Wildfire – October 30, 2019

Today’s topic is wildfires – specifically, California wildfires.

Since early October, millions of people across the state of California have had their electricity shut off to prevent downed power lines from setting off deadly fires, like the ones that ravaged the state last year.

Yet, California is in a state of emergency. Unfortunately, a series of wildfires, fanned by extraordinarily heavy winds, have swept through, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes. How did things get so bad in California, so quickly? The answer is climate change. It is here and communities are not ready for it.

Researchers and government reports have warned for years that climate change would amplify natural variations in the weather, leading to more frequent and more destructive wildfires. Five of California’s 20 deadliest wildfires have occurred during the last two years. And 10 of the 20 most destructive wildfires, in terms of structures lost, occurred over the last 10 years.

From a recent study published in “Earth’s Future”: “The clearest link between California wildfire and anthropogenic climate change thus far has been via warming-driven increases in atmospheric aridity, which works to dry fuels and promote summer forest fire,” the report said. “It is well established that warming promotes wildfire throughout the western US, particularly in forested regions, by enhancing atmospheric moisture demand and reducing summer soil moisture as snowpack declines.”

California has to retrofit itself to make communities more resistant to wildfires. Meaning, making sure buildings are fire resistant and burying power lines in high-fire-risk areas when feasible, as well as developing micro-grids that can provide backup power. It will be very expensive and politically fraught, but it’s essential to protect lives and control the chaos created by the growing fire threat.

For more reading: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/…/10.1…/2019EF001210

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