Climate Change, Environmental Hazards, Nature

Has Climate Change Influenced California’s Latest Trouble With Wildfires?

Are wildfires increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change?
Are wildfires increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change? Photo: Shutterstock

It’s been a brutal season of wildfires this fall up and down California, with devastating blazes hitting wine country in the northern part of the state in October and the Los Angeles area now facing a fierce set of fast-growing blazes. Scientists have speculated that human-influenced climate change has contributed to this trend in no small part, and it may continue to do so in the years ahead.

According to InsideClimate News, a wide variety of people’s actions have played a role in complicating the West Coast’s wildfire problem. Rampant development has created more kindling for the fires to spread, and higher temperatures have pulled the moisture out of soil and vegetation. This has left a great deal of dry timber and underbrush that makes it easy for fires to burn.

“There’s a clear climate signal in these fires because of the drought conditions connected to climate change,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.

Hot and dry weather has become far more common in California over the years. The average temperature in the summer rose by 2 degrees Fahrenheit between 1950 and 2000, making it so even a wet, cool winter isn’t sufficient to offset the hotter summer climate. In fact, there’s reason to believe winter rains have made the summer and autumn fires worse, as there’s more flammable grass and brush growing than ever.

“As long as there’s fuel to burn, your chances of having large fires increases when you increase temperatures,” Columbia University bioclimatologist Park Williams told InsideClimate News. “It’s that simple.”

There’s reason to believe that unless both the California state government and the corporate world take active steps to reduce their carbon footprint, extreme events like droughts and fires will only continue. Research from the Pacific Northwest National Labs and Utah State University estimates that while there were only about five extremely dry events per decade in the 1930s, the state is on pace for 10 such events every 10 years during the 2070s.

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