2 found dead in area burned by Colo. wildfire – CBS News. It is fire season out West and the pretty landscape that is so attractive there become deadly. Suburbs were invented in cool climate areas like the Northeast US. Immediately, due to the invention of cars, this spread in the far West. This meant people could build in foothills and up mountains there even though the environment is totally different from New York or Massachusetts. This year, fires are raging in these far suburbs built where fires happen frequently due to the ecology of these suburbs before houses were built.
Here is a screenshot of the fires from a CBS news helicopter. This is all piney flatlands with a sandy soil base. Identical flat, sandy piney lands exist in the NE, too, nearly always right next to the ocean and thus, prone to flooding during hurricanes. These, too, can have fires but far less often than in the West. Pine trees in the West need fires. Lightning usually starts most of these fires.
The evolution of these sorts of lodge pole pines is in tandem with the fires. Indeed, they need fires to thrive. Ponderosa Pine Fire Ecology on the Colorado Plateau:
The ponderosa pine forests of the Colorado Plateau have evolved over thousands of years. Over this time the tree has developed several adaptations which help it survive in its dry, often warm habitat. A once common occurrence in these forests which has shaped the pine’s particular ecological adaptations is wildfire. Recent studies indicate that the ponderosa pine forests on the southern plateau near Flagstaff, Arizona and along the Mogollon Rim were subjected to low-intensity ground fires perhaps every 2-12 years over historical time. However, beginning in the early 1900s this pattern of fire drastically changed. A fire suppression policy implemented by the United States Forest Service and other land management agencies at this time greatly decreased the occurrence of fire in these forests. The absence of reoccurring fire, coupled with widespread logging and grazing of forest lands, has led to unforeseen changes in forest composition, structure and ecology.
Today’s forest is often characterized by dense “dog-hair” thickets of young pines with a thick accumulation of litter on the forest floor. Previously, many pine forests of the region were open stands of large, old ponderosa pine underlain by an understory of native grasses. Small fires maintained this open structure by killing seedlings and encouraging growth of grasses. Some ecologists recognized this change in the nature of these pine forests as a possible problem as early as the 1930s, but changes in forest management did not occur until the 1970s. Fires in many of today’s ponderosa pine forests are no longer low-intensity ground fires but rather catastrophic, stand-replacing crown fires.
Seeing how this works and how houses set in the midst of these fire-prone forests are a double hazard is easy to prove. Below is a picture of a house exploding with flames while there is virtually no fire in any of the surrounding trees:
Houses are built in these combustible areas of cheap materials that are not fireproof. Inside is more flammable stuff including often gas tanks outside the homes. These houses then set fire to all the surrounding trees doubling the devastation. There are many ways of building houses so they don’t combust this way but it costs money and the last thing developers want to do is spend even one penny on safety features like fire sprinkler systems. Out West, building codes make it very easy for builders to build very hazardous housing.
Here is another screen shot showing the flames moving in the grass while the trees don’t burn. Most of the trees in these forests that were under human fire control have a lot of litter on the floor to burn and the trees are much smaller and closer spaced than they would be if there were frequent fires. Below is a satellite image showing some roads carved into the wilderness by developers during the recent housing bubble. No houses were built, by the way.
Here is the entrance to the doomed housing development.
Until people really understand nature, we will see these sorts of expensive disasters over and over again and as aggressive development in ocean flood zones and fire-prone dry forests escalates, we will see huge costs in rescuing people from Mother Nature’s red in tooth and claw rule. Never, in the history of this active planet, has the ocean shoreline been stable, it constantly shifts due to climate, temperature, movement of sand from currents, etc. And the mood of people is to move to hotter, drier places. So if they do this, they must expect frequent droughts, sudden floods and fires. This is how the ecology of hot, fairly dry systems work.
Asking for it to not do what it always must do is insane. We may as well demand the tide flow back when high tide comes pouring in. This couples into global warming. People who are most upset about this have moved to hot, dry places and now want this to be a tad cooler and wetter even if this means people in the northern tier freeze to death. The refusal to build and live within the restrictions of a dynamic, ever-changing environment is the problem here. Our ancestors fixed this by being nomads, by the way, living in tents and caves.
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