In the past few years, it’s felt like California wildfires have become worse than ever, with broken records left and right. While the state has a long history of cyclical fire seasons, the frequency of wildfires has increased.
Why are California wildfires worse?
Climate change is often the default answer to why California wildfires are worse. Interestingly enough, climate change does play a role in lengthening wildfire season, but it’s not the main contributing factor.
Ultimately, the increased severity of California wildfires can be attributed to people.
In the early 20th century, fire management practice wasn’t an art form. If there was a fire, it was put out. In the long run, this fire management technique caused more harm than good, especially in the state’s forests. New vegetation grew where there was little to no room, creating very dense and sickly ecosystems.
When drought strikes, these unhealthy, plant-dense areas are more susceptible, and entire swaths of land dry up, creating perfect wildfire fuel.
California is heavily populated, with over 39 million estimated residents. That’s a lot of people. Part of what makes wildfires more severe nowadays is the fact that there are more people wildfires can impact.
California’s large population can also explain the increased frequency of wildfires. California’s shrublands rarely catch fire by natural means. Additionally, these shrublands are some of the most heavily populated areas, with cities such as San Diego, Los Angeles, and Malibu. Generally, wildfires occur in these shrubland areas because “urban areas with plentiful sources of ignition are in close proximity.”
Best Practices for Fire Prevention
Allow us to echo a sentiment from Smokey Bear. There are multiple ways you can help prevent wildfires. Some examples include firescaping, hardening your home against wildfire, and participating in community fire-prevention groups.
Firescaping is a landscaping technique that selects and places plants and land features to beautify a property while still reducing its wildfire risk. Here are some tips for firescaping your property:
- Use fire-resistant plants like deciduous trees and shrubs.
- Avoid ornamental grasses, climbing vines, and large perennials that die back in the winter and leave flammable remains behind.
- Take advantage of driveways, sidewalks, and patio areas built with pavers, cement, and stone.
- Get creative with boulders, rocks, and water features.
Harden Your Home Against Wildfire
You can do many things to harden your home against wildfire, but it may be a long-term process. Many of the methods require some type of remodeling, which can be costly. That said, there are simple things you can do to help!
- Keep wood piles as far away from your home as possible — FEMA recommends at least 100 feet away.
- Keep grills, propane tanks, and fire pits away from your home. A standard recommendation is 15 feet away from your home’s exterior.
- If you have a raised deck, keep the underneath free of vegetation and other flammable objects.
- Install screens in usable windows to increase ember resistance.
- Clean your roof and gutters frequently, making sure to keep vegetation out.
- Cover exterior vent openings with 1/16 to 1/8 inch metal mesh.
Participate in Fire-prevention Groups
Many communities have a fire-prevention group. For example, Quincy, California, has Quincy Firewise, a local volunteer group making efforts to create a more fire-aware and fire-prepared community. If wildfire prevention is something you’re genuinely passionate about, volunteering is never a bad option!