With nearly 200,000 acres burned, California is experiencing one of its worst wildfire seasons yet. Hundreds of homes have been burnt down and millions have been subjected to frenzied evacuation. While some of the fires can be traced back to mishaps such as faulty electrical equipment, the connection between fires and climate change due to global warming is hard to avoid.
There is no doubt that electrical companies like PG&E have some responsibility in sparking some of the fires, but there are a variety of additional factors that need to be considered. First, there is an undeniable correlation between temperature and aridity of the atmosphere, and the frequency of wildfires. The heat dries out the grasses and shrubbery that often become the fuel for wildfires, in addition to dry winds. The shift in seasons, such as the early start of spring and extended period of summer, is also a contributing factor, causing soils to dry out earlier and stay dry longer. In addition, mountain pine beetles, a specific beetle known to thrive in warm temperatures, play a role in weakening trees and bark that are prone to burn.
Wildfires may indeed increasingly become a fact of life for Californians. After all, some climate variability is beyond our control. Climate change, however, is amplifying the weather variations we consider normal. In the short term, we can take immediate measures such as constructing fire-resistant buildings, and clearing forests of dead trees. An effort can also be made to better organize evacuations, and create recovery plans that will not only guarantee safety, but also reduce damage. Recent large fires have demonstrated just how unprepared we really were.
Climate change and global warming are still urgent problems that need attention and action. The increasing number of wildfires is a red flag that cannot be overlooked. Protecting our homes is the first step, living sustainably is the next, and taking action to improve the state of our environment is the most important.