Cli­mate change could triple fre­quency of large wild­fires

Re­port: No doubt that warm­ing is caused by hu­man ac­tiv­ity

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Front Page - BY STU­ART LEAV­EN­WORTH sleav­en­[email protected]­ Stu­art Leav­en­worth: 202-383-6070, @sleav­en­worth

Res­i­dents of the West­ern United States should pre­pare for a po­ten­tial tripling of large wild­fires in the com­ing decades, a new fed­eral re­port on cli­mate change re­vealed Fri­day.

And, it warned, the re­gion should also ex­pect ad­di­tional wa­ter short­ages, heat wave deaths and smoke pol­lu­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the Fourth Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment, Cal­i­for­nia and the West have al­ready wit­nessed an ex­pan­sion of cat­a­strophic blazes be­cause of cli­mate change and ris­ing warm­ing, with twice as much acreage burned by wild­fire than what have would oc­curred oth­er­wise.

“Higher tem­per­a­tures sharply in­crease the risk of megadroughts – dry pe­ri­ods last­ing 10 years or more,” says the re­port, ad­min­is­tered by the Na­tional Oceanic and At­modry spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion with con­tri­bu­tions from the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, NASA and other re­search agen­cies.

Such “megadroughts” will trig­ger a cas­cade of im­pacts, in­clud­ing pos­si­bly three times as many large wild­fires – those roughly 20 square miles or larger – than what has his­tor­i­cally oc­curred.

The re­port comes as Cal­i­for­nia con­tin­ues to count the dead from the Camp Fire in Butte County, which has killed at least 84 peo­ple, burned nearly 240 square miles and is 95 per­cent con­tained. More than 13,500 homes have been de­stroyed in the blaze, mak­ing it Cal­i­for­nia’s most de­struc­tive in his­tory.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump toured dev­as­ta­tion caused by the Camp Fire last week­end, but de­clined to link the blaze to con­di­tions ex­ac­er­bated by cli­mate change. He in­stead blamed them on lack of for­est man­age­ment, in­clud­ing “rak­ing” of the forests.

NOAA ear­lier this week re­ported that last month was the sec­ond hottest Oc­to­ber on record world­wide, and fourth hottest on record. NOAA also re­ported that con­di­tions that sum­mer set the stage for the Camp Fire and oth­ers in No­vem­ber.

“Sum­mer 2018 was much warmer than av­er­age across the state – record warm in some places, es­pe­cially at night – and in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, pre­cip­i­ta­tion ranged from be­low av­er­age to record dry,” NOAA said in a re­port ear­lier this week.

“Pre­cip­i­ta­tion across much of the state was less than 5 per­cent of av­er­age in Septem­ber, and the sum­mer dry sig­nal ex­tended into be­gin­ning of the fall wet sea­son, with be­low-av­er­age pre­cip­i­ta­tion in Oc­to­ber as well. With all the heat and dry­ness, the ground was dry to start No­vem­ber, with veg­e­ta­tion turned into ex­cel­lent fire fuel,” NOAA added.

Man­dated by Con­gress, the Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment is prod­uct of the U.S. Global Change Re­search Pro­gram, aimed at help­ing the na­tion and world “un­der­stand, as­sess, pre­dict, and re­spond to hu­manin­duced and nat­u­ral pro­cesses of global change.”

Vol­ume I of the re­port was re­leased a year ago, and out­lined the cur­rent un­der­stand­ing of the sci­ence be­hind cli­mate change. Fri­day’s re­port went fur­ther into the known im­pacts of cli­mate change, on a re­gion-by-re­gion level.

Over­all, the re­port con­cluded that global av­er­age tem­per­a­ture has in­creased by about 1.8 de­grees Fahren­heit from 1901 to 2016. “Ob­ser­va­tional ev­i­dence does not sup­port any cred­i­ble nat­u­ral ex­pla­na­tions for this amount of warm­ing,” the re­port said.

In a chap­ter on the South­west’s cli­mate, the re­port in­cludes an anal­y­sis of for­est area burned between 1984 and 2015, con­clud­ing that roughly 24 mil­lion acres burned dur­ing that pe­riod, twice the amount that would have been torched with­out cli­mate change’s im­pact.

HEC­TOR AMEZCUA [email protected]

Eyler Har­ri­son of Grass Val­ley, a con­trac­tor for Cal Fire, clears dam­aged trees Mon­day in the wake of the Camp Fire. The wild­fire in Butte County killed at least 84 peo­ple, burned nearly 240 square miles and de­stroyed more than 13,500 homes.

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