The last thing that most Californians want right now is more fire. But wildfire experts say intentionally starting small fires is the key to preventing devastating blazes in the future.
Wildfires leave a path of charred destruction, but they also serve to reduce the vegetation fuel load. One of the few silver linings of this devastating fire season is that areas burning now are not likely to have another massive fire for years, if not decades.
“I know that people have a lot of things going on right now, but they just need to start thinking about what is the next step and how can we maintain the fuel reduction that these fires provided,” said Dr. Kate Wilkin, a fire ecologist at San Jose State University.
Dr. Wilkin says wildfires are natural in California, but that does not mean that the state has to leave its fate entirely in Mother Nature’s hands.
“We don’t want to have fires that wake us up in the middle of the night, we want to say when and how a fire is going to occur. And by using prescribed fire we can take control and have agency of how that’s going to work in our environment.”
Prescribed burns allow firefighters to reduce levels of dry vegetation that can increase the intensity of wildfires.
Over 200 million acres have burned in California so far this year, a modern record. But Wilkin says that more land would burn on an annual basis in the state 500 years ago as part of the natural wildfire cycle.
CALFIRE and other government agencies are already rethinking their strategy for controlled burns, and there are now prescribed burn associations where landowners that team up to reduce the fuel load on their own properties.