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A Trailblazing Plan to Fight California Wildfires (newyorker.com)
61 points by prostoalex 53 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments



This part was especially depressing:

> The California Air Resources Board restricts prescribed burns to days when pollution is at acceptable levels and the weather likely to disperse emissions from fire. In practice, this means that burning can occur only during a few weeks in the spring. In summer and autumn—the seasons when forests would burn naturally—the state’s air usually falls foul of the Clean Air Act. These are also the months that are most prone to uncontrollable wildfires, whose smoke is far more damaging to human health than that from prescribed fire. But, perversely, because wildfires are classified as natural catastrophes, their emissions are not counted against legal quotas.


It's not clear to me that 'the months that are most prone to uncontrollable wildfires' are the same as the times we should be doing prescribed burns. Those are typically meant to remove the weak/dead trees and brush rather than clear entire mountainsides of vegetation as might happen in the dry summer and fall.

I'm open to burning at the right time, and that might be when smog is high, but I suspect that's not the only/best time for effective prescribed fires.


That they are still taking about the same prevention techniques for decades is depressing. You would think a state home to some of the worlds best and brightest engineers could come up with a better solution to this than the same old tired argument of forest fire prevention and prescribed burns.


I volunteer in the Danish national emergency service. A year ago we and Multiple other countries went to Sweden to help out with massive forest fires. I'm talking speeding for an hour in varying levels of smoke and not be half way through our area. I've never experienced fires like that, mainly since we dont have forests like that, but it became pretty clear to me how much the low vegetation meant for the life of the fire. The fire could be burning slowly through the ground vegetation and everybody would pretty much ignore it. But if it hit bigger bushes and spread to the treetops all hell broke loose. Others trucks were written off as a loss and personnel airlifted away on that account. As for a newer approach they stragedly cut down parts of the forest, both for wood production and to vary the age of the forest. This seemed to have great effect when trying to contain the fire.


Why is forest fire prevention and prescribed burns an old tired argument? It's true that this approach is not new, but it's most likely the best that can be done. Dealing with the wildfires is not purely science and engineering. A huge part of it involves thorny political problems.


But all those engineers are busy building the high speed rail system that may one day connect Merced to Bakersfield. We make choices in a democracy.


Read on, it seems that's being fixed.


It kind of beggars belief that the law intended that. The question is, how to change it?


There’s a strong argument to be made that overall health impacts will be lower if wildfires are reduced through prescribed burns rather than waiting for catastrophic ‘natural’ fires. I think this argument could be used. We can either plan ahead when to have some wildfire smoke and put resources in place to deal with it. Or we can try to react to large blazes.


CEQA doesnt work that way as I understand. We need to repeal it.


This is like saying: Safari doesn’t support AV1 as I understand. We need to delete it.

Isn’t the obvious thing here to make a patch so it supports the thing we want?


CEQA fundamentally has a status quo bias because of how you do the analysis. Avoided damage from what would happen anyway is not considered.


Fast effective reaction to mega blazes will be key. That they are pretty much talking about the same thing they have been for decades is depressing.


It’s surprising and a little disappointing when articles like this don’t include photos. It was a really interesting read, but I had a hard time visualizing the “healthy” forest that the writer described at the end.

Meanwhile it is interesting how many of the problems we face are principally cultural in nature. Just as the “dense, dark European forest” isn’t actually healthy in California, there are a great many other aspects of contemporary life in the US, especially in the Southwest, that are not healthy, but are cling to by most people as part of their cultural narrative. Monoculture grass lawns and parking lots at every destination come to mind, but there are many, many examples.

I wonder if and when we’ll ever learn effective ways to bring about culture change when called for. It seems like being able to and interested in moving in small increments would be key, but often times the scale of change that the scientists / visionaries / leaders are calling for don’t translate into incremental change in obvious ways. Further, the people leading the charge generally want to see sweeping paradigm shift, and often oppose incremental change as “half-measures.”

These are tough problems to solve, but I’m optimistic that some of the lessons that have become widely known in software world (agile, etc) will be able to productively translate into the broader society.


I'm sitting in Paradise, CA right now with only one neighbor's home left visible among dozens. There are about 1/3 as many tall trees (mostly pines 30m/100 ft tall) as before since the loggers have monetized them, P&GE didn't want to take any risks when rebuilding the power grid and the city/county/state motivation for future fire remediation. (IMO, the haphazard removal of trees is quite ugly and unnatural.) The policy of putting out all fires quickly set the stage for tragedy, leading to what was feared most. Living at the urban-wildlife interface needs resilient, prepared dwellers who safeguard their structures and allow fires to burn around without threatening lives or property.


Pairs well with today's discussion of multi-stakeholder coordination on a US military airplane: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20792427

fjabre 53 days ago [flagged]

What is trailblazing about this? A state home to best and brightest engineers on the planet and they can't figure out how to put out a fire. But they can make self driving cars, rockets to mars, uber scooters, and delivery drones.

The answer to this isn't the forest service or the state government. The answer to this is in the private sector.

Instead of making the next facebook how about saving the state from fires that could wipe out its offices?

Is this really the best California can come up with? Does anyone know of any ventures in this space that are up to the challenge?

There is nothing trailblazing about the plan in this article. It's more of an iteration on the same failed policies of the past that got us here in the first place. The forest service is ill suited for this challenge.


What in the world are you talking about?

You can't throw 10 Elon Musks at a megafire and expect it to put the fire out. The thermodynamics of putting out a huge fire don't make sense. The logistics of preventing any such fire from starting are impossible.

There is nothing trailblazing about the plan in this article. It's more of an iteration on the same failed policies of the past that got us here in the first place. The forest service is ill suited for this challenge.

The article is very clear on how we got to this point, and on how this plan is different.


My comment was clear. I am talking about throwing 10 Elon Musks at the problem. Heck let's throw 50 Elons at it.

The article spends more time describing the Californian landscape and history of fire fighting than what it proposes as a solution. Good luck keeping up with the super blooms. California is a large state with lots of unreachable areas. Where and when these things start is clearly unpredictable.

Mediocrity at its finest.


I am talking about throwing 10 Elon Musks at the problem. Heck let's throw 50 Elons at it.

We're trying to prevent the huge wildfires, not give some narcissistic idiots platforms for personal aggrandizement while they burn the entire state to the ground.

Prescribed burns work. The problem is that the season is too narrow and the area required too big for existing resources to handle. Private enterprise won't solve that. It will just make everything more expensive and result in less fire prevention activity.


Prescribed burns work. Agreed. It's a partial solution we already know about.

Would love to hear some new ideas in 2019 however, but maybe that's asking too much.


> I am talking about throwing 10 Elon Musks at the problem. Heck let's throw 50 Elons at it.

Sure. We just need to find 50 Elon Musks's, and then convince them all to work for the state. Let me know when you have them all lined up ready to go.


Dunno if appointing geniuses will work.

It seems to me that part of the problem is that the different parties involved have different needs and resources.

. Homeowners would like to not have their homes burn. They are on 30 yearish investment horizons but buy insurance a year at a time. They are a minority of homeowners in the state.

. Insurance companies want to make a profit but have little to do with forest management. Their only knob is your bill or a cancellation. They are in the position of a health insurance companies who can cancel a sick person's insurance at any time.

. The state .gov is only loosely related to the people, these are not elected officials running the show after all. The urban areas are in charge in any case, just keep the water flowing and the occasional state park for weekends.

. No doubt it's an interesting challenge to the feds, but the occasional town burning down is just a statistic.

. PG&E is not in the fire suppression business whenever possible, keeps costs down, went bankrupt anyway.

It's all at cross purposes.




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