Wildfire Trends Over the Years in California
Wildfires in California have become increasingly intense and frequent in recent years due to a combination of environmental factors, human interference, and climate change.
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention or CAL FIRE, the state saw a dramatic spike in wildfires in 2020 and 2021.
In 2020, 8,648 fires burned over 4.3 million acres of land. The following year witnessed 7,396 fires, with over 2.6 million acres going up in flames.
These figures eclipsed the 5-year average of 1.6 million burnt acres.
Furthermore, a staggering eight of the 15 largest fires in California history have scorched through the state between 2020 and 2021.
As part of its efforts to combat wildfires, California has adopted several initiatives:
- The local government has increased vegetation management programs and implemented early warning systems to alert residents about changing weather conditions that could lead to fires.
- Residents and commercial buildings are investing in home hardening techniques for wildland-urban interface areas.
- Governor Gavin Newsom signed a landmark $536 million wildfire package for fire prevention projects, especially for high-risk communities.
However, more measures are needed to go against human-caused climate change that has brought hotter, drier conditions across the western United States.
If you or a loved one need assistance resulting from the impact of a California wildfire, our professional wildfire litigation attorneys are here to help!
Correlation Between Wildfires and Climate Change
Climate change has significantly increased the frequency and severity of wildfires.
Experts have found that rising temperatures associated with greenhouse gas emissions make forests more prone to wildfires due to increased dryness caused by global warming.
Carbon dioxide and other carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels raise global temperatures, increasing extreme weather conditions that create an ideal environment for wildfires.
As a result, fire seasons have become longer and larger due to more frequent and extended droughts.
With more frequent and extreme heat waves and higher wind speeds, wildfires have burned larger areas in less time than ever.
Warmer temperatures, drought, and drier vegetation create a more conducive environment for fires. The lack of moisture and precipitation in the air makes it easier for fire to move quickly through the landscape and harder to put out once it takes hold.
The U.S. Geological Survey data shows a dramatic increase in wildfire destruction:
- Over the course of 17 years, from 1984 to 2000, 11 western states experienced wildfires covering a yearly average of 1.69 million acres.
- The average acre coverage increased to approximately 3.35 million acres per year for the next 17 years through 2018.
- In 2020, the wildfire season in Western US was devastating, with more than 8.8 million acres of land destroyed—larger than the state of Maryland.
A study found that wildland fires across the western U.S. between 1979 and 2020 were likely due to human activity, which has correlations to global warming.
How to Reduce the Likelihood of California Wildfires
While wildfires in California are expected to increase in the coming years, local governments, businesses, and residents can help reduce their frequency and severity.
Here are some ways to reduce the destructive nature of California wildfires:
Reduce residential developments near fire-prone forests.
When housing developments are located too close to high-risk forest regions, they become more exposed to the hazards associated with wildfires. By reducing development in these areas, we can lessen the fire risk of spreading into populated areas.
Reducing new construction near fire-prone forests will also create a buffer zone where natural vegetation can be conserved and maintained—providing fuel breaks that can help minimize the spread of fires.
It could also limit human access to these areas, reducing illegal fires and improving overall fire management practices.
Increase space between structures and nearby trees.
Creating a “defensible space” of 30 feet or more around homes and other structures reduces the chances that a wildfire will spread to nearby buildings.
Here’s a guide from National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) providing tips and other resources for preparing homes for wildfire. Using the concept of a home-ignition zone, NFPA recommends the following:
- Create an ignition-resistant zone around your home.
- Remove dead vegetation.
- Keep your roof and gutters clear.
- Store combustible materials safely away from buildings.
For more tips, download the factsheet here.
CAL FIRE also recommends maintaining defensible space:
- Removing dead branches and needles from roofs and gutters
- Removing any flammable vegetation (such as dead plants, leaves, twigs, and branches) near structures
- Keeping grass short and regularly mowed
- Keeping trees trimmed back from roofs, decks and porches
- Pruning any low-hanging branches on trees
- Using fire-resistant landscaping materials (like gravel or stone)
- Storing combustible materials away from buildings
- Planting fire-resistant shrubs or plants farther away from buildings and decks to minimize potential fuel sources that could feed a fire once it has started
- Moving any combustible materials (including woodpiles or gas cans) away for extra safety measures in case of a wildfire occurring nearby.
Incorporate fire-resistant materials in buildings.
Fire-resistant materials are designed to be more heat resistant, non-combustible, and less likely to cause fires.
Fire-resistant building materials include:
- Metal siding and roofing
- Stucco and cement board siding
- Tempered glass windows
- Asphalt shingles with fire retardant coatings
- Aluminum shutters for windows and doors
- Spray-on fireproofing for surfaces such as exposed wood or drywall
- Specialized fireproof seals for doors and windows
- Metal frames are also often wind-resistant, weather-resistant, and capable of withstanding temperatures up to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit
The University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR) recommends that property owners use Class A-rated fire-retardant roofing products. These should be tested under simulated extreme burning conditions, such as those produced by wildfires, to gain maximum protection against structural damage caused by intense heat.
Strict adherence to local building codes and fire prevention regulations will also help minimize the chances of a structure being damaged by wildfire.
Local governments could increase the requirements for builders who plan to construct in areas with high wildfire risk. These measures will ensure that buildings are built using materials and practices that make them more resistant to fire damage.
Visual inspections should also be performed annually to check for possible ignition sources near structures.
Remove potential fuels (e.g. dead trees) from forests.
Removing small amounts of vegetation near structures can create a buffer zone that helps slow or stop the spread of wildfire.
Proactive forest management involves getting rid of dead trees, overgrown bushes, and other flammable materials. This decreases the chance of a fire starting and reduces the fuel sources that cause it to spread quickly.
It’s also essential to manage vegetation through thinning and prescribed burns to help reduce the risk of large wildfires.
Strategic thinning creates fuel breaks to help slow or stop a wildfire’s progression before reaching homes and other vulnerable structures. Thinning involves removing smaller trees, shrubs, and other vegetation. If a fire does spark, there’s less fuel for it to consume, slowing down its spread rate.
Prescribed burns reduce fuel loads by burning off surface-level material such as dead leaves or twigs. These techniques help reduce the likelihood of California wildfires by decreasing the amount of combustible material in an area.
Organize a recovery plan in advance.
A recovery plan should carefully consider vegetation management, building codes, fuel management, and community education.
Organizing a recovery plan proactively involves the following:
- Assessing the risks associated with different areas and determining each area’s most effective fire suppression tactics.
- Creating regional plans that consider the particular needs of each county and its inhabitants
- Understanding local fuels, weather patterns, and topography
- Strategies for restoring habitats and ecosystems
- Policies for maintaining or restoring fire-adapted landscapes
- Guidelines for providing economic relief to impacted communities
It’s crucial to involve community members in the planning process so that they can provide input on how best to address issues such as air quality following a wildfire.
If you’ve been affected by a California wildfire, you may be entitled to compensation.
Our team of veteran wildfire lawyers understands the unique challenges of filing a wildfire lawsuit and has the experience necessary to navigate the legal system on your behalf. We will work diligently to fight for the justice you deserve while providing compassionate support every step of the way.
The experienced attorneys at Frantz Law Group are here to help you through the litigation process, ensuring that your rights are protected and that you receive the compensation you deserve.
Reach out to us today for a free consultation to discuss how we can help take your case forward and secure a maximum financial recovery for your suffering.
Don’t let insurance companies or other entities take advantage of you—trust our experienced attorneys to handle all aspects of your case with confidence and expertise.