The massive wildfires flattening thousands of acres in Southern California were predictable. As was the cause that Governor Jerry Brown blamed yesterday: climate change.
The state doesn't technically have a set fire season, just changes in its preparedness levels. Two weeks ago, Accuweather predicted that this year, that preparedness would need to start earlier than usual. "With the lack of winter weather (i.e. rain) and what has already happened in the last few weeks with many smaller wildfires," the site wrote, "this could be shaping up to be not only an early fire season but a bad one too." Within days, several massive fires broke out. Right now, there are six fires burning; several of the larger ones are identified below.
It's not hard to trace the path backward. Over the course of the winter, more than half of the state was experiencing some level of drought. As recently as the end of February, 99.98 percent of the state was determined to be "abnormally dry." As articulated by the state's climate change information site — a project of Brown's — increases in forest fire and drought are exactly what climate models predict for the state.
Brown was explicit when talking to the press yesterday, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Our climate is changing, the weather is becoming more intense,” Brown said in an airplane hangar filled with trucks, airplanes and helicopters used by the state to fight fires. “It’s going to cost a lot of money and a lot of lives.
“The big issue (is) how do we adapt,” Brown said ,“because it doesn’t look like the people who are in charge are going to do what it takes to really slow down this climate change, so we are going to have to adapt. And adapting is going to be very, very expensive.”
California, the most enthusiastically green state in the country, has certainly tried to slow down climate change. It's one of the few parts of the country that has a market for trading carbon allowances, a tool intended to raise the cost of emitting carbon dioxide pollution. (The market went into effect earlier this year.) But as Brown notes, the ship has sailed on stemming any change that will produce more wildfires. His climate action webpage focuses on ways the state can adapt to warmer, drier, fierier conditions.
Investigators have determined that one of the larger fires currently burning in the state was accidentally set, perhaps as a result of "undetermined roadside ignition of grass and debris." In different weather conditions, that accidental blaze might have quickly burned out or been extinguished by rain. California has long had forest fires, of course. But the state can expect many more minor accidents becoming big problems.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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