The causes of Frequent Wildfires in California

Lightning is the primary cause of wildfires in California, with man made causes in second place. In 2007, lightning storms erupted that included hundreds of strikes per hour. In June of 2008, over 8,000 lightning strikes caused over 800 fires in northern and central California, alone. In the Southern region, the ways in which the wind operate to create the famous “Santa Ana” winds will grossly exacerbate fires, but either lightning or man made causes, including deliberate arson, are at fault in the majority of cases.

California hosts many mountain ranges and sits at the edge of the largest space of ocean in the world. The Pacific ocean is a cold ocean, so while hurricanes are rare, the action of cold air interacting with hot land masses and mountainous areas allows the creation of electrical storms which form in the mountains serve to ignite thousands of fires annually.

Many Recent record breaking weather patterns and events, including a multi year annual drought, have added up to abnormal weather in addition to the normal patterns of extended Summer drought, lightning, tornadoes and other wind phenomenon which contribute to and exacerbate fire in California.

California hosts vast tracts of uninhabited, mountainous, and isolated forest and chaparral, with it’s millions of acres of fast burning dry grasses. Add in the buildup of years worth of dead plant material, from fallen trees, to pine needles on the forest floors.California is one of the most populous states in the nation, with over thirty million permanent inhabitants and unknown numbers of illegal aliens and vacationing transients who love our forests and wild areas.

Even the introduction of Eucalyptus, an Australian tree that was supposed to provide animal fodder (the animals hated eucalyptus) contribute to very hot, oil based and unmanageable fires. The 1991 Berkeley/Oakland hills fire that devastated over 3000 homes was rightfully blamed on dense groves of Eucalyptus, a messy tree that constantly sheds bark and leaves. All parts of the tree are infused with oil, and the level of detritus can get to several feet in depth on the forest floor.

As a result, it is impossible to know whether a lightning strike, contact from a hot car muffler or the spark from a shovel can ignite a fast moving and catastrophic fire in California. The rough and inaccessible topography of the mountain areas adds to the likelihood that a fire will have to burn until the natural process of forest fire and wildfire reaches a conclusion on it’s own. Add in mismanagement of camp fires, tossed cigarettes, illegal pot growing operations, deliberate and accidental arson, and other human causes, and we have high expectations of spectacular and fast moving fires every year.

Environment New Service

USA Today

“The Eucalyptus Of California”