- Academics believe that between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California. Between 1982 and 1998, California’s agency land managers burned, on average, about 30,000 acres a year. Between 1999 and 2017, that number dropped to an annual 13,000 acres. The state passed a few new laws in 2018 designed to facilitate more intentional burning. But few are optimistic this, alone, will lead to significant change. We live with a deathly backlog. In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.
Food for thought: this year's wildfire season, for all of the West Coast, has burned 5 million acres so far. Or, approximately the minimum prehistoric California wildfire season.
The fire that destroyed my neighborhood started as a 100-acre controlled burn with 4 firefighters. Say you've got 180 days to do controlled burns, because the other 180 days you're fighting forest fires. You've got 5 million acres to burn in a controlled fashion. That's 28,000 acres per day. At 25 acres per firefighter you're looking at a minimum of a thousand full-time firefighters... except that it takes about 5 days to prep for a controlled burn that size. So... five thousand firefighters.
Instead we've got 16,000 firefighters called in from all over the country trying to keep wildfires under control.