As wildfires continue to rage across tinderbox California, experts are deliberating how to tackle the increasingly destructive and dangerous problem.
While the knee-jerk reaction for some is to impose further stifling and expensive green policies, some experts on the ground are resorting to a far more hands-on approach to decrease the likelihood of wildfires and lessen their impact when they do ignite.
This week it was announced that the human death toll from the latest wild blazes across has risen to at least 4. The out-of-control inferno dubbed McKinney Fire exploded in size over the weekend to more than 55,000 acres and was one of six major wildfires in the state.
Two bodies were found in a California home on Monday, while two more were found in a burnt-out vehicle in a driveway close to a huge blaze.
Tens of thousands of dead fish washed up on the shore of California’s Klamath River in an apocalyptic scene yesterday. The fish had perished because of the immense amount of ash and debris from the fires which polluted the water.
California wildfire burns 30,000 acres of national forest pic.twitter.com/DfD3P6OflS
— The Independent (@Independent) July 31, 2022
“It is vile. So sad,” said field supervisor, Kenneth Brink.
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“When I go down there, it looks like something out of a war zone, you know? Like someone … blew up the whole river.
“You see the movies where they [use] dynamite and all the fish come bubbling up, floating. That’s what it looks like — they’re just all floating there dead.”
Napa Communities Firewise Foundation is a non-profit organization that aims to decrease the likelihood of wildfires starting and spreading.
Steven Burgess who works for the group calls the Napa region’s local shrub “green gasoline” and says that with the right management, California’s landscapes could remain relatively wildfire free.
Our best defense against wildfires is community. By #KnowingYourNeighbor, working together, educating those around us, and creating Fire Safe Communities, we are making the #NapaValley safer. #NapaFirewisehttps://t.co/sRRVlWFGqQ pic.twitter.com/mfbKuIqJWl
— Napa Fire Wise (@FireWiseNapa) August 5, 2022
So far, the group has been awarded around $23 million in government grants to provide hands-on practical solutions which work:
“It’s personal,” explained Burgess who grew up in Napa County. “If I wasn’t somehow internally motivated to save this Valley’s ass, I would not be here right now. I want to help save it. I think it’s save-able”.
Men from the group have been working throughout the summer to clear brush and low branches – dodging the occasional rattlesnake as they go.
But it’s painstaking work, and much of the clearance is re-growth from previously completed areas.
One worker told the Financial Times that the group was clearing “about 500 to 600 feet a day” and according to the Napa Firewise website, the work involves:
“The removal of dead and dying woody surface and aerial fuels within 100 feet from structures. This requirement is intended to eliminate vegetation that would readily burn near buildings including trees, bushes, shrubs, and plants that are dead or have a lot of dead branches, leaves, or needles”.
Need help clearing away wildfire fuel? See if you qualify for assistance through our chipping program! We are proud to work with community partners to offer assistance in the #NapaValley. See if you qualify at: https://t.co/oG9J1hLpMd. #NapaFirewise pic.twitter.com/KDruduTxCZ
— Napa Fire Wise (@FireWiseNapa) July 10, 2022
But there’s no fire without a spark, so preventing fire hazards is also a big part of the big solution. Aging and poorly maintained electrical equipment have often been the culprit for devastating California wildfires, and groups like Napa Firewise have called on state officials to do more to help.
In 2018, a spark from an old and damaged powerline started a major blaze that killed 84 people and destroyed the small town of Paradise.
Now, power companies in the area bury their cables underground in areas at high risk of wildfires. Trenches are dug along roads to contain the powerlines and transformers must be encased in 8 tonnes of concrete under the earth.
Experts say building planners in high-risk areas should also re-think the types of building materials they use for wildland-urban interface houses and ensure homes are fitted with adequate fire protection, and they should be encouraged by the government to do so.