Author Topic: Study: People start 84% of U.S. wildfires  (Read 2492 times)

TheDeamon

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Study: People start 84% of U.S. wildfires
« on: February 28, 2017, 12:05:00 AM »
I almost put this in "fake news" as an example of skew on a most apolitical item, but decided to give it a new thread instead.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2017/02/27/wildfires-human-lightning-caused/98480888/

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The horrific wildfire that scorched Gatlinburg, Tenn., last November, killing 14 people, was human-caused — and that's not unusual: Whether deliberate or accidental, a whopping 84% of all wildfires in the U.S. are started by people, says a new study.

The remaining 16% are started naturally, by lightning, according to the report, one of the most comprehensive fire studies to date.

The study also found that humans have added almost three months to the national fire season on average. “Thanks to people, the wildfire season is almost year-round,” said study lead author Jennifer Balch of the University of Colorado. Humans also account for nearly half the acreage burned each year.

A handy inforgraphic they provide makes it a little less of a hidden factoid. Acreage burned due to human caused fires was 44% to the "natural"(lightning) caused fires burning 56%.

What they never actually bring up is that many of the "wildfires" that get reported don't actually burn that much, particularly when they're human caused, because they tend to be started near urban areas and see prompt and aggressive fire suppression efforts in short order, typically with a decent success rate. "Worst case" normally is they burn a few dozen or up to maybe a hundred acres at most. Of course then there are the outliers that can rival their natural counterparts, where they can get into the 100's of thousands of acres too.

Of course, that also ignores that many of the lightning cause natural burns also tend to get so big because they ignite in wilderness/federal lands, where the policy is to let it burn so long as it doesn't endanger any developed properties.

But yeah, if you just skim through the news reporting on this study, you'd think that 85% of every major fire that happens in the US was caused by a human. When the incidence rate in that particular case is MUCH lower, and not even addressed so far as I can tell.

TheDrake

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Re: Study: People start 84% of U.S. wildfires
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2017, 12:35:01 PM »
Interesting. Complex subjects. If humanity disappeared, would there be fewer wildfires? We've done a lot to suppress wildfires, because we've insisted on building houses in areas that used to have regular fires. Are controlled burns included in the total?

As for fake news, they are reporting on the study. The headline doesn't shout "WILDFIRE THREAT: 84% of wildfires would never have started if it weren't for PEOPLE!" - I consider that a hallmark of fake news (including CNN lately).

There's some casual language - describing 84% as "whopping" that I could do without. I think it is interesting that this is only applying to "the lower 48 states" - possibly because Alaska is hard to get data for, or possibly because that would balance up the numbers.

The infographic does highlight the difference between incidents and acres.

They call in a second source, rather than just relying on the study and the author. This is a very good sign. They quote him pointing out that lightning-caused fires are also increasing.

Another hallmark of what I class as fake news, is that it usually embeds a criticism of policy or individual. I'm not really seeing that here. It doesn't get hysterical about "something must get done".

Personally, I'm not seeing a problem with the article.


Pete at Home

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Re: Study: People start 84% of U.S. wildfires
« Reply #2 on: March 01, 2017, 07:56:16 PM »
Just one more cutesy example of urbans manipulating stats to call not so subtly for suppression of rurals.

TheDrake

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Re: Study: People start 84% of U.S. wildfires
« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2017, 10:15:42 AM »
But the article doesn't call for any action, unless I missed something. Nor does the study.

The article quotes exactly one piece of advocacy:

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She said we should be starting the "right kind of fires," saying that it's better to proactively start smaller fires than to react to huge ones when it's an emergency.

As for suppression of rurals, I'm sure I can't spot one reference to the kind of people who set wildfires. I certainly know of other articles criticizing people for setting fires on their land (arson). I also know of articles that criticize urban/suburban dwellers who set fires with their ATV and campsites.

None of which is in this article.

TheDeamon

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Re: Study: People start 84% of U.S. wildfires
« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2017, 10:56:40 AM »
To be clear, the issue wasn't with that article, it was with the headline that had an issue. For the headline only (TLDR/Twitter) crowd, it sets a clear precedent that can be built on later by others.

Of course my posting itself was another demonstration, I linked to it after having only read about half of the article. So I missed it getting into the "global warming" game as well.

TheDrake

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Re: Study: People start 84% of U.S. wildfires
« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2017, 11:06:32 AM »
Yeah, not a great headline but one that helps make people <click>

A more representative headline might read "New Study Examines Source of Wildfires"

But that wouldn't get clicked. People only click on stuff that infuriates them, puzzles them, or lures them with provocative pictures of celebrities.

TheDrake

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Re: Study: People start 84% of U.S. wildfires
« Reply #6 on: March 02, 2017, 11:09:15 AM »
"You won't believe the 9 celebrities that have started wildfires!"

"Most wildfires set by liberals, scientists say."

"Could illegal immigrants be setting wildfires?"