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2020, Pacific Coast, Wildfire-Produced CO2

Michael Kaarhus
Updated Fri., May 7, AD 2021 UTC

Link to 2021 Pac Coast Wildfire CO2 page

Here I apply Kurz's Number to federal data on acres burned in California, Oregon, Washington and the U.S., to estimate how much CO2 equivalent wildfires here have produced so far this year. I compare those results to federal data on the amount of CO2 that all energy sectors (residential, commercial, industrial, transportation and electric power) in California, Oregon, Washington and the U.S. produce.

These calcs are significant because almost all of the political and academic efforts to reduce CO2 focus on energy-related CO2 only. However, in Oregon 2020, wildfires produced 213% of the energy-related, non-wildfire CO2 that Oregon produced in 2018. Wildfire prevention and suppression policies for publicly-owned lands are dismal if not criminal.

According to the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences, “CO2 emitted during fires is normally sequestered again as vegetation regrows, and researchers generally consider wildfires to be carbon neutral events once full biomass recovery has occurred” (2019 Science Daily article). I am not a scientist. I don’t have a four-year degree. But that’s a deceptive statement. I have written a little article to refute it: A Deceptive Statement From Climate Scientists.

In this article I consider only CO2 and equivalent from wildfires. As far as I know, no government in the U.S. does any wildfire CO2 or thermal accounting; the CO2 equivalent numbers here are in addition to energy-related CO2 numbers that the federal government publishes.

AC means acres. MT means metric tons. MMT means million metric tons:

The calcs on this page use the following numbers of MMT of energy-related CO2 from all sectors: residential, commercial, industrial, transportation and electric power, for the places that I consider here. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) State numbers for 2018 are listed below. They are the most recent numbers as of May 7, 2021:

    State or region   |   MMT
   California in 2018 |   362.5
   Washington in 2018 |    78.8
       Oregon in 2018 |    39.5
     The U.S. in 2019 | 5,130
   The Pac NW in 2018 |
           Wash & Ore |   118.3
The Pac Coast in 2018 |
     The Pac NW & Cal |   480.8

For the calcs below, I use acres burned numbers that change daily, and the above, Sept. 2020, EIA State numbers.

California at the close of 2020-12-17:

Cal (Northern + Southern) fires:

4650 + 5681 = 10331

Cal (Northern + Southern) acres burned:

2897867 + 1288362 = 4186229 AC

Cal average acres per fire:

4186229 / 10331 ≈ 405 AC/fire

Cal wildfire-produced CO2 & equivalent:

4186229 AC * 68.8 MT/AC = 288012555.2 MT
≈ 288 MMT

288 MMT as a percent of the energy-related CO2 that Cal produced in 2018:

100 * 288.0125552 MMT / 362.5 MMT ≈ 79.4517...%
≈ 79.5%

At the close of 2020-12-17, Cal fires have produced 79.5% of the energy-related CO2 that Cal produced in 2018.

The Pac Northwest at the close of 2020-12-17:

Pac NW (OR and WA) fires: 3787

Pac NW acres burned: 1881731 AC

Pac NW average acres per fire:

1881731 / 3787 ≈ 497 AC/fire

Pac NW wildfire-produced CO2 & equivalent:

1881731 AC * 68.8 MT/AC = 129463092.8 MT
≈ 129 MMT

129 MMT as a percent of the energy-related CO2 that the Pac NW produced in 2018:

100 * 129.4630928 MMT / 118.3 MMT ≈ 109.4362...%
≈ 109.4%

At the close of 2020-12-17, Pac NW fires have produced 109.4% of the energy-related CO2 that the Pac NW produced in 2018.

The Pac Coast at the close of 2020-12-17:

Pac Coast (Cal and Pac NW) fires:

10331 + 3787 = 14118

Pac Coast (Cal and Pac NW) acres burned:

4186229 AC + 1881731 AC = 6067960 AC

Pac Coast average acres per fire:

6067960 / 14118 ≈ 430 AC/fire

Pac Coast wildfire-produced CO2 & equivalent:

6067960 AC * 68.8 MT/AC = 417475648 MT
≈ 417 MMT

417 MMT as a percent of the energy-related CO2 that the Pac Coast produced in 2018:

100 * 417.475648 MMT / 480.8 MMT ≈ 86.8293...%
≈ 86.8%

At the close of 2020-12-17, Pac Coast fires have produced 86.8% of the energy-related CO2 that the Pac Coast produced in 2018.

The U.S. at the close of 2020-12-17:

U.S. fires: 56914

U.S. acres burned: 10250447

U.S. average acres per fire:

10250447 / 56914 ≈ 180 AC/fire

U.S. wildfire-produced CO2 & equivalent:

10250447 AC * 68.8 MT/AC = 705230753.6 MT
≈ 705 MMT

705 MMT as a percent of the energy-related CO2 that the U.S. produced in 2019:

100 * 705.2307536 MMT / 5130 MMT ≈ 13.7471...%
≈ 13.7%

At the close of 2020-12-17, U.S. fires have produced 13.7% of the energy-related CO2 that the U.S. produced in 2019.

Oregon at the close of 2020-10-19:

Oregon fires: 2027

Oregon acres burned: 1221324 AC

Oregon average acres per fire:

1221324 / 2027 ≈ 603 AC/fire

Oregon wildfire-produced CO2 & equivalent:

1221324 AC * 68.8 MT/AC = 84027091.2 MT
≈ 84 MMT

84 MMT as a percent of the energy-related CO2 that Oregon produced in 2018:

100 * 84.0270912 MMT / 39.5 MMT ≈ 212.7268...%
≈ 212.7%

At the close of 2020-10-19, Oregon fires have produced 212.7% of the energy-related CO2 that Oregon produced in 2018.

Updated at 07:48, Fri May 7, AD 2021 UTC

[Pac Coast fires 2020-09-09]
Pac Coast fires, Sept. 9-10, 2020.

Link to NWCG map of current large fire incidents in the U.S.

Oregon Air Guard firefighters save homes in Chiloquin. Sept. 8, 2020

From the above, we see that, near the end of the Pac NW fire season, Oregon has the highest average acres per fire: 603. This means that, among the States and regions that I consider here, Oregon has been slowest to get on and contain wildfires in 2020. This is partly because 12 fires of 100 acres or larger were started on Sept. 7-8, some of which quickly grew out of control; the fires were more and larger than State and Federal agencies in Oregon could handle. Fires reached and burned some towns so quickly that no emergency alerts were broadcast. Arsons set fires in the towns of Phoenix and Talent, destroying them. But I do not let State and Fed agencies off the hook, because some fires that became catastrophic had been burning for a long time, and because the Democratic Party, which runs the Oregon State Government, has virtually shut down logging. Democratic office holders observe environmentalist and bureaucratic policy rather than good sense; following such policy virtually guarantees that forests and wilderness areas will eventually burn down.

For instance, the Lionshead and Beachie Creek fires had been burning since August 16. Before Sept. 7, the Beachie Creek was growing at an average of only about 21 acres per day. By Sept. 6, it had grown to only 469 acres. The USFS had 22 days before Sept. 7 to get it contained and extinguished, but because the USFS must abide by environmentalist and bureaucratic policies that various agencies, departments, councils and commissions set, they failed to. On Sept. 7-8, east winds fanned it to more than 190,000 acres; it consumed the towns of Lyons and Mill City, killing five people there and in the Santiam Canyon.

The Lionshead was 14,967 acres on Sept. 6. It was growing at an average of about 680 acres per day. East winds fanned it on Sept. 7-8, and it grew to more than 200,000 acres, consuming some of the most beautiful and valuable timberland in Oregon, including Jeff Park. Again, State, federal and Native American firefighting services had 22 days before Sept. 7 to knock it down, but failed to.

I am OK with letting grass fires burn, but not timber. That is because timber is a valuable resource; it is better to cut and sell it to mills, or cut and use it to produce usable heat or energy, than to just let fires waste it. Environmentalists insist that the only right thing to do with forests is to let fires burn them down—a complete and senseless waste.

To be clear, I am not blaming fire crews, crew bosses, incident managers or firefighting services. I blame federal wildfire policy bureaucracies. We need to disentangle our firefighting services from wildfire policies that various federal departments, commissions and councils set, and from the slowness of the whole, federal bureaucratic process. We need to let our firefighting services set their own wildfire policies and use their own good sense and judgment; they, not federal policy bureaucrats, are firefighting pros.

And again to be clear, the present, federal wildfire bureaucracy started during the Bush 43 Administration, and grew during the Obama Administration; the Trump Administration did not institute it.

[Fires Oregon 2020-09-05 to 14]
Western and Central Oregon from 2020-09-05 to 2020-09-14. One day per frame. Wildfires in red. From NASA photos. Tap for full, 500 meter resolution.

Wildfires are quadruply deleterious to the atmosphere, and return no benefit to humans or wildlife. Wildfires:

  • Produce hundreds of millions of metric tons of CO2 and equivalent every year by burning wood, which can be thought of as sequestered CO2
  • Consume O2
  • Pollute the air with ash and smoke;
  • Destroy plants, which convert CO2, light and H2O to cellulose, glucose and O2
  • Cause soil erosion and landslides;
  • Destroy humans, buildings, wildlife, wildlife habitats and watersheds;
  • Waste the usable energy stored in wood; wildfires produce no usable energy. Every pound of wood burned produces at least 6000 BTU, all of which is wasted;
  • Waste timber that could have been made into lumber and wood products.

Wildfires are three or four times worse for the atmosphere than producing the same amount of CO2 by burning fossil fuels to produce energy. When you burn fossil fuels for energy:

  • You are getting something in return: usable energy.
  • You are not destroying trees and plants that produce O2 and consume and sequester CO2
  • You are not causing landslides or erosion, degrading water quality, destroying watersheds, natural beauty, tourism and timber revenue, wildlife, wildlife habitat, recreation areas and/or human lives and property.

Despite such considerations, climate alarmists consistently focus only on ending the clean burning of fossil fuels; they willfully neglect wildfire prevention and fighting, and all the destruction that wildfires cause. Through poor forest management and ultra-slow, indefinitely long response times, governments are letting fires destroy forests and burn people out.

Governments have proven to be exceedingly poor managers of the former forests that We the People trusted them to protect. I would like the Trump Administration to cut the Forest Service loose from its federal wildfire bureaucracy overlords, so that it would be free to make sensible wildfire policy.

In theory, the USFS could then to return to its former policy: Keep wildfires to “10 acres by 10 AM”; and augment that with fire prevention measures, such as dead tree salvage or removal, and making more firebreaks by logging more, whereby we would actually obtain some revenue from forests, instead of just letting fires destroy them. Wildfire bureaucrats ridicule 10 acres by 10 AM. They say that it is so aggressive that it permits fuels to build up that wildfires would otherwise burn. And we observe that, when wildfires hit, they are indeed catastrophic, partly because of built-up fuels. Bureaucrats then say, “See, we were right! We must let wildfires burn to get rid of built-up fuels!” So, that is the policy that they make, because they are in charge of policy. And our forests and timber resources go up in smoke.

Okay, bureaucrats are right about fuel build-up. What they are wrong about is that letting wildfires burn is the only or best way to get rid of built-up fuel. It isn’t. The best way is any method besides letting wildfires burn. For instance, logging more, doing more controlled burns, building more roads, so that firefighters can get equipment to remote areas, and manual clean-up, that is, removing dead trees and safely burning them, or, if not infested with bugs, using them to make wood products. There are two reasons why 10 acres by 10 AM is still a good idea:

  1. It would prevent catastrophic fires that destroy entire forests.
  2. It is the least expensive strategy. The difficulty and cost of controlling a wildfire increase geometrically over time. That’s because the area of a wildfire increases geometrically over time. When crews get on it and put it out quickly, they save heap big money that is everywhere needed, and they prevent the destruction of valuable resources, not only timber, but also watersheds, habitats, O2-producing, CO2-consuming trees and rec areas.

It’s just that we need to augment 10 acres by 10 AM with safe fuel removal methods.

Through its dandy, academic policies, the federal wildfire bureaucracy is ripping off We the People; we are paying them to formulate wildfire policies that result in the destruction of our forests and wilderness areas. An intelligent being that just landed here from an exoplanet would probably conclude that a gang of pyromaniac grade school boys with Bic lighters was in charge of formulating our wildfire policies (no offense intended to pyromaniac grade school boys with Bic lighters).

Tap and hold video to get pause button.

Explication and Sources of the Above Numbers

Except for Oregon, I obtain fires and acres burned numbers from Incident Management Situation Reports (IMSR’s, which I call sitreps). During fire season, The Predictive Services Intelligence Section, a section of The National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC), a branch of The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) publishes these sitreps daily. A link to the current sitrep is at the NICC fire stats page.

Predictive Services keeps an archive of sitreps here.

The data in those sitreps are as of the previous day. When using data from the sitrep published on day d, I write, “at the close of” day d-1. For instance, where I wrote, “at the close of 2020-10-25”, the sitrep dated 2020-10-26 provided data for those calcs.

I obtain acres burned numbers only from the Fires and Acres Year-to-Date (by Protection) table in the sitreps. These numbers generally either increase or stay the same over time. They may also decrease, in which case a Coordination Center made them more accurate. This table is a “designated authoritative source”:

Fires and Acres Year to Date is derived directly from Situation Reports submitted by individual units. The ICS-209 program does not provide data for this table. Note: this table represents fires and acres by the protecting agency (not by ownership). ...

The information included in the IMSR comes from Situation and ICS-209 reports, which are typically updated once a day in the evening. Both the Situation Report and the ICS-209 program are designated authoritative sources by federal land management agencies.¹ (from Understanding the IMSR)

I obtained the Oregon fires and acres burned as of Oct. 19 numbers from the Final ODF fire report for 2020 fire season, dated Oct. 19, 2020. ODF subsequently took it offline and pubished this ODF fire report for Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, which has the same fires and acres burned numbers.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) publishes data for States yearly. The energy-related CO2 data that I use here are from 2018, because 2018 is the most recent year for which State data are available. I compare that to 2020 data on acres burned, translated to wildfire-produced CO2 equivalent.

To get the 2018 energy-related CO2 produced by State, I go to this page, and download spreadsheets.

As the EIA updates those data to 2018, 2019, etc., you might try this data page and scroll down to State CO2 Emissions. The EIA has scheduled the next update for May, 2021.

The sources for the National calcs are the NIFC daily sitrep and this page. The energy-related CO2 number for 2019 is in the Overview of CO2 Emissions section, in the explication for Figure 1.

To calculate CO2 equivalent produced from acres burned I use Werner Kurz’s number: Every hectare (HA) of forest burned produces about 170 metric tons (MT) of carbon dioxide equivalent. The WA-Po published an article mentioning Kurz’s number on May 20, 2016. The National Post re-published that article. Kurz is a Doctor of Forest Ecology, a senior research scientist at the Canadian Forest Service and head of its carbon accounting team.

Since U.S. data are in acres, we need to convert² Kurz’s number to MT/AC:

1 hectare (HA) = 2.47105381 acres (AC)
170 MT/HA * 1 HA / 2.47105381 AC = 68.796559 MT/AC
≈ 68.8 MT/AC


Kurz’s number is an estimate. It ends with a zero, which might or might not be a significant digit. One would need to consult Kurz to find out for sure.

Assuming the zero is not significant, Kurz’s number would more correctly be written, 170 ± 5 MT/HA. The second digit, 7, is significant, otherwise, Kurz would probably have put it at either 160 or 180. But the number, 170, could be anywhere from 165 (which rounds up to 170) up to, but not including, 175 (which rounds down to 170).

I calculate MT of CO2 equivalent using three significant digits (68.8 MT/AC), then round the result to the nearest MMT, making it an integer. However,

5 / 2.47105381 ≈ 2.0, and a more scientific expression would include the accuracy: 68.8 ± 2.0 MT/AC. For instance, for the U.S. calculation for Oct. 4, 2020:

7,818,340 AC * 68.8 MT/AC = 537,901,792 MT

the actual product is somewhere between,

7,818,340 AC * 66.8 MT/AC = 522,265,112 MT and
7,818,340 AC * 70.8 MT/AC = 553,538,472 MT.

The range of possible values over two is the accuracy for that calc:

(553,538,472 MT - 522,265,112 MT) / 2 = 15,636,680 MT
≈ 15.6 MMT

In rounding the product to the nearest MMT, I am not losing accuracy, because 538,000,000 is in the middle of that range, and the actual number of MMT is somewhere within that range, exactly where we do not know, given ± 2.0 MT/AC as the accuracy of Kurz’s number. Written more scientifically, my results would look like this:

7,818,340 AC * (68.8 ± 2.0 MT/AC) = 537,901,792 ± 15,636,680 MT
≈ 538 ± 15.6 MMT

I’m giving a general accuracy here, instead of in the results: the accuracy of the MT of CO2 & equivalent numbers is at least ± 2.0 MT/AC. One can more simply calculate the accuracy of those numbers as:

± 100 * 5 / 170 ≈ ± 2.94%

It might be more than that, because there are also uncertainties associated with the acres burned numbers. One is that Kurz’s number is for timber fires. Most of the big, 2020 fires were in timber. But some acres burned were brush, some grass. And as you move east from the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas, there is relatively less timber and more brush and grass. The acres burned numbers that I use here include all fuel types.

Another consideration is hills and mountains. How many actual acres of forest are in a hillside acre of forest?

One acre of mountainous or hilly forest is more than one acre of flat terrain forest. The slope of the hill puts additional acreage in the vertical dimension that is not seen when measuring acreages from aerial or satellite photos, which make everything appear flat.

For an extreme example, consider an imaginary building in New Haven that is 100 × 100 ft2, and 400 feet tall. It is covered with ivy on all sides from bottom to top, and the roof, too. Yale wants to inventory all the ivy in New Haven. So they pay for overhead satellite photos, and hire a Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay Studies grad to trace out the ivy-covered areas of each photo on a touchscreen. A program calculates and sums the areas traced out.

The Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay Studies grad dutifully traces out 100 x 100 = 10,000 ft2 of ivy-covered area on that lot, because that is what the satellite saw, and who would dare interpret satellite photos? But that building actually has 4 x 100 x 400 + 10,000 = 170,000 ft2 of ivy. The satellite photo was off by 160,000 ft2. That area of ivy was hidden from the satellite in the vertical dimension. The same kind of error happens when using satellite photos to calculate acres of mountainous or hilly forest.

Consider a rectangle of forested hillside. The length of the rectangle is 660 ft., and is along the steepest right line from a lower to a higher elevation on the hillside. Call this the l-t-h line. The width of the rectangle is 66 ft. and roughly follows the contour lines of the hillside. The actual area of that rectangle is 660 ft * 66 ft = 1 acre. Let θ be the angle of the l-t-h line up from the horizontal, that is, the angle that you would move your neck or eyes up from the horizontal to look at an eye-level marker on a surveyor’s grade rod at the top the l-t-h line, if you were standing at the bottom of it. When a satellite views this same rectangular acre of hillside, it does not look like 660 * 66 ft2. It looks like 660 cos θ * 66 ft2. The missing part, (660 - 660 cos θ) * 66 ft2, is hidden from the satellite in the vertical dimension.

If the grade of the hill is 0%, there is no hill:
θ = 0°. cos θ = 1, and the satellite sees an area measuring 660 * 1 * 66 = 1 acre.

If the grade of the hill is 30%,
θ = arctan(30/100) ≈ 16.700°
cos 16.700° ≈ .958
and the satellite sees an area measuring only 660 * .958 * 66 ≈ .958 acre. But it is actually one acre.

If the grade of the hill is 100%,
θ = arctan(100/100) = 45°
cos 45° ≈ .707
and the satellite sees an area measuring only 660 * .707 * 66 ≈ .707 acre. But it is actually one acre.

If the grade of the hill is infinity percent,
θ = arctan(∞/100) = 90°
cos 90° = 0
and it’s a cliff. Probably there are no trees on it, but even so, the satellite sees an area measuring
660 * 0 * 66 = 0 acre, even though it is still one acre. The entire acre is hidden from the satellite in the vertical.

There are uncertainties in all of the numbers that I use, including the energy-related CO2 numbers. Those are only government estimates, and I don’t know where to find their accuracies.

Kurz’s number is applicable to BC forest fires, and is probably accurate for Oregon and Washington fires, as the ecosystems are similar. His number might be somewhat less accurate for Northern California fires, as the ecosystems are somewhat different. His number might be inaccurate for some Southern California fires, as some ecosystems there are very different. Despite these differences, his is the only number that I know of that relates hectares burned to MT of CO2 equivalent produced. So I use it for all wildfires, regardless of ecosystem or geographic location. The U.S. Government does not that I know of derive Kurz-type numbers for U.S. ecosystems; it has historically neglected to take into account CO2 produced by wildfires.


1: CalFire reported 3,627,010 “Combined YTD (CALFIRE & US Forest Service)” acres burned in California as of 2020-09-23. The NIFC reported only 2,592,843 California acres burned as of the same date. I do not use CalFire numbers, because CalFire says, “These numbers are subject to change until the final fire season reports are completed and tabulated” (CalFire stats page). Their numbers are not official until CalFire administrators get together with other Cal wildfire agencies, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and CalStats administrators, and publish them and other stats and charts in the Redbook (same page). That publishing project takes more than nine months; as of 2020-09-24, CalFire has still not published the Redbook for 2019. Who knows what their official 2020 numbers will be when they finally publish them, sometime after the summer of 2021?

Also, for all that work and administrative cost, the Redbook contains no wildfire CO2 accounting whatsoever. The words CO2 and carbon do not appear in the 51-page, 2018 Redbook.

2: Checking conversion factor: 2.47105381 AC/HA
One HA = 10,000 meters2
10,000 m2 / 2.47105381 = 4046.856430051 m2
One acre = one chain (66 ft.) by one furlong (660 ft.)
66 * 660 = 43,560 ft2
43,560 ft2 / 9 ft2/yd2 = 4840 yd2
4840 yd2 / 1.19599005 yd2/m2 = 4046.856409884 m2
4046.856430051 m2 − 4046.856409884 m2 = 0.000020167 m2
0.000020167 m2 * 1,000,000 mm2/m2 = ± 20.167 mm2 per AC accuracy

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