Posts Tagged: wildfire
The news that Americans are getting about California's devasting fires is not being hyped up by the media, said UC Cooperative Extension area fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson on the nationally broadcast NPR program On Point.
Host Eric Westervelt of WBUR in Boston got a Northern California perspective from Quinn-Davidson, who works with communities in Siskiyou, Trinity and Mendocino counties on managing the threat of wildfires and is the Northern California coordinator of the California Fire Science Consortium.
"I definitely don't think the situation is being hyped up," Quinn-Davidson said. "I'm in Ukiah and there's a thick blanket of smoke. Everyone can feel the tension of the Mendocino Complex Fire."
Quinn-Davidson said she grew up in the vicinity and, back then, major fires like those burning today only happened every few years. Lately, such super fire seasons are happening every year. She said it's time for Californians to take a different approach when thinking about fire.
"Fire is the only natural disaster that we fight against," Quinn-Davidson said. "With hurricanes and earthquakes, we adapt and try to identify vulnerabilities and change our behavior. We haven't treated fire like that. We need to learn how to adapt and make changes that make us more resilient to fire."
On Point is NPR's only call-in program. One caller asked whether climate change has reached an irreversible tipping point at which little can be done to reverse the damage that is causing extreme flooding, heat, hurricanes and wildfires.
Quinn-Davidson said she offers hope to the people in communities she serves.
"They're not powerless," she said. "I don't want people to feel that we are beyond some tipping point and they should just throw in the towel. I think we need to feel empowered to make the changes we can make - whether on a personal scale, at at the mid-grade community scale, or if it is taking political action to make larger change ... We still have some place to make a difference. I really believe that."
Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, was also a guest on the On Point program. He said that, as a nation, we may have breached a different tipping point - a tipping point in public consciousness. Recent news reports have informed the public about extreme flooding in Japan, record-breaking heat in Europe and catastrophic wildfires in California.
"This summer has made a difference in the public perception of how profound the threat of climate change already is," Mann said. "And I like to think that when they go to the voting booths in less than 100 days, they're going to be thinking about climate change and the need to act on this problem. I think we will see progress."
When wildfires send smoke into farmland, orchards and vineyards, growers are concerned about the impact of the tainted air on their crops, reported Giuseppe Ricapitio in the Union Democrat.
"It's grapes we worry about the most," said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor. "In the past, there have been bad years when there was a lot of smoke where grapes were on the vine and wineries had to produce the smoky wine because of that effect."
The article said grapes are unlike other agricultural products, in that the skins are permeable. Free volatile phenols created by burning wood become part of the grape itself.
"It isn't something you can wash off," said Ron Harms of Yosemite Cellars winery.
After the 2013 Rim Fire, the winery produced a "Rim Fire Blend," which was successful. However, wine drinkers' palettes differ in terms of their smoke sensitivity. "Some people just can't tolerate (smoke flavor) at all," Harms said.
Other agricultural crops may not be impacted by a blanket of smoke, and some may even benefit. Before Europeans settled in California, Native Americans living in the wilderness would set fires to burn understory brush that built up in the forests.
"It's part of the ecological knowledge of native tribes that smoke is good for trees," Kocher said. "That's not a scientifically proven thing. We don't know."
A population of 700,000 horses call California home and many of them live in areas susceptible to wildfire. UC Cooperative Extension forest and fire advisor Kate Wilkin says says landowners can take advantage of equine grazing habits - eating down to the nub - to create a fire safety zone, reported Denise Steffanus in the Paulick Report.
“Having heavy grazing around your structures and then feathering it out as you go farther away from the structures is one way to protect the property,” Wilkin said. “Of course, you want to be careful not to destroy that forage by overgrazing that will cause erosion.”
Just like all rural residents, horse owners should establish a defensible safety zone around structures, including houses, barns, arenas and other outbuildings. Trees should be thinned to create a 15-foot gap between tree tops and shrubbery cleared so it won't ladder fire from the ground to the canopy.
Wilkin said a larger safety zone can serve as an oasis for horses during a wildfire.
“For a lot of fires, if you have an irrigated pasture and you can open the gate so the horses can leave if they need to, they will often be OK,” Wilkin said. “Ultimately, you want it to be a large area … it could be an area about half-mile in diameter, and it needs to be that large to keep the heat from affecting your lungs and your horse's lungs. … You can have trees if they are widely spaced and don't have ‘ladder fuel' around them. Then you can have shade on the property but still be more fire safe.”
Wilkin added that farm owners should not rely on a body of water as a firebreak.
“An ember can travel a mile or more during a wildfire,” she said. “While a creek or a larger body of water can slow a fire down, if there are winds and high temperatures, the fire is still going to cross it.”
With the value of wine riding on a delicate balance of aroma and flavor, the impact of winegrapes' exposure to smoke from a wildfire could have significant economic consequences. Last fall's Northern California wildfires sent smoke wafting over an experimental vineyard in Napa Valley, giving scientists the opportunity to study the interplay of smoke and wine quality, reported Jeff Quackenbush in the North Bay Business Journal.
"The moment the smoke started, my phone started ringing off the hook," said Anita Olberholster, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture and enology specialist. “I quickly realized how thin the data is I need to base recommendations on.”
The fires near the UC Davis vineyard provided the perfect experimental platform. Olberholster and her research team sprang into action to start a research project on the fly. Remaining grapes on smoke-exposed vines were picked, loads of commercially grown grapes deemed too questionable for commercial wineries were accepted. Over the past five months, small batches of wine were made from the grapes.
“They all have different levels of smoky character,” Olberholster said. “Some on the nose are actually quite pleasant and not smoky, but the aftertaste is the problem. All of them, even if in small amounts, had that ‘old smoke,' ‘ashtray,' ‘new smoke' aftertaste. It all depends on how sensitive you're going to be at it.”
The scientists are now looking for a process that will remove the smoky compounds, as little as possible of anything else.
During periods of "extreme fire conditions," PG&E will shut off electric power lines to prevent wildfires, reported Dale Kasler in the Sacramento Bee.
The reporter spoke to Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC Cooperative Extension area fire advisor in Northern California, about the utility's proposed actions. She said PG&E will have to give communities plenty of advance warning before turning off power so residents aren't left without a means of receiving emergency information.
"They're going to have to do a lot of good community outreach so people will be prepared," she said. Still, she called it "a reasonable short-term solution while they're figuring out other things" to reduce fire risks.