What’s Burning Right Now?
The biggest burn in the news right now are the fires in British Columbia, Canada. In British Columbia, 146 fires are burning, with 28 starting on Monday and Tuesday of this week. The running total acreage for the BC fires this summer is over 600,000 acres. The smoke from these fires is reaching Seattle and Portland, leading to laments on climate change from Lindy West (see below) and a rather ridiculous “Blame Canada” campaign from the neighbors to the South.
The most surprising fires of the week are in Greenland. The peat in Greenland is on fire. It’s an unlikely place to burn as an ice covered island, but the permafrost has been melting. Though fires have occurred there before, this one appears to be the largest on record.
As always, California burns.The Detwiler Fire near Yosemite is 98% contained now, currently the second largest CA fire of the season at 81,826 acres. The Modoc July Complex in the northern part of the state is 40% contained at 80,365 acres. In Southern California, the Whittier Fire, near Santa Barbara, has been burning for a month. It is now 87% contained at 18, 430 acres.
In Montana, the Sapphire Complex southeast of Missoula is 33,000 acres. In Oregon, the Cinder Butte Fire has reached 52,000 acres.
Outside of North America, large fires have recently burned across Southern France and other Mediterranean countries.
Ecology Article of the Week: What Does “Cutting Edge” Mean, Anyway?
All of the fire scientists I know are discussing this article this week. And not favorably. The article claims to feature “cutting edge” fire science; many fire scientists would agree that the argument here (that fires are good, that things would change if the public just realized that, that we should just let everything burn) is straight out of the 1960s, not the 2010s. See my brief commentary on Twitter here.
Talk About Fire: Commentary on Fire and Climate Change From Lindy West
Op-Ed contributor Lindy West has an interesting op-ed in the NYT today. She writes beautifully about the smoky skies in Seattle and wonders if this is the future under climate change. She acknowledges that she does not know whether this particular event is due to climate change–but she knows that the future could look like this, and that’s enough to worry about it. Smoke is a thorny issue for fire scientists who want more fire on the ground. It’s true that smoky skies were once more common in the west–it’s our past as well as our future. But just because large fires and smoke are in our past does not mean that nothing has changed or that the fires we see can’t be a sign of things to come.
Fire in the Leaked Climate Report
Lindy West doesn’t know whether the current BC fires are due to climate change. But the Climate Science Special Report, prepared by federal agencies, covers wildfire in Chapter 8. Overall, the report states (page 349) that there is low to medium confidence in a human-caused climate change contribution to wildfire activity in the western United States. However, this is not actually very surprising and does not mean (as Roger Pielke suggests here ) that the fire activity we are seeing is not climate change related–just that the information used in preparing the report do not reveal a very strong signal for the climate-fire relationship. This is largely because it’s hard to disentangle climate and forest management as drivers of fire activity. The report details studies that do find a strong climate-fire link, especially for western forests, but the evidence does not yet cross the threshold for high confidence for this report.
And Some Belated Media….
Finally: I just stumbled across a new climate change themed podcast, Degrees of Change. A June episode focused on fire. Have a listen here.