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Preventing Forest Fires in California with Forestry Changes

Forest fires are remaining a significant issue in the California environment. From the beginning of the 21st century, California has been experiencing an increase in forest fires, destroying citizen’s lives and property. Thus, it should be the government’s primary concern, especially during climate change, increasing temperature, and weather conditions. However, the causes of fires differ throughout the California region: they can be created by high fuel loads (fuel-dominated) and by wind events (wind-dominated). Moreover, these two kinds of fires are different in terms of necessary management responses: fuel-driven fires need fuel treatments, while wind-driven fires need vegetation treatments. As for the fires caused by droughts (that were in California in the 2012-2016 years), the government can prevent them with the help of an abundance of small trees and shade-tolerant species. I am sure that these measures concerning forestry change can prevent fires caused by fuels, winds, and droughts in California in the future or, at least, minimize the harmful consequences.

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Fuel-driven fires caused by lightning can produce tornado-like winds, which humans can prevent within the usage of fuel treatment. To begin with, fuel-dominated fires are usually caused by lightning in June and July and occur often in forests of central and northern California. For instance, the 2012 Rush Fire in the steppe in northeastern California and the 2015 Rough Rife in the belt of the Sierra Nevada Range were both caused by lightning (Keeley & Syphard, 2019, p. 2). According to Keeley and Syphard (2019), fuel-driven fires sometimes generate tornado-like winds. Scholars argue that “these winds represent bottom-up controls as they ultimately were the result of anomalously heavy fuel loads. It is important to recognize this origin because we potentially can alter the occurrence of these winds through fuel treatments” (Keeley & Syphard, 2019, p. 3). Fuel treatments include thinning and prescribed burning. This treatment aims at reducing surface fuels and increasing the distance between crowns, making it hard for fire to spread throughout the forest. Thus, it is possible for a human to stop the consequences of started fuel-driven fire and prevent tornado-like winds through the surface fuel treatments.

Although foehn winds drive wind-dominated forest fires, it is usually people and forest infrastructure that are responsible for fires in the western part of California. For instance, Camp Fire in 2018 was a major disaster that was caused partly by extreme synoptic winds and took away 88 people and 18 000 homes (Keeley & Syphard, 2019, p. 7). Keeley and Syphard (2019) believe that “vegetation treatments such as burning and mastication in chaparral may enhance more rapid control of fires under moderate summer weather conditions for which winds are not an issue” (p. 6). In other words, vegetation management includes treatments aiming at reducing competition between the desired trees and plants and suppressing undesirable species. However, it should be mentioned that vegetation treatment can be effective only in small areas (Keeley & Syphard, 2019). Therefore, the burning and mastication of some plants, including chaparral, are possible solutions that can prevent wind-dominated forest fires.

Surface fuel and vegetation treatments are not the only possible forestry changes that can be imposed to prevent forest fires. Sometimes droughts may cause fire, such as were many in California during the 2012-2016 years; thus, it is better to apply pre-drought measures before the disaster occurred (Young et al., 2020). Such measures as an abundance of small trees and shade-tolerant conifer species can effectively prevent fires caused by drought (Young et al., 2020). According to Young et al. (2020), in California’s Sierra Nevada, “a century of fire suppression has resulted in forest densification as well as increased dominance of shade-tolerant and fire-intolerant tree species that recruit in the understory in the absence of disturbance” (p. 2). High forest density may also cause an increase in mortality rate during droughts. Therefore, an abundance of small trees and shade-tolerant conifer species are considered a possible measure to lower the disastrous consequences of droughts and tree mortality, and forest fires.

In conclusion, it is necessary to state that California can experience disastrous forest fires in times of climate change caused by different issues, such as fuels, winds, and droughts. Therefore, specific measures concerning forestry change should be taken at the governmental level. In order to prevent forest fires in California, management responses should be chosen according to the type of occurred fire and the causes which led to it. For instance, to prevent fuel-driven forest fire, it is necessary to apply fuel treatments, such as thinning, prescribed burning, and others, aiming at increasing the distance between crowns of trees and decreasing surface fuels. Moreover, to stop wind-dominated fires, vegetation treatments that reduce competition between the desired trees and suppress unwanted plants should be taken over small land areas. Finally, to save forests from droughts and fires that they cause, pre-drought measures need to be applied before the disaster occurs. All the listed changes should take place in California’s forests to protect natural sources, animals, plants, and human lives.


Keeley, J. E., & Syphard, A. D. (2019). Twenty-first century California, USA, wildfires: Fuel-dominated vs. wind-dominated fires. Fire Ecology, 15(1), 1-15.

Young, D. J., Meyer, M., Estes, B., Gross, S., Wuenschel, A., Restaino, C., & Safford, H. D. (2020). Forest recovery following extreme drought in California, USA: natural patterns and effects of pre‐drought management. Ecological Applications, 30(1), 1-18.

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