Fires Are Among a Range of Wildly Unprecedented Risks This Summer

hemp wild fires united states

By Noah Tomares, Research Analyst, New Frontier Data

Whatever else science tells us about the legendary 10 plagues of Egypt, at least those respectively passed while offering variety. In contemporary times, plagues seem more inclined toward patterns of repetition, whether they otherwise include insects, a pandemic disease, or pending wildfires. Even before the arrival of the summer solstice to the Northern Hemisphere, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported all-time records being recorded throughout more than 10 dozen locations this month.

Many of the extreme temperatures have ranged throughout the Northern Plains, Rockies, Southwest, Great Basin and California, though the potential for multiple days of record heat is about to shift into the Northwest, where the extreme conditions of heat and drought are conspiring to invite untold risks of catastrophic fire.

Last year, stories covering a gender-reveal party gone terribly wrong overshadowed some of the challenges faced by farmers. Devastation caused by the record-breaking wildfires last year burned down several cannabis farms and caused disruptions and losses throughout the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.

The ongoing, historic drought across Western states has prompted concerns this year that burns will be accelerated by the dryness. Beyond the immediate danger of crop failure, other potential consequences for cannabis producers to consider include how smoke and ash can impact the quality of outdoor operations’ exposure to sunlight (affecting their crops’ growth cycle) and smell (potentially ruining taste).

Residue left behind by smog could also affect regulatory testing. Crops tainted by smoke might be less desirable to consumers or require additional sanitation, either of which can substantially impact a farmer’s bottom line. Beyond the immediate economic concerns, air-quality hazards pose significant concern for employees and residents.

In Arizona, several fires have been underway while temperatures only continue to rise, consuming thousands of acres and prompting numerous evacuations and closures. In California, the wet season is becoming more compressed while the dry season is getting longer. The phenomenon is particularly pronounced in Northern California — the legendary cannabis region and home to so many industry operations.

Last year, reported 4,257,863 acres burned in California, with 10,488 structures damaged or destroyed. As discussed in New Frontier Data’s recent report, Cannabis H20: Water Use & Sustainability in Cultivation, ideal environmental and climactic conditions have historically made the Western states well suited for outdoor cannabis cultivation, but those states now face the nation’s most acute drought conditions: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon collectively account for 71% of the nation’s total cannabis supply (both legal and illicit).

Farmers facing the flames are undoubtedly preoccupied with prevention and suppression tactics to preserve their current crops. Precautionary measures such as setting up backup generators and water tanks (as well as coordinating with local fire departments) could go a long way towards mitigating the damage inflicted this year. However, the increasing seasonality of wildfires will continue to have a substantial impact on the long-term profitability of cannabis and hemp grown in the region.

Cannabis growers should assume that the trend toward longer, more acute droughts will be sustained well into the future, and accordingly design and build their operations to reflect the changing climate, assuming:

  • Longer, hotter, and drier summers;
  • New restrictions on water access, water discharge volumes, and minimum effluent quality standards/monitoring as groundwater sources become more scarce;
  • That states like California will iteratively tighten building codes to increase energy efficiency, reduce waste, and preserve indoor and outdoor air quality via mechanisms like Title 24, the state’s triennially updated Building Energy Efficiency Standards (e.g., regulations pertaining to HVAC, humidity control, and other environmental management systems which impact water use in the grow environment);
  • More expensive water supply from public systems;
  • Increased cooling demand for indoor and greenhouse growers to offset higher loads; and
  • Higher operational expenses for temperature control and water management systems.