USA: The warming climate’s contribution to wildfires gets plenty of attention in the aftermath of disastrous blazes like those that leveled neighborhoods in Wine Country last month. The fires’ consequences for the climate, however, deserve more consideration.
Forest fires unleash carbon accumulated by trees and other plants over years and decades in a relative instant, adding to the gases that heat the planet. As The Chronicle noted this week, one big wildfire can release enough carbon to dwarf an entire year’s worth of California’s painstaking reductions in emissions from fossil fuels.
In 2015, for example, the state reduced fossil-fuel-related greenhouse-gas emissions by 1.5 million metric tons from the previous year’s. California’s largest fire that year, which charred more than 150,000 acres of forest in Fresno County, emitted more than four times that much, 6.8 million metric tons. All told, fires on the federal lands in the state that year emitted nearly 23 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. (The Wine Country fires burned more than that Fresno County fire, encompassing 210,000 acres of forest, crops and neighborhoods.)