Does creating fire break lines work to control forest fires?

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I really don't want to get into politics, I am sick and tired of smelling and breathing the smoke from the forest fire in N Calif even I am living in the silicon valley. Trump said because Calif refuse to clear fire break lines, clear the debriefs, then once the fire started, there is no break. That they need to create fire break lines to stop the fire as there's nothing to burn in the line area and will stop the fire.

It makes sense to me, sure, you chop down a lot of trees to create the fire break, BUT isn't the fire now burning more trees as it's out of control and still burning? Should this be under the name of conservation to cut the trees to create the fire break lines to preserve the forest. And people lost their lives in out of control fire.

I am sure the burning creates a whole held of a lot more green house gas than people can imagine. More animal dies including endangered species. At least if you create the fire break line when there's no fire in the winter time, you can take your time to clear everything and do it the right way instead of letting it burn out of control. To me, this is really preserving the environment.

This fire is not the first time, it sure not going to be the last time. It's like every year we have that problem.

I'll let people that know the science of this comment.
 
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That they need to create fire break lines to stop the fire as there's nothing to burn in the line area and will stop the fire.
That is an approved method to stop ground fires and prevent them form turning into a crown fire. But if the fire gets out of control fire break lines don't help enymore.
 
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That is an approved method to stop ground fires and prevent them form turning into a crown fire. But if the fire gets out of control fire break lines don't help enymore.
So why don't they do it in Calif during the off season? It must be a lot cheaper than trying to put out the fire that is out of control every year. When it's not an emergency, people can plan where to put the break and take the time to make it so it won't jump. Save lives, save the forest, save the animals and save the air.

This should be non political to any side, we all want this. Anyone actually calculate how much CO2 and ash produced due to the fire every year? Must be really bad as it's choking in Silicon Valley when the fire is so far away. It's been quite a few days already, pollution must be really bad in a wide area.
 
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russ_watters
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So why don't they do it in Calif during the off season?
Because they don't know ahead of time where the fires will start and spread.
 
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  • #5
256bits
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When it's not an emergency, people can plan where to put the break and take the time to make it so it won't jump. Save lives, save the forest, save the animals and save the air.
Would a road classify as a fire break?
Fires jump across that distance.

Besides the width of the fire break, how many should there be for say a 1000 square mile area.
What does one do - mow the vegetation down like a lawn, or turn over the soil every so often that nothing grows. I would think that in and of itself it can get quite expensive for a large area to be maintained.
One would have to grid out the terrain as the fire may travel east-west, north south depending upon the wind blows. To be successful, if you calculate it, up to third to a half the wilderness may have to become fire breaks, disrupting the flora and fauna of the area. Species would die out by the method, as many live under the cover of the brush and trees that are already there, and can have tendency to avoid open areas. Rather than saving the forest and the animals that are living under the present eco-system, the fire-break method could/would change the dynamics, with new winners and losers emerging.
It also is not evident, but speculative with good probability, that depending upon the method used to ensure no fire is ever a run-away, the whole are could become erosion susceptible leading to a total collapse.

As for the CO2 thing - after the fire, the vegetation grows back in time. Fires are pretty much CO2 neutral.

In my opinion anyways.
 
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I really don't want to get into politics... Trump said...
If you don't want to go politics, then just don't mix in politicians. Especially a Trmp.

This fire is not the first time, it sure not going to be the last time. It's like every year we have that problem.
Exactly. The problem is not the fire itself, but:
- there are more people affected
- due the climate change and the missing water the recovery is slower.
- you mixed in Trmp and with the climate change part together it makes quite a backstab.

If an ecosystem works with fires then people living there must control the fire somehow, and this part cannot be spared by whatever green ideology.
On the other side: if that ecosystem is in the transition from bush to desert, then controlling the fire won't mean much.
 
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  • #7
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So why don't they do it in Calif during the off season?
It has already been mentioned that the region is too large for an area-wide protection by fire breaks. But even if they would do that, it wouldn't help much in the current situation. As the fires are caused by lightning strikes into bone-dry forests they probably started not only on the ground but also in the crowns.
 
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  • #8
DaveE
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So why don't they do it in Calif during the off season?
California is a huge state with lots of wildland. What you suggest is economically unfeasible. It is also either not enough, to prevent fires, or too much from an environmental/quality of life point of view.

There aren't a lot of wild fires in Manhattan, but that doesn't mean that we can or should make everything look like Manhattan to prevent fires.
 
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  • #9
DaveE
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I really don't want to get into politics, I am sick and tired of smelling and breathing the smoke from the forest fire in N Calif even I am living in the silicon valley. Trump said because Calif refuse to clear fire break lines, clear the debriefs, then once the fire started, there is no break. That they need to create fire break lines to stop the fire as there's nothing to burn in the line area and will stop the fire.
No, let's not get into politics. So I'll tread lightly here.

Even Trump's most ardent supporters would admit that he really has no expertise in the area of fire prevention and control. He does however, have a lot a press access. He also has a history of speaking imprecisely. So, if you really want to know about wild-land fires, you may want to look for a better source than him. After all, we are a nation of specialists in terms of knowledge and experience. I would say the same of any politician from any party (unless of course they actually studied fire science). Nancy Pelosi, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton... They all know nothing about this subject compared to the kind of expertise you can find online from credible sources.
 
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  • #10
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Point: landowner management stupidity will undo any reasonable fire breaks. An egregious example:

http://talltimbers.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Oswaldetal2000_op.pdf

This is a US site loaded with very educated individuals that "perpetrated" very poor forest and vegetation management practices at the Los Alamos National Laboratories. The result was that the Dome Fire damaged laboratory buildings, infrastructure and many private homes. In spite of lots of roads and fire breaks.

LANL managers were obsessed with site security mostly. Oddly fire protection is an element of security. But they did not think so. BTW: they do now.

They made the mistake of letting lots of large trees grow very close to buildings. The surrounding National Forest had roads and lots of fire breaks, with unintentional fire breaks at the labs because of lab roads everywhere. Huge areas burned anyway. I guess shade trees and ornamentals were more important.

Homeowners and fee patent land occupants in the US do exactly the same thing. They want trees and shrubs very near houses. Bad idea. "It is my land and I can do what I want"

The point is the people on the land actually encourage fires to crown. If your neighbor does something in poor judgement, like leave the forest untouched in their back yard, when a fire comes through, you lose your property as well.
 
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  • #11
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It has already been mentioned that the region is too large for an area-wide protection by fire breaks. But even if they would do that, it wouldn't help much in the current situation. As the fires are caused by lightning strikes into bone-dry forests they probably started not only on the ground but also in the crowns.
The large number of lightning strikes, in dry air, seems to be a key factor in the mass of fires in California. In addition to the lightning strikes, apparently the recent Winter was quite dry, which raised concerns for wild fire.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lightn...th-nearly-12000-strikes-in-a-week-2020-08-22/
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/03/climate/dry-california.html

In the Pacific Northwest, i.e., Oregon, Washington and Idaho, clear cutting forests has dried large tracts of land, and often, when there is replanting, the trees are fast growing pines, which are much more susceptible to fire and burn hotter than indigenous trees like the Western Larch (Larix occidentalis).

https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/boise/learning/nature-science/?cid=fsed_009765
https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/larocc/all.html
https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/pdfs/other/FireResistRegen.pdf

I don't know the situation with California forests, but they seem to be drier these days, and the climate in California seems to be warmer and drier than in the past, which seems to be the case in Oregon and Washington as well.
 
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  • #12
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Would a road classify as a fire break?
Fires jump across that distance.

Besides the width of the fire break, how many should there be for say a 1000 square mile area.
What does one do - mow the vegetation down like a lawn, or turn over the soil every so often that nothing grows. I would think that in and of itself it can get quite expensive for a large area to be maintained.
One would have to grid out the terrain as the fire may travel east-west, north south depending upon the wind blows. To be successful, if you calculate it, up to third to a half the wilderness may have to become fire breaks, disrupting the flora and fauna of the area. Species would die out by the method, as many live under the cover of the brush and trees that are already there, and can have tendency to avoid open areas. Rather than saving the forest and the animals that are living under the present eco-system, the fire-break method could/would change the dynamics, with new winners and losers emerging.
It also is not evident, but speculative with good probability, that depending upon the method used to ensure no fire is ever a run-away, the whole are could become erosion susceptible leading to a total collapse.

As for the CO2 thing - after the fire, the vegetation grows back in time. Fires are pretty much CO2 neutral.

In my opinion anyways.
I don't believe fire break will need to take almost half the vegetation. I would be surprised it take 10% or so.

With wild fire, species will die also, and wild fire is almost a yearly event.

I am sure even with fire break, fire can jump, BUT with fire break, fire truck and emergency vehicles can go to the hot spot much easier compare to reach the fire in the forest.

I have no scientific way to proof anything, that's why I ask here. Anyone ever stop and calculate this? Or just go by their political believes? Honestly, I never even think about this until I have to be choking for days smelling the smoke from like 100 miles away. How about human's health? Not just the trees and the animals. People do die in the fire like this time.
 
  • #13
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No, let's not get into politics. So I'll tread lightly here.

Even Trump's most ardent supporters would admit that he really has no expertise in the area of fire prevention and control. He does however, have a lot a press access. He also has a history of speaking imprecisely. So, if you really want to know about wild-land fires, you may want to look for a better source than him. After all, we are a nation of specialists in terms of knowledge and experience. I would say the same of any politician from any party (unless of course they actually studied fire science). Nancy Pelosi, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton... They all know nothing about this subject compared to the kind of expertise you can find online from credible sources.
That's why I post here, looking for some solid scientific theory. Anyone actually sat down and calculate how much fire breaks has to be? cost, pollution, affect of wild lives, human lives? Cost of putting out fire in the wild vs with fire breaks where you can get to the fire much easier and faster?
 
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  • #15
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I don't believe fire break will need to take almost half the vegetation. I would be surprised it take 10% or so
Absolutely sure of the fire not spreading, or just hoping that it would slow the spread of the fire.
The embers that get carried away by the wind ( note that the fire itself heats air which rises, new air rushes in and the embers are carried up to 1000 to 5000 feet away ).
 
  • #17
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Clearly, controlled burns are more difficult to carry out that people imagine.
A proper controlled burn requires that moisture in the forest floor litter be not too high or low, the atmospheric humidity be greater than a certain value, and wind less than a value. The exact numbers are site dependent.

My brother has been burn boss for controlled burns for 20 years now. Controlled burns are used in Wisconsin to maintain land in its pre-industrial age prairie or savanna state.
 
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  • #18
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The State of California's Legislative Analyst's (they only have one?) office has a report on wildfires here: https://lao.ca.gov/Publications/Report/4172

I knew it was complex, but not how complex. For example, I was unaware that the acres per year burned is well below the historical average. In any event, it's not as simple as "chop down a couple of trees and we won't have this problem"
 
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the link is broken
In the words of Inspector Clouseau, "not any more".
 
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  • #21
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Fire breaks are the primary bush fire defense strategy in Australia, however they only work in combination with air and ground crews.

If a fire is on the ground, that is burning the dead fall material, that is comparatively less intense heat and lower risk of embers breaching a fire break. However, when a fire gets into the crown, the heat is greatly intensified. Radiant heat causes adjacent trees volatilize water and oil into the air. The pressure within the wood can cause timber to explode, adding fuel to the super heated air.

There is so much volatilized combustible material in the air that the fire just jumps tree to tree through the air. The heat causes very very strong convection winds that fan the fire to extreme ferocity. Trees are consumed in seconds and the fire front moves through the forest very rapidly. Embers are carried up by convection and blown downwind to land in forest starting new fires several kilometres ahead of the most intense fire zone, preparing conditions for its transmission. These spot fires are the main target for air bombing and if conditions are safe enough for ground crews.

There is simply no effective way to attack the intense canopy fire directly. The only hope of stopping such a fire is to starve it of fuel, reducing it's intensity. Natural features such as wide rivers or major roads can create enough of a fuel break to allow fire crews to deal with the ember attack spot fires. If the fire break is sufficiently wide, the ferocity of the fire front can be reduced enough for fire crews to succeed in stopping the fire. However, the chances of success depends greatly on the weather.

Fire crews try to limit the width of the fire front and hope for a change in the weather. If the wind changes say 90 degrees to blow along the fire front, the most intense front is now at the downwind end and crews are better able to limit the spread along the old front, keeping the intense area as small as possible. If the wind reverses 180 degrees, even better.

So yes, fire breaks are an important part of fire control strategy but they are not everything and there is no guarantee of success. These fires are just so intense, fierce and huge, there is no way to attack them directly. Just limit them as much as possible and hope and pray (if so inclined) for a lucky break.
 
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  • #22
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Another 330,000 acres burned in Ca the last 24hrs. Got to have a better way then just let it burn like this. The fire season is not even over yet.
 
  • #23
BillTre
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A fire just burned through a town (Blue River, OR) about 30-40 miles away from where I live.
It was a wind driven fire through a dried out timber area, going the length of a valley.
As of earlier today it was 0% contained. Ignition source unknown.
Not much you can do about that.

Maybe reverse global warming, but not a quick fix.
 
  • #24
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2.5millions acres burned this time all together. This morning, the sky looks like dust at 7pm right now.

I know fire break done in off season needs to clear a lot of forest, but 2.5M acres burned just for this fire!!! That's a lot of fire break!!! People's home are destroyed, don't know how many people will die as it's not contained. How many wild lives will die? How many trees will be destroyed? How much it costed to put out this fire, just this time, and the season is not even over yet? Politicians are just sitting there doing nothing, sitting on their hands season after season and let the fire repeat year after year.

Add up all the human lives, forest, homes, cost of fighting fire time after time, creating real fire breaks might NOT be as expensive as it sounds. Honestly, my feeling is Ca doesn't want to cut trees in the name of saving the trees. You tell me. It will never end and the earth suffers.
 
  • #25
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A fire just burned through a town (Blue River, OR) about 30-40 miles away from where I live.
It was a wind driven fire through a dried out timber area, going the length of a valley.
As of earlier today it was 0% contained. Ignition source unknown.
Not much you can do about that.

Maybe reverse global warming, but not a quick fix.
I think the news said it was a party that started the fire. Why people want to live in the forest is beyond me. Just like people living in 7th Ave in San Francisco because of the view. 1989 earthquake made them to be the part of the view.

It will have another fire again and again. Only thing positive about this fire is......I don't think the same spot will burn any time soon..........It's burned already.
 

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