Friday, May 16, 2014

Climate Change Induced Wildfires Burn Out of Control in Southern California

One hundred and twenty five thousand people have been evacuated and businesses, schools and amusement parks have been shut down in Southern California due to the threat from wildfires. Many homes have been destroyed and millions of dollars of damage has been reported so far. The devastating spate of fires have also spawned what is being called "firenados", a surreal twister made of flame. The Fire Department is fighting the flames and has deployed water-bombers.

Local officials have indicated that there is a connection between California's wildfires and climate change. According to scientists, climate change has lengthening the fire season in California by several days per year. The Western wildfire season is now 78 days longer than it was in the mid-1980s. This year, due to worsening drought, the season effectively never stopped.

Wildfires in San Diego County, have forced the closure of schools, widespread evacuations and the devastation of approximately 10,000 acres which has prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency.

Triple digit temperatures are compounding the problem. The 102-degree reading in Oxnard, is the hottest temperature ever recorded in the month of May and just shy of the all time record for the area. Other areas in Southern California have also broken records.

The 400 acre Poinsettia Fire near Carlsbad has already claimed at least one victim and the Tomahawk fire that broke out on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base north of San Diego has destroyed more than 100 acres prompting evacuation of military housing and a naval weapons station.

On a brighter note crews have made substantial headway against the Bernardo Fire allowing people to go back to their homes. The Bernardo fire has burnt more than 1,500 acres. A total of 18,400 people were evacuated in and around San Marcos, north of San Diego. A total of 3 million people live in the area.

Firefighting efforts are being helped by less wind and cooler temperatures. However, prolonged draught and heat have made the area very vulnerable to forest fires.

Southern California has experienced some devastating fires in the past including the 2003 Cedar Fire scorched more than 437 square miles, nearly 3,000 buildings and killed 15 people. Another devastating wave of fires swept the San Diego region in 2007.

The wildfire situation is related to climate change induced drought that has taken hold across California. This does not bode well for the coming summer as the entire state is now suffering from “severe,” “extreme,” or “exceptional” drought conditions. This unprecedented wildfire risk is yet another painful and expensive corollary of our climate impacts.

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