As of October 10, 2023, there have been 6,001 wildfires in California. In a recent study published in Nature, Patrick T. Brown, co-director of the climate and energy team at the Breakthrough Institute, a Berkeley-based think tank, noted that “climate change has ratcheted up the risk of explosive wildfire growth in California by 25% and will continue to drive extreme fire behavior for decades to come, even if planet-warming emissions are reduced.”
Brown’s research team found that warming substantially increased the extreme growth risk of several lightning-sparked complex fires in 2020, including the LNU Complex — by 42% — and the North Complex — by 40%.
To make matters worse, as Alejandro Lazo, a reporter with CalMatters, wrote, “Wildfires and climate change are locked in a vicious circle: Fires worsen climate change, and climate change worsens fires.”
“Last year, California wildfires sent an estimated 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to California Air Resources Board estimates. That’s equivalent to the emissions of about 1.9 million cars in a year. In 2020, California’s wildfires were its second-largest source of greenhouse gases, after transportation, according to a study published last year. The researchers from UCLA and the University of Chicago concluded that the 2020 wildfires increased overall emissions by about 30%.”
To help reduce the risk of wildfires, the California Department of Transportation has established a “Roadside Vegetation Control” program act mowing, controlled burns, weed whacker, goats, and herbicide spraying.
Selective herbicides can target specific highly flammable plant species that contribute to the buildup of fuel in wildfire-prone regions. Invasive plant species with high flammability can outcompete native vegetation, leading to dense and continuous fuel loads. The judicious use of herbicides can prevent the growth of these plants in the first place.
Fuel breaks are another application where herbicides can be helpful. These strategically placed zones with reduced vegetation serve as buffer zones that can slow or halt the spread of wildfires.