

The facts: Although the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were bad years for wildfires, from the early ‘80s until 2020 (the latest data that I have) the number of forest fires in the United States was stable at an average of about 75 thousand per year. (NIFC 1960-2020)

Of course, climate change is a global event and what occurs in the United States does not necessarily reflect that which is going on in the rest of the world. Research shows that acreage burned worldwide has decreased from around 4.9 million square km in 1900 to about 3.6 million square km in early 2000. (Spectral and Temporal Patterns of Global Burned area in Response to Anthropological and Environmental Factors, Jia Yang et al.)

There are, no doubt, a number of reasons for the decline in acreage burned, however it is well known that the increase in CO2 has caused a significant greening of the earth and green vegetation is somewhat less prone to combustion. Comparing today’s fires to those in the past, James Johnson, a researcher with Oregon State University’s College of Forestry who studies historical wildfires, says “I think it is important to take the long view of wildfire. In the context of the last couple hundreds of years, the Bootleg fire (Southern Oregon) is not large. One of the things my lab group does is reconstruct historical fires, and fires that were burning in that area in the 1600s and 1700s were just as big as the Bootleg fire or bigger.”

So, while there is no doubt that weather changes can have an effect on the number and intensity of wildfires, there is no evidence to date that climate change is having any effect of significance. History tells us that at least in the West, wildfires are business as usual.

Globally, the number of acres burned is decreasing. The bottom line is that the zealots who are trying to frighten you into buying into their agenda are simply lying to you when they tell you that wildfires are worsening because you are not turning down the furnace and have not yet bought a Prius.

(11) comments

Megan Killeen

Me. Jeans, it’s really disappointing that you are 86 years old and don’t understand the difference between weather and climate. Global warming doesn’t “green” the earth, it lengthens the growing cycle. Climate change doesn’t cause wildfires, it desiccates the vegetation and souls which allows for BIGGER more INTENSE FIRES. Not *more* fires. You’ve chosen an adjacent but incorrect metric. I will probably never reach age 86 (57 years is a loooooooong time away) but if I’m blessed to reach that age, I hope I find better things to do with my time than write whining, complaining letters to the editor. I’m sorry your home was lost in the August Complex. I’m going to keep advocating for better forest management, fuels reductions, fire gardening of homes, and addressing the root cause, which is climate change. I will also continue to call you out for your factual inaccuracies. Thank you for your fodder—I mean comment.

Megan Killeen

*soils, not “souls”

Megan Killeen

*fire hardening, wow Autocorrect really took the wheel on that comment

Megan Killeen

Although, once we have enough massive fires to lose our forests (they are burning faster than they are regrowing) we will be free of the yoke of fear posed by wildfires. There simply won’t be enough fuel to sustain the burns we are seeing today. Silver lining?

Trinity Bob

Dear Mr. Jeans,

Thank you for your thoughtful letter, and I’m very sorry about the tragic loss of your home.

It may be that historically fires were even larger and more frequent than today’s, but this item from last week’s The News Back Then sure caught my eye:

75 YEARS AGO | Thursday, Sept. 12, 1946

As of Sept. 10, there have been 57 fires in the Trinity Forest. During the current fire season a total of 25 acres were burned.

Unless that “total of 25 acres were burned” is a misprint, we can surmise that things have changed dramatically over the last 75 years.

Per the CalFire website (https://www.fire.ca.gov/media/11397/fires-acres-all-agencies-thru-2018.pdf), between 1987 and 2018, the number of fires in all of California ranged from a low of 2,434 in 2010 to a high of 8,121 in 1988, and the total acreage burned ranged from a low of 44,200 in 1991 to a high of 1,975,086 in 2018. Last year, 3,754,729 of California’s precious acres burned.

Are we seeing a trend? There are many factors at play here and not just a single one. Along with forest mismanagement and more people in the woods starting fires by accident, climate change very likely plays a role as well.

I’m not sure you drew the correct conclusions from the sources you cited. If you’ll look at the figure (cited as NIFC 1960-2020) (https://sciencenorthwest.com/did-climate-change-contribute-to-the-recent-2020-wildfires-in-the-western-u-s/) and at figures 1 and 2 here (https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-wildfires), it is clear that both the number of fires and the number of acres burned have increased since 1960.

From the abstract of the second (https://www.firescience.gov/projects/11-1-7-2/project/11-1-7-2_Yang_etal_2014.pdf):

“Factorial experiments indicated that human activities were the dominant factor in determining the declining trend of burned area in tropics and extratropics, and climate variation was the primary factor controlling the decadal variation of burned area at high latitudes. … Rising temperature and frequent droughts are becoming increasingly important and expected to increase wildfire activity in many regions of the world.”

This paper includes all human influence on fires—such as burning tropical rainforest for palm oil plantations in Indonesia and for cattle farms in the Amazon—not just forest fires. Statistics are great, but they must be interpreted with great care to ensure that we draw the proper conclusions from them.

While some folks might be persuaded if you call them a liar, it might go over a little better to say, “We have a difference of opinion and I will try to persuade you with these facts.”

Truth First

Yesss, Richard! Thank you for injecting some common sense, and actual truth, into a topic that's been dominated for way too long now by 12-year olds who've amassed more screen time on their devices taking selfies than actual wisdom and life experience. Your well-researched data are some inconvenient facts for those who reflexively regurgitate anything their tenured leftist college professors dictate. To them, everything is climate change now. When it's not racism, that is.

Of course wildfires have virtually nothing to do with climate, any more than all other natural disasters. They've been around forever and there's no evidence they're worsening. Period. Lots of wishful thinking among the climate cult is really what fuels their movement. It's more like a bowel movement.

Godspeed to you sir, in getting back on your feet post-fire. We, your neighbors, are with you!

Megan Killeen

TF, you are a joke, which is why you don't publish under your name. You obviously didn't see Bob's comment that Richard LIED and misquoted the very text he cited. You don't care because you are unable of expressing empathy.

"Leftist college professors" "12-year-olds". More insults.

It is patronizing at best that you compare me to a child. It is pedophilic at worst. Choose your words carefully.

Trinity Bob

Quiet, everyone! The braying self-proclaimed “adult” has entered the room. You know, the one who also does not know how to read a chart (Why are those lines trending up? Whatever can that mean?) and lauds well-researched data but refuses to understand what it actually means.

The one who apparently believes that God commanded: Go forth into the world and destroy it. Leave behind no living man, woman, or child or any living thing. There shall be no generations after you, my chosen people!

And here’s an idea for your very own column in the Trinity Journal: The Cranky Old Men’s Complaint Corner. But watch out! You might create an ink shortage.

Truth First

You see, Rich, according to those who are part of the Climate Scientology Complex, you violated the Cardinal Rule, which in this case is threefold. For one, you presented countervailing evidence, and lots of it, that refutes some of their shadiest claims. And, you managed to do so in a cogent and well-laid out manner that belies their projection of folks like you as somehow redneck. In so doing, you've humiliated and infuriated them, which, frankly, isn't hard to do, as we've seen time and again. And that's why you are now The Enemy.

All it takes is a modicum of dissent with these people and you are through, buster! I hope you've learned a valuable lesson about messing with youngsters who know so very much more than you'll ever grasp, you out-of-touch curmudgeon, you. Now don't ask questions, just get on board with the climate doomsday cult, or else. Your final warning!

Trinity Bob

Quick question, TF: Did you actually go to the links and look at those three figures?

Yea or nay?

Truth First

You know, Rich, some of us can't wait for the day when all the climate warriors finally come to the realization that, for all their years of dedication to the cause of “fighting” climate change, they've really just been jerking themselves off all the while. Of course, they'll paint it differently when it all comes crashing down, rather than to honestly confront their own gullibility. Because people are too stubborn to admit when they've been bamboozled.

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