Wildfires: The Current Burn and the Future of Fire



This is the first part in a series on modern wildfires.

We will cover the staggering and destructive wildfires in California that last year burned 1.3 million acres and close to 10,000 structures, most recently the Thomas Fire, which is the largest wildfire in California history.

We will also discuss the future of wildfires—how they have been rapidly expanding in size over the past decade from many combined factors, including droughts, changing climate,  population increases, and limited federal and state resources.

Lastly, we will describe several water storage product solutions you can use to prepare for the era of megafires in what is increasingly being called, “the new normal.”

The Current Situation

California recently experienced its biggest wildfire in history, the Thomas fire, which spread to more than 280,000 acres in southern California, burning thousands of trees and over 1,060 structures. Igniting on December 4th, 2017, the strong Santa Ana winds caused it to rapidly spread.  It has taken over a month just to contain the fire. Earlier this year, in October, northern California experienced its costliest and most destructive wildfires in history, adding up to over $9.4 billion in insured losses.  And this fire season will not be an isolated incident according to experts and California lawmakers.

California’s Governor, Jerry Brown said that fire activity will likely happen on a regular basis for decades now. “This is kind of the new normal,” he said. “With climate change, some scientists are saying that southern California is literally burning up. We’re facing a new reality in this state where fires threaten people’s lives, their property, their neighborhoods, and of course billions and billions of dollars. We have to have the resources to combat the fires and we have to also invest in managing vegetation and forests…in a place that’s getting hotter.”

Therefore, the future of wildfire control has no clear solution in sight, other than to prevent where possible and prepare where unavoidable. In recent years, a perfect storm of these factors has led to much bigger mega wildfires that cover greater acreage (many over 100,000 acres), affecting more people and at greater cost and cleanup. And the U.S. Forest Service has limited resources to prevent it.


So, what exactly has caused the rise in these megafires?

  • Outdated firefighting policies regarding fire suppression
  • Increasing population in fire-prone areas
  • Climate change, which is raising temperatures and creating unpredictable weather patterns (hotter weather and drier topography in California)
  • The increase in the number of mega wildfires has depleted the U.S. Forest Service's budget and resources for fire prevention measures. It is estimated that over 52 percent of its current budget is spent on fire suppression, up from just 16 percent of its budget a decade ago. That means it's using more of its budget to fight fires, rather than prevent them or minimize them.

Firefighters use the Wildfire Behavior Triangle to estimate the potential severity of fires—they evaluate fuels, weather and topography. For example, during extended periods of drought, nature produces increased amounts of dried foliage and deadwood that act as tinder for potential fires.  Weather predictions such as seasonal rain patterns are considered.  The last part of the equation is a rating of the area’s topography, such as water sources, wind patterns, manmade structures, and natural physical barriers.

Wildfires are not isolated to California. Wildfires also affect many other western states especially during the fall, including Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. It also affects Florida in the spring.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, the number of fires each year in the U.S. has not necessarily increased, it’s the number of total acres burned during each fire as well as rising costs. The statistics back this up. Before 1999, only 1 year had seen over 6 million acres burned. Since 2000, in 10 out of the last 17 years over 6 million acres have burned, including 2015 in which over 10 million acres burned. Before 2000, the average firefighting costs per year were less than $500 million. Since 2000, the average yearly costs over the past 17 years is over $1 billion, and 2017 exceeded over $2.4 billion, the highest on record.

Before the Next Fire, Be Firewise and Prepare with Water Storage

Preparation can make a difference. With wildfires being the “new normal” and the U.S. Forest Service resources stretched past capacity, homeowners, businesses, farmers and local government are taking their own measures. They are learning to prepare for wildfires, the way some states prepare for a hurricane.

Since firefighting resources are limited during a wildfire, providing your own source of water could help to save your property. “Above ground water tanks and water sources that are accessible by emergency vehicles can help provide firefighters with water. Make sure signs or other markings indicate any water sources firefighters can use,” said Nick Williams, a fire resource forester and fuels mitigation program manager with the Wyoming State Forestry Division.


We offer several water storage product options you can use to prepare your home, business, neighborhood, or city. Pillow tanks can store water for long periods of time to provide fast access to large volumes of water in emergency situations. Frame tanks and onion tanks lie flat for storage and can be quickly set up in emergencies, so are often used by firefighting agencies where fire hydrants are not available or functioning. Our DOT Approved Water Trailers store large amounts of water and can be hitched to a truck for transporting where needed. The attached spray bar and fire-hose provides a way to douse down a wide area.

Corrugated water tanks and rainwater bladder tanks are also a good option. These tanks can be used to collect rainwater. That rainwater can be saved and used in case of drought to water vegetation or it can be used to spray down homes and properties that are vulnerable to an impending and quickly spreading wildfire. Firefighters can also use this water to help fight flames around your property. The California Rainwater Capture Act of 2012 makes it legal to collect rainwater. Some areas especially encourage it, such as San Diego which incentivizes with 50 cents per gallon rebates for rainwater collection.

Preparation is especially important for rural areas, which do not have the nearby fire trucks and more abundant fire hydrants that urban areas have. Scott Jamar, a rural resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains, has a 5,000 gallon water tank, 150-foot fire hose, and propane powered pump for his property. His goal is to use the tank to water down his home, deck and yard during an approaching wildfire. “I don’t take it for granted that firefighters will quickly get here,” he said, “I take it for granted that they’re not going to be here. We can’t rely on infrastructure, so let’s try to be a little more self-sufficient and do what we can.” Once firefighters are able to reach his property, any remaining water can be used by the firefighters to douse the flames. 

This is just one example of taking preventative action as wildfires become an increasing threat. Preparing with water storage products can make a difference, one that can help you as well as aid firefighters.

Please join us for the next post in the series. We will go over what happens after a wildfire has ended-- leaving behind charred, hardened earth—and how this affects soil erosion, water quality and flooding. We will explain several erosion control procedures and products that can help you successfully mitigate the ongoing aftereffects of wildfires.

Water Storage Products

We offer many water storage solutions, and can talk you through any questions you may have. Whether you need it for your business, residence, or local city, these products can ensure you have extra protection from droughts and fires.


Mars Collapsible Water Pillow Tanks

Mars Pillow Tanks and Rainwater Tanks are great for long term water storage. Since they are enclosed, they can store water large amounts of water in an outdoor environment.  Also if they need to be transported empty, they are lightweight and can fold flat.




The Centaur Frame Tank and Hydrostar Onion Tank can be stored flat, are easily transportable, and can be quickly set up and filled. They are often used by firefighters in remote areas.




Argo Water Fire Fighting Trailers can store 500-1600 gallons of water. It is transportable and built with hoses, nozzles, valves and a spray bar for spraying down large areas. 




The Mars Corrugated Water Tank is a permanent, bulk water storage option. It can help meet demand where water is not freely available on an ongoing basis for firefighting use. 







RESOURCES:

Ongoing list of current active wildfires in the United States:

Annual Federal Firefighting Suppression Costs (1985-2016): https://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/fireInfo_documents/SuppCosts.pdf

The Rising Cost of Wildfire Operations: Effects on the U.S. Forest Service’s Non-Fire Work

Emergency Preparation for Potential Wildfire

Capturing Rainwater in CA—California Rainwater Capture Act of 2012

Rural Resident Preparing for Wildfires

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