Forest Fires and Atmospheric CO2

Forest Fires and Atmospheric CO2

The Campfire fire in California is tragic and its effects on people can’t be minimized.

It’s wrong, however, to use it as a poster child for global warming and climate change. 

Referring to climate change caused by CO2, Governor Brown said:

“This is an example of what we can expect. The fires are burning in California. They’ll be burning in France, burning all around the world” without a significant reduction in carbon emissions.

“The world is not on the road to heaven. It’s on the road to hell.”

However, Governor Brown is wrong when referring to climate change caused by CO2.

The number of forest fires in the United States has not been increasing due to climate change caused by an increase in atmospheric CO2.

This chart from data supplied by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) provides a graph showing the acres destroyed by forest fires in the United States over the past 92 years through 2017.

It should be noted that the data from the NIFC prior to 1983 may be less accurate as it is derived from less defined sources. However, the trend is supported by individual reports of fires that occurred before 1926. Some of the largest and deadliest occurred then.

Earlier, before those covered by the attached NIFC chart, there were terrible forest fires:

  • 1871 Oct. 8-14, Peshtigo, Wis: over 1,500 lives lost and 3.8 million acres burned in nation’s worst forest fire.
  • 1894 Sept. 1, Minn.: forest fires ravaged over 160,000 acres and destroyed 6 towns; 600 killed, including 413 in town of Hinckley.
  • 1902 Sept., Wash. and Oregon: Yacolt fire destroyed 1 million acres and left 38 dead.
  • 1910 Aug. 10, Idaho and Montana: fires burned 3 million acres of woods and killed 85 people.
  • 1918 Oct. 13-15, Minn. and Wisconsin: forest fire struck towns in both states; 1,000 died, including 400 in town of Cloquet, Minn. About $1 million in losses.

All of these fires caused considerable damage and had tragic consequences in terms of people killed.

And all of them were before significant increases in atmospheric CO2.

Atmospheric C02 levels from Mauna Loa (green) and EO8 Ice cores (red). Current CO2 levels are 408 ppm

Larger fires occurred when CO2 concentrations were relatively low. Coincidently, the larger fires occurred while CO2 levels happened to be shown in red.

It’s important to address the conditions that lead to extensive forest fires, but climate change supposedly caused by CO2 is not one of them.

Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is not causing an increase in disasters, including forest fires.

Governor Brown and other AGW adherents are fear mongering when they make any such claim.

. . .


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9 Replies to “Forest Fires and Atmospheric CO2”

    • I can’t put my finger on the source I used for the second graph, but here is a link to a graph with the same information.
      I used the graph I did because the red shading on the ice core data coincided with the point I was making that there were more and larger fires before CO2 had risen very far and it covered the time period in question. There are dozens of graphs available but many of them cover centuries rather than the period from the mid-1800s to the present. Too many use techniques that are designed to overemphasize the rise of CO2. Techniques such as compressing the time period or using a suppressed zero. I have the reference you are seeking but it’s somewhere in my data file rather than a memo on the draft of the article. If I find it I’ll send it to you.

  1. I am embarrassed to say I live in California. What the Governor says does not reflect my opinion or the science of climate. It is incredible that the warming trend has gotten so politicized instead of leaving it to good science. History will certainly prove its point, but how long that will be is nebulous.

    • Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, it will take time, as people realize they have been hoodwinked by the CO2 hypothesis. Science will emerge triumphant again.

  2. Donn, I am interested in the question: why? In the case of wild (forest) fires, I can think that an increasing atmospheric CO2 affects them in multiple ways: directly by providing more “plant food” so that the forests grow larger and healthier.providing more dead matter on the forest floor when it dies (leaves, branches and trunks); and indirectly by limiting rainfall due to a long term atmospheric temperature increase, causing drought conditions.

    My question is always: what is mankind going to do about it?

    If you cannot answer the question “why” adequately, then you cannot proceed to actions to mitigate the problem. IMO the proof that CO2 is causing the increased temps and arid surroundings sufficiently to cause the forest fires has alluded science so far.

    Just saying it is so, doesn’t sway Mother Nature, she will continue doing what she does, with or without human interference. Forest fires have always been a part of a sustained, healthy forest environment. Burning fossil fuels has no direct negative consequence at all on the forest ecosystem.

  3. I think that “feeding” plants via increased atmospheric CO2 is a reasonable hypothesis. As I recall, however, having lived in California, is that forest fires are part of the natural ecosystem. If so, maybe the root of the problem is people building stuff where they shouldn’t be. If so, maybe the solution should be don’t build there or pay the insurance premiums if you insist on living in a fire-prone environment.

    • I lived in California for a few years in the 1980s, and there was a forest fire on Mt Diablo shortly after I left. It burned down the mountain and into Berkely. The trees and grasses and underbrush are, and were, conducive to fires. It was important to have fire breaks and to remove plants that were close to buildings. The trees were oily and once ignited burned aggressively.
      Conditions in forested areas are much more dangerous.
      Your suggestion that people should buy insurance is probably sound advice, and that the premiums should reflect the danger.

  4. The “severity” of things like forest fires and floods are typically measured by the monetary damage they cause and human lives affected. Obviously both increase with time, independently of the severity of the events. In CA too many people like to build homes scatted through trees and brush that becomes quite flammable when dry.