Wildfires aren’t going away. In fact we’re getting more of them, with 2018 as the deadliest year on record. In this Virtually Rick we look ahead to see what the future holds for us all here in California.
And so far the future doesn’t look so great:
Scientists predict that in less than 80 years the amount of land burned by wildfires in our state will increase by nearly 80 percent, that’s over three million acres, two and a half times bigger than the Grand Canyon, or the size of over two million football fields.
Climate change isn’t helping either, with daily temperatures projected to rise by nearly nine degrees by the next century. Which means more drought, less moisture in the soil, making it tougher to grow our food and crops and more conducive for wildfires.
And when they happen there’s often no rain to put them out. And when we have too much rain shrubs that aren’t native to the area grow more quickly and are far better tinder for the next batch of forest fires.
Increased temperatures mean the need for cooler homes and more electricity, the transmission of which can be the spark for the ground zero of a wildfire like it was with the city of Paradise back in November last year.
And when it comes to dealing with those fires the state’s budget is literally going up in smoke with California spending nearly $5 billion of it’s emergency fund in the last 10 years, a billion of which was spent on the 2018 fires alone. Which leaves less to pay for fire prevention; the controlled burns that help naturally solve the build-up of flammable materials on the forest floor.
There are around four million homes in California that could be hit by wildfires. A third are near dense vegetation!
With more homes being built closer and closer to these fire zones, it’s inevitable that more of them will be lost and even more of the fire department's budget will be aflame just trying to protect them. That’ll also hit the insurance costs of covering your home, which will jump by 20 percent over the next 30 years.
So how do we fireproof California against the future?
Make sure vulnerable homes comply with California law and clear brush and scrub nearby -- which makes them eight times safer! Or, here’s an idea, build homes that are located further out of harm's way.
Or make the utility companies bury power lines underground -- it’s costly, but what cost is human life?
Do more controlled “prescribed” burns to stop fuel on the forest floor building up, or perhaps remove it mechanically.
Build more golf courses, baseball diamonds and football fields on the outskirts of communities, strategically planned as firebreaks -- essentially a protective ring around communities which also double as temporary refuge areas too.
And finally and most controversial of all -- according to the California Department ff Forestry & Fire Protection 95 percent of wildfires are human made, mostly caused accidentally, with things like parking a car in dry grass or even mowing your lawn a potential spark for a fire.
So, some scientists propose that we remove the human equation, having special fire-risk warnings and close national parks especially when the conditions are too dry. After all we have lifeguards that stop us from swimming in rough waters, so why not forest guards to stop us entering the wilderness and accidentally triggering a wildfire with a spark from our car exhaust?
We are the solution -- and the problem! So whatever happens it’s clear that without human intervention to help solve the horror of wildfires, we could all get burned.