A mountain brush fires are nothing new in winter. In December 2, 1958 a fire in Malibu Beach USA, destroyed thirty six homes and was pronounced as bad as a previous winter fire two years earlier. The 1956 fire, whipped up by high winds and with low humidity, destroyed thirty homes. But there’s another reason for the rise in large fires that is all too often ignored Over the last century, we’ve been encouraging the vast majority of wildfires by letting forests build up thickly with plant growth.
The same thing is occurring in Australia despite the findings of at least three bush fire Royal Commissions that have recommended their removal. We call it hazard reduction in Australia but unfortunately the Green’s policies have made hazard reduction activities more difficult.
So, when a large fire does escape our control, it has more fuel to burn — and can become far, far more destructive. One obvious way to prevent these hugely destructive megafires would be to reduce the amount of accumulated fuel in dry forests. In some places, that would involve “mechanical thinning”: going in and selectively logging or clearing out undergrowth. That’s not always as simple as it sounds, since in some forests there are legal constraints around this, in other there are practical hurdles, and in some places it’s just plain expensive. Still, it’s a key part of fire prevention. These fires in the winters of 1950’s winters were not rare and had no association with global warming because it was not “discovered” until 1987.
Globally, bushfires burn less land than it used to. Since 1900, global burnt area has reduced by more than one-third because of agriculture, fire suppression and forest management. In the satellite era, NASA and other groups document significant decreases. Surprisingly, this decrease is even true for Australia. Satellites show that from 1997 to 2018 the burnt area declined by one-third. Australia’s current fire season has seen less area burned than in previous years. Up to January 26, bushfires burned 19.4 million hectares in Australia — about half the average burn over the similar time frame of 37 million hectares in the satellite record. (Actually the satellites show 46 million hectares burnt, but 9 million hectares are likely from prescribed burns.