WILDFIRE 101: History & New Trends

Have you been wondering why California – and the American West – has been experiencing noticeably more and larger wildfires in your own lifetime?

The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation (TTCF) recently hosted a Forest Futures Salon titled “Wildfire 101.”  It featured Dr. Brandon Collins of UC Berkeley expounding on the factors that have led to a growing number of hotter, larger, more frequent and more devastating fires in California.

Since fires and their attendant smoke affect so many Californians and Americans these days, we thought you’d like to know what he had to say!  Here’s a summary of the basics of “Wildfire 101.”

Two main types of factors are contributing to greater fire potential and higher fire severity:


Logging – clear cutting removed large diameter trees (many sugar pine) and led to more dense, even-aged forests of smaller diameter trees of more flammable species (fir, lodgepole and Jeffrey pine)

Fire Suppression & Exclusion – eliminating low severity 5-10 year indigenous burning practices and suppressing fire in formerly fire-maintained forest ecosystems allowed forests to become overstocked, plus surface and ladder fuels built up

Livestock Grazing – non-native animals overbrowsed plants and trampled and compacted soils, making it more difficult for native plant and tree species to reestablish in the proper balance and numbers

Climate Change

Hotter and Drier Conditions – desiccate forest fuels, making ignition easier

Windier Conditions – dry out forest fuels, can cause ignition if power lines are blown down, exacerbate heat and rapidly spread fire

More “extreme” fire weather days

Another trend that Collins detailed is that previously burned areas are more likely to burn at a high severity if revisited by fire.  Burn scars are often taken over by shrubs that are susceptible to burning again at shorter intervals and hotter temperatures.  Unfortunately, this trend is a contributing factor to the phenomenon of “megafires” and these conditions make reestablishing trees – and critical wildlife habitat – more and more difficult.

The Important Takeaway Message

Because wildfires are increasingly threatening our forests, Collins accentuated that it is imperative to move quickly and at a greater scale to implement more mechanical thinning and prescribed burning to secure our forest resources.

You can watch the full recorded talk on YouTube (link below) at your convenience to learn more detailed information. 

A link to the follow-up salon on the 2021 fire season, specifically focusing on the Caldor Fire, is also included below.  This is the second discussion in the Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation’s Forest Futures Salon series on wildfire in our region. Listen to the experts discuss and recount the lessons learned from the Caldor Fire and local trends in wildfire preparedness and management.
We recommend tuning in to the TTCF’s Forest Futures Salons to learn more about forestry and wildfire trends and management in our region – they’re free and open to all!  Hope to see you there soon.

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