This week it’s wildfires–is there a way not to burn?

There must be few more horrifying things than to watch a wildfire come sweeping down a canyon straight toward you and your home. Yet it’s more and more likely all over the world, thanks to global climate change.

That horror is alive and on the march in California this week, both in the wine country of the northern part, and in the Anaheim Hills near Los Angeles. Not so very long ago Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho were dealing with a similar disaster.

Each time the flames go up, we see these horrifying videos, and our hearts go out to the victims. But if you live in a fire-prone area (technically, that is, if you live anywhere, since fires can burn anywhere! But especially in mountainous forests or drought-stricken plains), is there anything you can do to beat back the risks, before you have to beat back actual flames?

Even if your home has a complex roof (multiple surfaces and places where debris may accumulate), keeping burnable debris cleared off can reduce your fire vulnerability.

As it happens–although nothing is foolproof–there are several things that home- and business-owners can do, to make their property less “burnable.” The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has published guidelines that lay out several strategies to help you fight the fires before they come.

Some strategies require thinking WAY ahead–as in, when you’re planning to build in the first placeChoosing your site is one important thing: building on hilltops or at the top of a steep slope with combustible vegetation downslope is like putting your house at the top of the chimney.

The University of California-Berkeley has created an online Builders Wildfire Mitigation Guide with lots of specific strategies builders can employ, to lessen the vulnerability of buildings to fire.

Flying embers can ignite an otherwise-fire-resistant building if they get inside unprotected vents.

Building for fire-mitigation includes things such as using less-burnable materialsdesigning to avoid collection-points for burnable debris, using vent designs that protect agains flying embers, and employing things such as intumescent coatings, that swell when exposed to fire-condition temperatures to block air flow, insulate against temperature buildup, and/or retard fire access to vulnerable areas.

Fire-rated rolling window shutters don’t have to be ugly. These also offer increased security against burglaries.

Some retrofits also are possible. Flat, tempered-glass skylights resist fire better than domed plastic-glass ones. Fire-resistant shutters can help defend windows that otherwise might blow out under high-heat conditions. Re-shingling or re-siding in more fire-resistant materials is also a smart move.

Debris and brush beside a house: recipe for fire disaster.

But sometimes all it takes are awareness and taking common-sense precautions. How many times have you seen junk or debris piled up around someone’s house, or bushes growing so close they brush the siding? Imagine a fire catching there. How quickly would the house go up?

Sadly, these gorgeous foundation plantings are within the 5-foot area of IBHS’s Zone One. The “before” picture, while less beautiful, was safer from a fire-mitigation point of view! But there are compromises that can still yield a beautiful yard.

Most wildfire safety guides recommend you think of the area around your building in “zones.” IBHS defines Zone One as the first five feet out from your building. IBHS recommends you should have fewer combustibles in that zone. Thus, be careful of too much brush or vegetation in that zone, as well as fences, decks, etc. that are made of combustible materialsMany other guides combine IBHS’s Zones One and Two into a single, 30-ft. Zone One, while still emphasizing the “defensibility” idea.

This diagram clearly shows a nice collection of really smart fire-mitigation ideas.

Especially in ecosystems that have evolved to adapt for fire, many guides recommend planting native species, which are better fire-adapted, especially within your first 30-foot perimeter. Another common-sense precaution is avoiding “fire ladders,” that is, bushes or shrubs under taller trees, that can offer more fuel for fires. Clearing brush and dry materials is not only fire-smart, but it can improve “curb appeal.” Spacing trees and bushes farther apart allows them room to grow, and keeps fire from leaping from one to another.

Burning bushes underneath can doom trees that might otherwise survive.

We can never completely fireproof our homes, and some fires can’t be stopped in time. But wouldn’t we all love to be the “oasis of green” in the charred landscape if the worst happens, and a wildfire comes through? It’s actually possible!

No, it’s not photoshopped. Thinking in terms of defensible space really does save homes and lives.

IMAGES: Many thanks to CBS News for the video about mid-October, 2017 fires in California. I also appreciate the “Fire-Safe Marin” website’s article on roof issues for the photo of the complex roof with burnable debris; Australia’s Parks and Wildlife Service for the diagram of fire behavior on a slope, and the Indiegogo page for Ember Deflector vents, for the photo of embers flying around a gable vent. I am grateful to the Trident roller shutters page, for the photo of the green shutters by the patio; to the Firedawgs brush removal page for the photo of boards and dead bushes by a house; to Houzz website for the photo of the foundation planting; and to Tractor Supply Company’s detailed graphic showing fire defensibility zones around a house. Many thanks to World Atlas for the photo of bushes burning underneath trees, to illustrate “fire laddering,” and to the Ross Valley Fire Department’s excellent article on defensible space, for the “miracle” photo of the unburned home.

Moral and historical responsibilities

The Artdog Quotes of the Week:

Today I present a study in contrasts.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks for the global community on this one. United States leadership still persists in questioning the science to a greater extent than any other major nation. Including, unfortunately, this guy:

IMAGES: Many thanks to the World Economic Forum for the Ban Ki-moon quote (check the linked page for more good ones), and to Business Insider, CNN and Bill Nye for the quote graphic from the regrettable orange person. Unfortunately, Bill’s solution failed to be implemented effectively.

Odd politics

The Artdog Quote of the Week:

Neil DeGrasse Tyson has a good point here, as usual. Problem is, E=mc2  doesn’t threaten certain industries’ corporate profits. The climate change “controversy” stems from the same root cause (and had been promoted by some of the exact same people) as the “controversy” over whether smoking causes lung cancer (brace yourself: it does!).

IMAGE: Many thanks to the Climate Reality Project (check out their website!) for this image, and many other resources. 

Fires gone wild

The Artdog Images of Interest

Three major signals of climate change’s onset are increased rates and ferocity of fires, deepening drought, and increasingly violent storms. Today’s image focuses on fire.

Firefighters worked for days to control wildfires around Mecklenberg County, NC in November 2016. I hope this photographer didn’t get singed, taking this behind-the-burning brush photo! Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate a photographer’s credit.

This North Carolina fire was only one of hundreds (it’s surprising, how difficult it seemed to be, to find a definitive total) that burned in the US in 2016. An interactive map of 2016 wildfires in California shows general locations by date range.

Total number of fires may be down, but total acres burned have doubled in 30 years.

A study released last October (2016) concluded that “human-caused climate change is responsible for nearly doubling the number of acres burned in western United States wildfires during the last 30 years,” according to Bill Gabbert, of the Wildfire Today website.

IMAGE: Many thanks to WSOC-TV Channel 9 in North Carolina for the dramatic fire photo, and to Wildfire Today for the chart, compiled by Bill Gabbert, showing acres burned.

Tribulation

The Artdog Quote of the Week:

Does anybody else miss President Barack Obama the way I do? As usual, he’s making good sense, here. Also as usual, a lot of people haven’t/aren’t/refuse to listen. Gonna be a squeaker, if it isn’t already too late, I fear.

IMAGE: Many thanks to TodayInSci for this image.

Who needs weather satellites, anyway?

The Artdog Images of Interest:

In early March, the Trump Administration proposed to cut almost a quarter of the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather satellite program, despite global dependence upon them (by both corporations and government) for accurate weather forecasting.

There seems little point to that, until one remembers that satellite photos make it harder to deny climate change. How so? Consider these photos:

This is a famous lake . . . famous for shrinking. These two photos are striking, but 2011 was a while ago. Check this more-recent update.
Yes, this is the controversial “snows of Kilimanjaro” photo. No, it’s not idiotically simple; they do fluctuate, but the consensus is in, nonetheless–we’re headed warmer.
Yes, polar bears can swim–but for how far? NOTE: they don’t hunt prey while swimming.
Clearly there’s a problem shaping up for all Arctic ecosystems when the ice recedes that much. Read an article about how diminishing sea ice is affecting European weather, as well.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Eureka Alert! the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and NASA Earth Observatory, for the 1998-vs.-2011 photos of Iran’s Lake Urmia, to PatFalvey’s website (an article by Hannah Devlin) for the “snows of Kilimanjaro” photo, and to Weather and Climate @ Reading for the Arctic Sea Ice comparisons.

We need an intervention!

The Artdog Quote of the Week

It’s April, the month of Earth Day–in a year when the environment seems more endangered than it has in a while. Don’t expect me to hold back.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Earth: The Operator’s Manual for this image.