Another autumn, more fires, more refugees and incinerated homes. For California, flames have become the colors of fall.
Free-burning fire is the proximate provocation for the havoc, since its ember storms are engulfing landscapes. But in the hands of humans, combustion is also the deeper cause. Modern societies are burning lithic landscapes – once-living biomass now fossilized into coal, gas and oil – which is aggravating the burning of living landscapes.
The influence doesn’t come only through climate change, although that is clearly a factor. The transition to a fossil fuel civilization also affects how people in industrial societies live on the land and what kind of fire practices they adopt.
Even without climate change, a serious fire problem would exist. U.S. land agencies reformed policies to reinstate good fire 40 to 50 years ago, but outside a few locales, it has not been achievable at scale.
What were lithic landscapes have been exhumed and no longer only underlie living ones. In effect, once released, the lithic overlies the living and the two different kinds of burning interact in ways that sometimes compete and sometimes collude. Like the power lines that have sparked so many wildfires, the two fires are crossing, with lethal consequences. California’s Santa Ana and Diablo winds can drive explosive wildfire growth.
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