California’s 2020 Wildfire Season


Just over 9,900 wildfires burned about 4.3 million acres in 2020. 

Just over 9,900 wildfires burned about 4.3 million acres in 2020. That’s more than twice the previous record of acres burned in California. Yet it is about average compared to burn rates likely experienced before Euro-American settlement, according to a study from the University of California, Davis, that summarizes the 2020 fire season and examines its drivers.

The study, published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, said 2020 was the first year in recorded history that burned area in California came close to rates seen before the 1800s, when an estimated 3-4 million acres burned in an average year.

Increased fire severity is the far greater concern, the study said. The authors advise that resource and fire managers working in forests shift their emphasis from reducing burned area to reducing fire severity and fire damage to people and property, and restoring key ecosystem functions after fire.

“Although burned area in 2020 was very high, it is not unprecedented if you take the longer view,” said lead author Hugh Safford, a forest and fire ecologist with the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy and chief scientist at Vibrant Planet, an environmental public benefits corporation. “The problem is that much of the burning we are seeing now is not restorative but destructive. The need to shift management goals is key, as is understanding the very important role that fuels play in driving fire severity.”

Read more at University of California - Davis

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