California Fire Science Seminar Series
Presenter: Steven Hawks, Staff Chief, Wildfire Planning and Engineering Division, CAL FIRE
Wildfire has long been a part of California’s history. However, the severity of current wildfire conditions developed as a result of the combination of fire exclusion, forest management practices and policies that led to overgrown and overcrowded forests, a rapidly changing climate, and a historic drought with the accompanying bark beetle epidemics. California experienced the most destructive wildfire seasons in state history in 2017 and 2018, enduring over 7,600 wildfires that burned 1,846,445 acres in 2018 alone. The 2018 Camp Fire was both the deadliest fire in state history, claiming the lives of 85 people, as well as the most destructive, destroying 18,804 structures and devastating the Town of Paradise. Eleven of the top twenty most destructive fires in state history have occurred in just the past five years. The reality of climate change – persistent drought, warmer temperatures, and more severe dry wind events – has created conditions that will lead to more frequent and destructive wildfires. CAL FIRE’s Damage Inspection program has been modernized to document all damaged/destroyed structures in the State Responsibility Area in an electronic database. When combined with other data sets, we can begin to analyze the effectiveness of fire safe development, defensible space, and Wildland-Urban Interface building standards.