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article imageCalifornia wildfire season is mirroring 2017 and that's not good

By Karen Graham     Jul 13, 2018 in Environment
Sacramento - The most important issue facing California lawmakers today is wildfires. And as the issue rises over Sacramento like the smoke from last year's blazes, the state is now forced to look at the possibility 2018 will be a repeat of last year.
Wildfires have charred more acres in the first six months of this year in California than they did in the same period in 2017, and last year was a year that sets records for the number of deaths attributed to the fires as well as the number of structures destroyed.
This year has started out with a bang, and at one point, just a few weeks ago, wildfires burned in the state from the Oregon border clear down to San Diego. For all the state's breathtaking beauty, today, it is covered in dried-out brush and the skeletal branches of 129 million trees killed by a bark-beetle infestation.
Interspersed between the dead trees, dried out brush and grass are hundreds of miles of electric transmission lines, crisscrossing the scene of the environmental disaster.
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U.S. Drought Monitor
Drought conditions now exist
What's known as California's "water year" begins in September 26. A water year (also called the hydrological year, discharge year or flow year) is a term commonly used in hydrology to describe a time period of 12 months for which precipitation totals are measured.
Right now, over 85 percent of California’s natural landscape is abnormally dry, up from 22 percent at the start of the water year in September 2017. Drought conditions now cover 44 percent of the state, and this is really not good for Californians still recovering from the worst fire season ever recorded.
“It’s mirroring last year,” Scott McLean, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said in a telephone interview. “Grass and brush are just tinder, they are like a fuse for these wildfires.”
This year is the worst on record for wildfire devastation in California  and the state's govern...
This year is the worst on record for wildfire devastation in California, and the state's governor says the blazes should serve as a warning for other parts of the world threatened by climate change
FREDERIC J. BROWN, AFP/File
Cal Fire data shows fires consumed 12,000 more acres through July 8 than in the same period last year. However, the actual total was 141,000 acres beyond that because some fires still haven’t been tallied in the state’s database, McLean said.
McLean explains: The 2017 rains that ended the five-year drought brought the state to life, and vegetation took off everywhere. But that vegetation eventually became tinder for wildfires. "Forty-six people died, 1.3 million acres were seared and billions of dollars in homes and businesses were consumed. California spent $759 million fighting wildfires in the year ended June 30," McLean said.
Wildfires have lit a political firestorm
Placing the blame for wildfires is always a good news story, However, it has been documented that humans were responsible for about 84 percent of all U.S. wildfires in the last two decades up through 2012, tripling the length of the fire seasons, according to a 2017 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Jennifer Balch, the director of the Earth Lab at the University of Colorado o in Boulder.
More than 85 000 square miles of forest in the western United States have been destroyed by pine bar...
More than 85,000 square miles of forest in the western United States have been destroyed by pine bark beetles. That's an area bigger than the size of the state of Utah. This is a forest in California in 2017.
U.S. Forest Service
Janice Coen, project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, agrees that human-caused wildfires are one reason the fire season has expanded. “Humans are moving into areas that are ignitable,” Coen said. Blazes now occur “due to humans spreading into those places igniting fires that wouldn’t necessarily be created by storms.”
Here's a good example of a human-caused wildfire. Reuters is reporting that the mammoth ‘County Fire," that has burned 140 square miles and destroyed at least 20 structures in two Northern California counties was ignited by an improperly installed electric livestock fence, Cal Fire said on Wednesday.
The fire started on the afternoon of June 30 in Yolo County, in a largely unpopulated area of Northern California between Sacramento and San Francisco. It is the second-largest wildland blaze burning in the West, although Cal Fire said it was 86 percent contained on Wednesday. The responsible party has been cited, said Cal Fire.
However, last year's record-setting wildfires put the state's electrical utilities in the hot seat. PG&E Corp. and Edison International’s Southern California Edison are now facing potentially massive liabilities if their equipment ignited the wildfires. Investigators have linked PG&E equipment to a swarm of 16 wildfires that swept through California's wine country last year, causing about $10 billion in insured losses. Additionally, 44 people lost their lives in the wildfires.
Klamathon Fire off Klamathon Road and Copco Road  south of Hornbrook (Siskiyou County).
Klamathon Fire off Klamathon Road and Copco Road, south of Hornbrook (Siskiyou County).
Cal Fire
And California's utilities are actively taking steps to prevent another disaster. From clearing brush under power lines to clearing trees and branches - utilities have initiated a system where electricity is cut off in areas where extreme fire conditions are occurring.
“We are looking at fire season as a year-round event now,” said Phil Herrington, senior vice president of transmission and distribution at Southern California Edison. “The new normal is how we refer to it.”
And then there is the battle brewing in the state capital. Who will pay the massive bill for these fires? Obviously, you can't expect the utility companies to foot the bill, and the state certainly doesn't want to be totally responsible for the billions of dollars that are adding up quickly, by the way.
So what about the insurance companies? Insurance companies have a hard row to hoe today. From flood insurance to fire insurance, it can be very expensive to protect one's property. And global warming and anthropogenic climate change have put us in the middle of a new era - one where scientific expectations of hotter, drier conditions, and more frequent and extreme weather events leave us open to disasters we have not experienced before.
More about California, Wildfires, Drought, Cost, Utilities