Central Valley Forest Fires

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Central Valley Forest Fires

The cities of California’s Great Central Valley Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and Bakersfield, which are together called the heart of Ca1ifornia, have repeatedly entered American popular culture and folklore. The cities have their own fire departments and in times of need firefighters and equipment might be taken on supplementary purpose. There have been quite a few incidents of forest fire in these cities and there always is a debate on how crisis management could improve and minimize the impact of these incidents on the environment and human health.

This paper explores threats posed by the forest fires in California and its surrounded lower central valley between Bakersfield and Modesto. The paper first describes the nature and impact of forest fires and then follows to damaged forest fires and what it does to the environment. Finally a global and national environmental picture is presented relating to the subject.

A forest fire is a powerful force of nature. It can kill people, animals, and trees. It can destroy homes and buildings. But it also is part of a forest’s natural life cycle. Forest fires clean out forest lands by burning dead leaves, plants, and trees (Simon 34-40). The dead and dried timber is undoubtedly one of the reasons why wildfires in the United States have been so devastating in recent years. According to the National Climatic Data Center, dryer than average conditions over most of the country have contributed to burns in excess of 9.5 million acres in 2006 and over 8.5 million in 2005 (Wagtendonk 3-17). These figures broke the old record of 7.4 million acres in 2000, and almost doubled that of the 4.5 million acres burned in 1960. The extended drought, forest die-offs from insect Infestation and human encroachment have all contributed to the increase in wildfires.

But the primary cause of forest fires can be attributed to climate change. It has been the shift in ocean currents and weather patterns that has brought about the extended drought conditions. Added to this are the warmer conditions and heat waves triggered by the increase in global temperature. This has led to a drying of the foliage and a prolific increase in insect infestation. As we have seen, these parasitic tree killing insects such as the Bark Beetle and Pine Beetle have moved to higher altitudes and more northerly climates due to warmer temperatures (ReVelle & ReVelle 321-366). All these conditions have placed great stress on the forests of North America, making them ripe for forests fires.

Battling wildfires is a challenging task because wild-land firefighters have to contain the rambling fires while they withstand intense heat, poor vision and dangers of the wilds. Thousands of full-time firefighters and volunteers, planes, helicopters and fleet of engines are employed by firefighting agencies along with different technologies such as shovels and infrared imaging, to control wildfires. There are specially trained firefighters such as smokejumpers, who are employed by firefighting agencies to extinguish fires by parachuting in unreachable areas during the early stages of fire. “Helitack” crews are also hired by firefighting agencies to attack fires when landing is not an option. Thus the Helitack crew lowers firefighting equipment in such areas and then firefighters are able to reach the surface. Sometimes, water or retardant which can be up to 3,000 gallons is dropped by airplanes and infrared aircraft at a time, in a long string for creating a line. The pilot is allowed to see where he can land with the help of a pink dye. Sometimes, shovels and other tools are also used by firefighters to build firelines which refer to a 3-5 feet path created by firefighters by clearing away leaves and branches.

Wildfires can spread to several acres of land. How bad a fire can be is determined by topography, weather and fuel supply. When a fire breaks...
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