Wildfires in California have burnt through 820,000 acres so far this year. As the U.S. state battles the blaze, is it time to accept that bigger and more frequent wildfires are the new normal?
It’s been a season of nasty burns.
Ask California – the U.S. state is still battling its worst ever wildfire season, with over 14,000 firefighters struggling to contain the blaze. The Mendocino Complex fire, which has engulfed more than 336,000 acres, is not seen abating before September.
It’s obvious that California has been burned by the fires in more ways than one. Over 10 people have died, many have been displaced and a shutdown of major parts of the world-renowned Yosemite National Park has hurt tourism. The effect on California’s famous wineries is yet to be determined.
While the U.S state has been dominating headlines this wildfire season, the situation is alarming in other parts of the world too. From Greece to Sweden to Portugal in Europe to Canada and even parts of Asia, large fires are becoming more and more common.
Several factors, including climate change, are creating dry and hot conditions that form a fertile ground for blazes. According to an AGCS report, the length of the California wildfire season has extended to over seven months from four-five months over the past 30 years.
The Europe wildfire season has also lengthened in recent years. In early August, the number of wildfires ravaging Europe was 43 percent higher than the average for the past decade, according to the European Forest Fire Information System. At least 15 EU countries have experienced more fires than usual for this time of year.
There’s much to lose from such fires. Other than lives and property, the fires harm produce, in some cases causing long-term damage. In California, for example, the wine industry will feel the pain long after the ambers have died down.
“Napa and Sonoma include some of the best wine grape growing conditions in the world - a unique combination of soil, temperature, length of growing season and length of days,” elaborates Karen Walter, the agribusiness lead for West Zone at AGCS NA. “The grapes grown in this region are used to produce a majority of the medium to higher priced U.S. varieties. Production acres lost here cannot be replicated elsewhere, so any loss of production is significant.”
Sour grapes is not all that we can expect.
The Medocino complex fires are burning in a region that also produces Christmas trees, walnuts, pear, poultry and cattle. The Shasta County region has significant pasture and rangeland, hay, timber, and cattle. The fires in Oregon have destroyed wheat crops and rangeland used for livestock production.
So does this mean that all we can do as humans is watch helplessly as the fire burns down everything we hold dear? Given that more than 80 percent of the wildfires are reportedly caused by humans providing the ‘spark’ – through downed power lines, campfires and even arson – there’s much we can do.
“Prevention is the first step. Do not start a fire when there are burn bans in effect or there are high winds and dry conditions. Do not engage in high-risk behaviors around dry brush (shooting, off-road driving, smoking, etc),” Walter advises.
“Preparation is the second step. Ensure that trees are clear of electrical lines. Clear bushes, trim trees up off the ground. Choose roofing and exterior construction materials that are not easily combustible. Design a landscape so that plants and trees aren’t touching the structure and reduce or replace combustible materials such as wood bark or mulch. Also keep combustible materials such as pallets, wood, yard waste, trash away from building structures.”
Find more tips on fire prevention here.
While humans can take steps to avoid starting a fire, businesses can also ensure they are protected when such a situation does arise. Other than property and crop insurances, risk consulting services can help. For example, Allianz offers this service through Allianz Risk Consulting.
“We’ve also selectively engaged private fire mitigation services, which is unique in the commercial insurance market. This service monitors and patrols dynamic conditions during a wildfire event and applies fire suppression materials if conditions warrant. They also make recommendations to reduce combustible materials at the customer’s location,” Walter says.
According to reports, fires have scorched over 820,000 acres across California, over twice the area that had burned by this point last year. As climate change heats up the planet, are bigger and longer wildfires the new normal?
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