Posts Tagged: Max Moritz
UC Cooperative Extension specialist Max Moritz has noticed that reporters are displaying a keen interest in the role played by global warming in what has so far been an unusually fierce 2012 fire season.
"For me, that marks a significant shift," wrote Moritz in a op-ed published in Nature yesterday. "This fresh curiosity about the link between fire and climate change is an important opportunity, of sorts."
Moritz, a wildfire expert in the UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, is the author of a journal article published this summer in Ecosphere that linked climate change to global fire activity. The article is cited on a press release from U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee Democrats that calls for a hearing about reducing wildfire risk.
In the Moritz op-ed, he notes that a second common question from the press about the 2012 fire season is: “If these fires are related to climate change, what can we do about it?”
The inquiry, he said, reveals a growing anxiety over how humanity can adapt to the fire-related impacts of climate change, rather than how to mitigate climate change itself.
"To co-exist with fire will require extending our approach to living with environmental risks," Moritz wrote. "Mapping other natural hazards, such as flood and earthquake zones, has taught us to avoid building on the most dangerous parts of the landscape or to engineer solutions into the built environment when we do. Encouraging the 'right kind of fire' — with frequencies, sizes and intensities appropriate to the ecosystem in question — will be necessary, where possible, so that 'record-breaking' fires are less likely to occur during 'record-breaking' heat or drought."
For some people, climate change will become a fact only when its effects hit close to home.
A paper that examined climate change's likely effects on global fire patterns predicts the West will see more wildfire, said an article by Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times.
The lead author of the paper, published Tuesday in the journal Ecosphere, was Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. Moritz, a wildfire expert, and his colleagues concluded that by the end of the century, much of the world will experience more wildfire than it does now.
Rising temperatures lengthen the fire season and dry out vegetation, making it more flammable. More rain could increase plant growth, producing more fuel to burn. In other areas, climate change may reduce fire. More rain in the tropics could decrease fire; less rain in other areas may reduce fuel levels and stunt plant growth, cutting the fire potential.
“Fire is not going anywhere,” Moritz said. The study results, he said, emphasize the need “to rethink how we live with fire and take it more seriously.”
Climate change likely means more fire for the West.
Clearing vegetation close to houses is the best way to reduce impacts of severe wildfires, according to a team of scientists from Australia and the U.S., said an article published in Science Codex. The researchers examined house loss after a series of fires raged across the Australian state of Victoria in February 2009, killing 173 and injuring 414.
However, fuel reduction close to houses is only a partial solution. Other measures - such as early evacuation, safer places and architectural solutions - should also be considered by residents in fire-prone areas.
"These are findings that are probably important internationally," said Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, a co-author of the research.
Stripping plants from swaths of land to create fire breaks may not be the best way to prevent wildfire damage, according to an op-ed article published in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday. Writer Ben Preston said the long-practiced fire management strategy opens space for invasive weed invasion, which could burn even hotter.
Research by fire scientists at universities all over the Western United States has found that, despite extensive efforts to prevent large fires with prescribed burns and brush removal, fires continue to be a regular occurrence. And modifying the landscape, research indicates, has unintended impacts.
UC Berkeley wildfire researcher Max Moritz told the writer that in Nothern California, scotch broom, pampas grass and other more flammable nonnatives tend to move into cleared areas where some variety of chaparral once stood.
Preston suggests the best fire management alternatives are:
- Creating defensible space around homes and other buildings. UC Cooperative Extension has a publication, Home Landscaping for Fire, with guidelines for creating defensible space that doesn't suggest eliminating all plants on the land.
- Investing in roof sprinklers and fire-retardant gels.
- Organizing citizen emergency response teams to deal with spot fires.
For more information, see UC's two-page publication Invasive Plants and Wildfires in Southern California.
Wildfire threatening a California subdivision.
It may seem like a wildfire would be easy to detect, but vast, rugged wilderness can permit a small blaze to develop into a firestorm before firefighters are deployed.
Reeling from the enormous losses sustained by last year's devastating Station Fire in Los Angeles County -- which took two firefighters' lives, destroyed dozens of structures and cost more than $95 million to fight -- Supervisor Mike Antonovich is asking the county to allocate money to study a high-tech early detection system.
"The Station fire graphically spotlights the need to study and identify solutions for establishing an automated early detection system," Antonovich said in his motion to allocate the funding, according to the Los Angeles Times. "The goal of a technology-based system would be to . . . have a programmed airborne response within minutes to suppress the fire before it spreads."Times reporter Tony Barboza spoke to UC Berkeley fire scientist Max Moritz, who threw water on the idea.
"Does the technology even exist to do this kind of thing?" the story quoted Moritz, who is also co-director of UC Berkeley's Center for Fire Research and Outreach. "I think that's an open question."
Moritz said officials are already able to detect wildfire early under mild conditions.
"But under the conditions we're most worried about -- Santa Ana winds, for instance -- it's not clear that we'd be able to get airborne resources deployed within minutes," Moritz was quoted.
UC Berkeley and UC Cooperative Extension maintain a wide variety of programs aimed at understanding California wildfire and how losses from wildfire can be minimized. Articles, links, and video are available in the online wildfire media kit.