Press-Republican

FYI...

July 9, 2013

Western wildfires' size, intensity and impact are increasing, experts say

Volatile weather patterns marked by shortened winters, stifling heat waves and prolonged droughts. New housing developments encroaching on fire-prone lands. Shrinking budgets for fire-prevention measures.

That dangerous combination of factors helps explain the increasingly voracious wildfires that have ripped through the western United States in recent years, say scientists, lawmakers and historians.

While the deaths of 19 firefighters Sunday in Arizona marked the most lethal firefighting incident in generations, the 8,400-acre blaze that led to the tragedy has become more the norm than the exception.

"On average, wildfires burn twice as many acres each year as compared to 40 years ago. Last year, the fires were massive in size, coinciding with increased temperatures and early snow melt in the West," U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last month, adding, "The last two decades have seen fires that are extraordinary in their size, intensity and impacts."

Opinions differ on the precise reasons for the phenomenon. But broad agreement exists that climate change, coupled with economic development and state and federal policies on fire prevention, has played a significant role in shaping the fires raging across Western landscapes.

"This is the cost of how we live today," said Stephen Pyne, a professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University and a well-known fire historian. "Context does matter. Everything that's out there, fire reacts to. . . . How we develop things, what kind of vegetation we have, how we live on the land, what fire protection measures we take."

The paradox of destructive wildfires of recent years is that the West actually suffers from a "fire deficit," Pyne said.

"We're getting large, high-intensity fires where they shouldn't be," he said. "In an ideal world, we would get three or four times more fires than we're getting, but they would be on a smaller scale. More landscape, but less intensity. We have too many of the wrong kind of fires."

Text Only | Photo Reprints
FYI...
  • An alternative diagnosis to ADHD: Schoolchildren need more time to move

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that in recent years, there has been a jump in the percentage of young people diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD: 7.8 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2007 to 11 percent in 2011.

    July 24, 2014

  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 23, 2014

  • Why it's basically impossible to delete those naked selfies you text

    If you're selling an old Android smartphone on an online auction site, you could be giving away rather more than you intend to, according to a recent investigation by anti-malware company Avast.

    July 21, 2014

  • Why does the Vatican need a bank?

    The Vatican Bank's history reads more like Dan Brown than the financial pages, but its worst -- and weirdest -- days may be behind it.

    July 18, 2014

  • Almost half of the world actually prefers instant coffee

    Americans' taste in coffee might be getting more high-end _with a growing fixation on perfectly roasted beans, pricier caffeinated concoctions, and artisan coffee brewers - but it turns out a surprisingly big part of the world is going in the opposite direction: toward instant coffee.

    July 17, 2014

  • ent_taylorswift.jpg There's less good music now — here's why

    Taylor Swift, the seven-time Grammy winner, is known for her articulate lyrics, so there was nothing surprising about her writing a long column for The Wall Street Journal about the future of the music industry. Yet there's reason to doubt the optimism of what she had to say.

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Can plants hear? Study finds that vibrations prompt some to boost their defenses

    They have no specialized structure to perceive sound as we do, but a new study has found that plants can discern the sound of predators through tiny vibrations of their leaves - and beef up their defenses in response.

    July 12, 2014

  • wheat1.jpg Backlash has begun against gluten-free dieters

    The swelling ranks of Americans adopting gluten-free diets have given rise to another hot trend: people calling the whole thing a bunch of baloney.

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • 140516-recalls_1357_88cb85dbc81b724b4ae9c83db4426fd8.jpg Auto recalls break single-year US record with six months to go

    With six months left in 2014, automakers have already recalled more vehicles in the United States than in any other year on record.

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • The science of shyness

    Shy people have quite a bit to contend with - not least the word itself. It has a number of different meanings, none of which are flattering. To "shy away" from something implies avoidance; to "shy" can also mean to move suddenly in fright; to "be shy of" something can mean to come up short, or be insufficient.

    July 8, 2014