Good afternoon everyone I hope everyone is having a Great Sunday. I have been watching the news and reading the papers and I see the Fire Season is on a rampage, from the 20 vehicles and motorists trapped on I-15 in California to 4+ million acres burned and going strong in Alaska to Canada’s extreme fire season. It seems to have no end in sight unless we can get a weather pattern switch and I don’t see that short term. So I wanted to talk today about Wildfires. Fire is important for life as well as death for vegetation and certain biomass(trees, shrubs, grasses etc). The part of wildfires discussed today is Types of Wildfires, Fuel or Fuel Load to get wildfires initiated, Climate and Fires, Wildfire Statistics, and Infamous Wildfires.


A. Surface Fires – These Fires are considered ‘good’ Fires. Why?

  1. Surface Fires – Restore ecosystems to a natural balance
  2. Surface Fires – Increase biodiversity, which means they prevent one dominant species of plant or animal from taking over.
  3. Surface Fires – burn cooler than crown fires and ONLY burn forest floor debris, they also restore nutrients for trees in the soil.

B. Crown Fires – These Fires are considered ‘bad’ or severe. Why?

  1. Crown Fires – Destroy Forests
  2. Crown Fires- Burn the trees leaves and burn the entire tree even the very top.
  3. Crown Fires- Crown fires even burn the soils and run much hotter than surface fires
  4. Crown Fires- Have very long recovery time for Forest to regenerate.

Here is an example of a surface fire, see how it stays on the ground and does not reach the trees, only some effects on the very bottom. This type of fire is beneficial for forests to regenerate all natural biodiversities. The image is from U.S. National Forestry. Surface Fires are like controlled burns by agencies to prevent really large crown fires.  My next image is going to show you the stark difference in Crown Fires from surface fires.

The bcwildfire.ca or the bcwildfireservice shows just how devastating these Crown fires get. They are extremely HOT fires and affect people by burning homes and property, and destroying EVERYTHING in their path.


A. The Higher the Fuel Load the larger and the hotter the fire will get, thus the fire burns more intensely creating fire tornadoes and their own microclimate.

B. Fuel Load Affected By :

  1. Climate – The wetter the winter the higher growth rate of vegetation therefore the higher the Biomass. This increases the fuel load. Now If is is wet for the year the chances of getting fires to break out are low. However, if the wet period in the winter  is followed by a really dry Spring and Summer, Look OUT, all parameters are there for a Intense Fire season. California and Alaska this have been abnormally warm and dry for the last several years and Fires are ravaging these 2 states.
  2. Fire Suppression – As long as the Forest division keeps putting out all fires including the beneficial surface fires, the greater the fuel load there is for large crown fires. In the last several years fire suppression has been a big problem because the amount of underbrush and near surface biomass in the forest has grown out of control in the U.S. As long as this continues we will have a big problem with large crown fires.
  3. Disasters – Natural Disasters like Volcanoes an initiate Fires by pyroclastic flows and lava flows igniting vegetation around the volcano and even at a distance if the volcanoes are strong enough. Lightning can also initiate fires. If the lightning is ‘dry’ or lightning is not accompanied by rain and the land is dry fires can break out. In the Southeast U.S. Hurricanes that make landfall damage trees and vegetation which causes them to die, and that is fuel load for fires if a dry spell occurs.
  4. Ladder Fuels – Beneficial Surface fires can become Crown Fires through ‘Ladder Fuels’ – these fuels are stepping stones that use thick understory built up through fire suppression in the Forest to build to a Crown Fire. Once again natural fires can prevent this. In the Western U.S. LIGHTNING is the main initiator of the Fires. In the Southeast Arsonist and humans are the primary initiators.

An a image by motherjones.com shows a fire that is so intense out in California. Do you see all the vegetation there. Its called chapparel and its incredibly flammable due to high oil content in the plants.


A. Drought – Drought is defined by an abnormally long dry period. Drought makes all vegetation and items in the forest or savannas much more combustible. The parched land and parched landscape are loaded for bear to burn. Ideal fire conditions  are set by years of wet lush seasons, followed by a proplonged dry period that range from months to years.

B. Winds –Wind is an important factor in climate because wind dry lands out and helps to spread the fire as well as fan the fire. For example, Santa Ana winds – causes fires by preheating the land to start more fires. If there is an area of embers and glowing combustion. Strong Santa Ana winds spread and fan the embers and glowing combustion far ahead of the parent fire, starting new ones. Santa Ana Winds – this type of strong wind event effects Southern California, and its initiated by strong High pressure in the Western U.S. by the Great Basin in Nevada and Utah. The strong ridge generates a clockwise flow and winds that come up and over mountain ranges and then descends rapidly. Santa Ana Winds can blow over 80 mph!!! The Orographic Effect or Mountain Effect – is air the descends down the mountains in SoCAL drys and heats adiabatically. This wind is a leeside mountain wind or downslope wind, a hot compressive winds that sets the stage for explosive fire development.

C. Fire – Fire can self propagate and create a very large fire or new fires adjacent the parent fire. Why? Fire uses up oxygen, and without oxygen fire ceases to exist. Furthermore Fire draws in more oxygen from the surrounding environment to keep itself going. If oxygen source is cutoff so is the fire. A good way to cutoff oxygen source is setting backfires – where agencies should burn off the fuel for big fires. If done correctly this is very effective.


Shows Santa Ana Winds and their potential ferocity. Leeside winds that descend a mountain called downslope winds are extreme fire starting capabilities due to high aridity and high heat content.

That’s how strong Santa Ana Winds are. they are capable of downing trees and powerlines, taking roof shingles off, and causing property damage. (latimes.com)
A. Civilian Fire Deaths and Damages in the United States from 1981-2005
  1. Years – 2001-2005, Fire Deaths – 4,215, Damages – 18.7  Billion Dollars in Damages
  2. Years – 1996-2000, Fire Deaths – 4,138, Damages – 12.5  Billion Dollars in Damages
  3. Years – 1991-1995,  Fire Deaths – 4,521 , Damages – 12.1  Billion Dollars in Damages
  4. Years – 1986-1990, Fire Deaths – 5,696, Damages – 9.12  Billion Dollars in Damages
  5. Years – 1981-1985, Fire Deaths – 6,103, Damages – 6.63  Billion Dollars in Damages

You can see Deaths per year have decreased and Damages in terms of Dollars have increased as we move forward. That is the case with every natural disaster as well.

B. U.S. Wildfire Causes in the Year 2000

1. Natural Causes :

  • LIGHTNING – Has Caused 18,147 Fires (15%) of the total fires and 4,826,643 Million Acres Burned.

2. Human Causes – Has caused 104,410 Fires (85%) of the total number of fires and 30,595,594 Acres Burned

  • ARSON – 26%
  • EQUIPMENT – 10%
  • JUVENILES – 4%
  • SMOKING – 4%
  • CAMP FIRES – 3%
  • RAILROADS – 3%
  • UNKNOWN 50%

We have to take care of our fellow man and the Earth we share with everyone. Take care of the Earth our planet and She will take care of you.

C. U.S. Wildfires By Decade

  1. Decade – 1920-1929, Number of Fires Annually – 97,599, Acres Burned = 26,004,567
  2. Decade – 1930-1939, Number of Fires Annually – 167,277, Acres Burned = 39,143,195
  3. Decade – 1940-1949, Number of Fires Annually – 162,050, Acres Burned = 22,919,898
  4. Decade – 1950-1959, Number of Fires Annually – 125,948, Acres Burned = 9,415,796
  5. Decade – 1960-1969, Number of Fires Annually – 119,772, Acres Burned = 4,571,255
  6. Decade – 1970-1979, Number of Fires Annually – 155,112, Acres Burned = 3,194,421
  7. Decade – 1980-1989, Number of Fires Annually – 163, 329, Acres Burned = 4,326,229
  8. Decade – 1990-1999, Number of Fires Annually – 106,393, Acres Burned = 3,647,597
  9. Decade – 2000-2008, Number of Fires Annually -78,529, Acres Burned = 7,016,064

You can see in the earlier decades more acres burned due to fires due to lack of man power and resources. Fire Suppression and different climate signals such as El Nino and La Nina have affected Wildfires and acres burned. This year 2015 shapes up to be a record setting year with all the Fires in Alaska and Canada as well as the Pacific Northwest. I will give final fire statistics at the end of wild fire season 2015 in the Fall.



  • Culmination of a multitude of events
  • 5 Year drought Prior to Fire
  • Freeze in December 1990
  • Heavy Rains in Spring of 1991
  • Introduction of Eucalyptus Trees – Highly Flammable vegetation
  • Santa Ana Winds – very prevalent and Strong that Summer and Spring
  • 25 dead
  • 1.5 Billion Dollars in Damages
  • 1,600 Acres burned
  • 2400 Houses destroyed – built on Hillslopes where Fire explosively spreads
  • Complicating Factors – Surrounding Chapparel vegetation, Narrow winding roads preventing escape and emergency vehicles to help.

B. LOS ALAMOS – 2000

  • 2000
  • National Threat – May 12,2000 – May 19, 2000
  • Total resources over 1,000 firefighters
  • Prescribe burn got out of control and affected Nuclear power plant


  • Biggest Fire Changing U.S. Forest management
  • Major Crown Fire – largest Wildfire in U.S. National Park History
  • 36% of Park Trees were incinerated. El Nino year!!

Well that’s it I hope you all enjoyed reading and enjoying my Wildfire Blog. I hope it was informative, entertaining and a good read for you. Until next time my friends stay well and I love you all!!


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