My first case study that I have selected is the wild fires of California in 2017. This topic in general is one I am passionate for personally. There are many personal opinions I have in the matter that are backed by science and some are personal opinions. There are several main topics that I will be selecting to learn more about as I write. These three topics include; fire regimes, wild land urban interface and fire response. Wild land fires play an important role in ecology. They also pose a threat to human life and quality of life. Wild land fire management is extremely expensive and can be very dangerous. Hard lessons are learned when disasters strike. Many known facts are often overlooked until it is too late. The 2017 wild fires in California are no exception.
In 2017, California had nearly 1.4 million acres burn. For the most part, wild fires do not cause fatalities. This year was particularly deadly. 45 civilians perished. One line of duty death occurred when a bulldozer operator rolled down a hillside. 199 civilians were injured as well as 12 firefighters. from October through the end of the year there was a very high intensity of wildfires. Several thousand homes were lost. Southern California has a very important roll in how wild land fire fighting is managed. During the 1960’s So-Cal experienced some of the greatest like disasters on record. Wild land urban interface fire fighting was born there. Great efforts were had to mitigate future disasters. These included building codes regarding types of non native plants, proximity of vegetation to structures, building construction etc. So-Cal has taught the world how to best mitigate loss of human life and property during wild land fires. So-Cal also has a higher population than 43 of the United States. Albeit the high number of structures there, a large amount of wild land exists and is managed by the State of California.
The fires in So-Cal had different origins ranging from human caused to natural. From a lost hunter firing a signal flare to dry lightning strikes. Whatever the cause, the devastation was enormous.
The basic concept of how wild land fires behave, the size, intensity and affect is called a fire regime. The study of past and future fire regimes tell us a great deal about the affects of how the fire spread, what vegetation burned, what was salvaged and how the ecosystem recovered. Particularly for So-Cal, there are many steep sloping hillsides full of grass and brush with homes scattered throughout. Grass and brush can spread with the intensity of a gasoline fire. Coupled with high speed winds, low humidity levels for an extended amount of time, drought and a high fuel load, these contributed to the intensity of the fire. One of these fires in particular happened at night. Nation wide, ground crews rarely fight fire at night. This is a huge safety precaution. Air support typically attacks these fires at their source of origin as a part of an aggressive initial attack. By morning, this fire was out of control and fire crews were not able to contain it before destroying homes.
As population grows, the greater the strain on fire departments to respond. There is a high cost associated with providing fire suppression. Municipal fire departments can cost around 12 million dollars to build a single fire station and fill it with apparatus to respond. State resources are especially stretched thin with apparatus. One of the most affective means of fire suppression in rough terrain is air craft. Helicopters and air tankers dump expensive fire retardant that is harmful to aquatic life. In an area where natural water sources are rare, these aircraft are often impeded by needing to return to be filled manually with water before making a return to the fire line.
Many residents in the most affected areas reported having lived there for several decades and generations. There was no memory of a significant wild fire. Forests have a need to replenish them selves. The fires in So-Cal were classified as stand-replacement fires. The entire forest canopy was destroyed. All dominant species were killed. This totally changed the landscape and will welcome a new dominant species. When large trees such as Ponderosa Pine are the dominant species, often as man and nature permit, ground fires occur and maintain a healthy forest. The ground duff, including leaf litter, many invertebrates and small shrubbery are destroyed to allow new growth that supports animal life. The tall pine trees help hold moisture in the soil and shade the area. When no ground fires occur to clear out the undergrowth it is possible to affect the entire ecology of that area. Preventing frequent natural caused ground fires can increase the fuel load of a particular area. When in especial times of drought occur, this sets the stage for a stand-replacement fire.
Studies of the importance of fungi, invertebrates, young plant life are being done to show how they relate to fresh water animal life. Can over managing forest fires be the cause of these high intensity, destructive fires? What of the unknown affects on the aquifer? These are questions that could be a big help in successful wild land management.
My second case study is the Japanese Earthquake and tsunami. The three things I would like to learn are; What kind of earthquake caused the tsunami? What did Japan do to mitigate the affect of the tsunami? What were some tertiary affects of the tsunami after the event ended?
Japan sits at the conjuncture of several tectonic plates. The North American, Pacific, Eurasian and Philippine plates all come together at Japan. Even parts of Japan sit on different plates. This quake occurred in a subduction zone between the Eurasian and Pacific plates meet. Lasting 5 minutes, the 9.0 earthquake was so powerful that it altered the Earth’s axis. This was Japan’s strongest ever. This energy caused a change in elevation of the sea floor. At 24.4 km deep, this was a very shallow earthquake. Early warning signals worked perfectly. Just seconds after it was detected, centers around the world were alerted. Text messages were dispatched, alerts interrupted political broadcasts and sirens alerted people to take cover. Initially the tsunami was only 4 meters high. A Japanese coast guard ship hit it head on. A camera recorded two waves, one right after another. As the wave raced at jet airliner speed toward land, the sea depth became shallower. The friction of the sea floor against the wave lowered the speed, but increased the overall height of the wave. At 5 meters, Japan had built the world’s tallest sea wall. Despite this, the tsunami overcame the sea wall and destroyed the lives of everyone in its path.
Inland, where a small river had been, a salt water lake formed. The tsunami brought the water into a valley located above sea level. The salt lake remains today. Liquefaction of the ground affected the aquifer. The stability of the earth to rebuild was made inadequate from the liquefaction. The most significant hazard that remained after the tsunami was gone was the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. This would become the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Initially after detecting the earthquake, the plant shut down, diverted to alternate diesel generators to pump coolant to the reactors. Soon after the shaking stopped, the tsunami hit the plant. Fukushima was located right against the sea shore. Uncontrollable fires burned, radiation leaked into the ocean and surrounding area. The true data of people getting cancer, affecting the fisheries and agriculture may not be obtained. Non-bias studies should be performed to determine this.
The First Case Study
The Second Case Study