Fire Over: Arguing Begins

The Lake Tahoe fires have died down, but the discussion has just begun.

In The Los Angeles Times, the focus has been on the forest and the population issues. Moderate political columnist George Skelton drew this lesson:

There’s no economy in numbers because of an exploding population — no
growth discount for taxpayers funding the services they need.


Just packing people into densely populated areas causes problems.

call this the chicken coop syndrome, observed as a boy while growing up
on a small citrus ranch in Ojai. The more chickens we’d cram into the
coop, the more they’d act up, compete, fight. That’s nature. And it’s
human nature.

The San Francisco Chronicle led with forest mismanagement, but concluded with the declining snowpack:

The Forest Service’s Safford noted that even the climate has come under
human influence, as evidenced by global warming and increased forest fires in a
dryer, warmer West.

A study being prepared documents what Safford described as a significant
increase in Sierra fires during the past 21 years, which clearly goes beyond
any naturally occurring cycle.

Worst Northern California fires

Most damaging wildland fires
in Northern California history by number of structures burned:

1. East Bay hills fire, October 1991, Alameda County: 2,900 structures

2. Jones fire, October 1999, Shasta County: 954 structures

3. Fountain fire, August 1992, Shasta County: 636 structures

4. City of Berkeley fire, September 1923, Alameda County: 584 structures

5. 49er fire, September 1988, Nevada County: 312 structures

6. Angora fire, June 2007, El Dorado County: 240 structures so far

7. Canyon fire, September 1999, Shasta County: 230 structures

8. Old Gulch fire, August 1992, Calaveras County: 170 structures

Source: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

[Guess which of these fires occurred in early summer?]

The Wall Street Journal focused on the drought picture for Lake Tahoe and the West:

In the Lake Tahoe area straddling the California-Nevada border, a blaze believed caused by human activity Sunday afternoon quickly spread through tinder-dry pine forests a few miles south of the lake, destroying more than 200 homes and other structures. Winds that fanned the fire subsided yesterday, but some 1,000 homes are still threatened. The fire threat in the heavily developed area is unusually severe because drought left the Sierra Nevada snow pack at 29% of normal this spring.

Meanwhile, spring in four states — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee — was the driest in 113 years of record-keeping. In Florida and Georgia, the situation has been deemed an emergency by state and federal officials.

The West is experiencing its sixth-driest spring on record, while recent government reports show the drought might be creeping into the Midwest, where farmers hoping to profit from the ethanol boom have planted more acres of corn than at any time since the end of World War II.

Already, economic losses are mounting. In Georgia, peach crops are smaller than normal, peanuts were unable to germinate in the bone-dry soil, and wildfires have devoured valuable timber. The water level in Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, the second-largest freshwater lake in the continental U.S., hit an all-time low on June 1, forcing lawn-and-garden enthusiasts, golf courses and farmers to conserve water.

In Alabama, lack of hay is causing cattle farmers to liquidate entire herds.

Drought has been a persistent problem for much of the U.S. in recent years. This year, some areas are parched while others are being hit by heavy rains and flooding. Some parts of Texas have been declared states of emergency because of flash flooding.

Indeed, early in the spring, many farmers in the Corn Belt worried that too much rain was going to prevent them from planting their corn on time.

The drastic weather can be explained partly by a summer-weather pattern called the Bermuda High that is sucking moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and dumping it on places like Texas and the High Plains.

The problem for drought-affected areas in the Southeast is that the Bermuda High has pushed too far to the west. So the typical widespread afternoon thunderstorms and rain haven’t fallen there, meaning little drought relief.

Many scientists worry global warming may be playing a role, too. The kind of severe droughts punctuated by torrential rain now hitting many parts of North America have long been predicted as consequences of rising world temperatures.

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: