Stephen Pyne, a FUSEE collaborator and ally, as well as distinguished fire historian, was joined last Friday by Alexandra von Meier, and urban electrical grid specialist, to discuss the devastation witnessed during the past two seasons of California wildfires and how this might be avoided in the future. Their discussion was moderated by Ira Flatow, on Science Friday, a radio show heard on public radio stations across the country and distributed by WNYC Studios.
Pyne, recent author of Between Two Fires: A Fire History of Contemporary America, and more recently, California: A Fire Survey (To the Last Smoke), recounts the survival of his home in the face of an advancing wildfire. Rather than speaking to climate change or the continued accumulation of wildland fuels under a policy of fire exclusion, Pyne spoke more to the third leg of the wildland fire calamity triangle, development – “codes materials, zoning, putting in appropriate infrastructure, and so on.” He also was spot in in this assessment:
The home ignition zone, meaning the structure and it’s immediate environment (and by immediate environment I’m talking a matter of feet or yards), is really where you want to put most of your effort. Fires are going to happen, In many cases they need to happen.
More airtankers and more engines is not going to solve it.
Most of the worst environmental damage done by conventional industrial fire suppression takes place far from the home ignition zone. In and around the edges of wilderness areas, ridgetops are denuded of vegetation by bulldozers, trees are harvested, archeological sites destroyed. retardant make its way into sensitive aquifers – all this happens far from homes, often unnecessarily. After von Meier came on , discussion turned to PG&E’s role in recent California wildfires, a topic of another post, as well as how the electric grid could be imagined in a more fire safe configuration.
We’re seeing urban conflagrations, and that’s the real phase change in recent years,
said Pyne in an earlier Wired article about the Camp Fire outside Chico, California, where searchers are still discovering charred human remains.
“Mass shootings and mass burnings,” Pyne says. “Welcome to the new America.”