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California Wildfire Data in Desperate Need of Better Synchronization

As the Bay Area hits the dog days of summer, multiple fires burn through California and smoke clogs the skies,  manifesting incredible but ominous sunsets. The natural phenomena is raging at larger and more powerful magnitudes in recent decades– a five fold increase since 1978. The efforts and resources required to combat fire and protect not only citizens but important infrastructure and all important natural life, be it flora or fauna, are growing. We owe it ourselves and our posterity to do a better job at understanding fire’s role in our land. 

The forests of California are a mix of both federal and state jurisdiction crossing lands where fire doesn’t adhere to the same lines. Both federal and state fire fighting organizations are called to combat the fires. We must be vigilant in understanding that reported data across that does not often come complete. But are we doing enough in California?

This is not intended to be a knock against the great peoples risking their lives at CalFire or the US Forest Service and all other groups helping in California. However, according to UCLA scientist Daniel Swain there is a disconnect of information flow between CalFire and US Forest Service. Around 22 August, CalFire’s estimation of just around 1million acres burned was widely propagated, but keener estimates were seen as larger than that, as high as 1.5million.

The trackers between CalFire and the US Forest Service, and even the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources show a hodgepodge of data. Given that Californians have braced for wildfires for years, it is unclear why the state has failed to solve a seemingly straightforward problem of information sharing among the agencies tasked with keeping track of the raging fires. I think what this recent bout with fire shows is how much better coordination we need between our service groups. It’s almost an exemplification of the covid-19 supply chain fiasco writ large. In order for our society to mitigate the impact of wildfire, we must improve coordination. 

Climate change continues to threaten California and the world at large, as has been evident from increasingly frequent heatwaves and dangerously severe weather. 

Photo Credit: “NASA Satellites See California Wildfires from Space” by NASA Goddard is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Fiona has a background in environmental science & justice and covers everything from global warming to housing. Her favorite thing to do in San Francisco is hiking up to Telegraph Hill.

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