West Coast facing uptick in wildfires thanks to climate change, experts say
Nearly 80 wildfires across 13 states have ravaged 1.5 million acres of land this year, forcing thousands of people from their homes. Experts say global warming has made the situation worse.
As authorities urged the residents of the tiny California town of Taylorsville to evacuate about six days ago from the fast-approaching Dixie Fire, Cody Pearce, his brother Clancy and neighbor Travis Bloxham stayed. They opted to try to save their properties using garden hoses hooked up to water trucks.
“We stayed and did what we could to help there, soak everything down and try to save the town if the fire was to come our way,” Pearce, a volunteer firefighter, told Yahoo News, adding, “We are not out of the woods yet on this.”
Some residents of Taylorsville, which is in the northeastern portion of the state, see the three men as local heroes and have started a GoFundMe page to help pay for fuel to keep the water trucks running as they prepare for the arrival of the wildfires terrorizing much of the Western U.S.
“As the resident of one of the homes they are fighting to protect, I feel it is the least I can do to setup a fund for them to recover their losses while performing this exceptionally generous act,” Brad Underwood wrote on the fundraising page, which has so far taken in more than $12,000 in donations.
For Pearce, the decision to stay was not a difficult one to make.
“It’s home. We don’t want to lose home and don’t want any of our neighbors to lose home,” he said. “We are a real small, tight community, so we wanted to do everything we could just to help.”
With more of his neighbors still evacuating, the fire is now about half a mile away from Taylorsville, Pearce said. Each year, he said, he’s noticed an uptick in wildfires that experts say is linked to climate change.
“We’ve had fires forever, but it seems the fires are getting worse and worse,” he said.
Cal Fire tweeted on Monday that the Dixie Fire is now the 15th largest wildfire in the state’s history and urged everyone in the area to be prepared to evacuate.
While wildfires are a natural occurrence in the West, and a necessary part of the ecosystem, experts note that more acres have burned in recent years thanks to climate change.
“Wildfires and climate change share a cyclical relationship,” Danielle Butcher, executive vice president of the American Conservation Coalition, told Yahoo News. “While one is not necessarily directly caused by the other, they both lead to conditions that can exacerbate the other. A changing climate can lead to warmer, drier conditions, which allows for more frequent and intense fires. As the fires increase, so do their emissions, which worsen the condition of our climate.”
The Bootleg Fire in Oregon, currently the largest active wildfire in the country, is burning more than 410,000 acres and has so far damaged 161 homes and 342 vehicles, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The Tamarack Fire, which is located along the California and Nevada border, has also caused numerous evacuations and has burned more than 68,000 acres.
“Climate change does have an impact on our fire seasons; however, it is not the only factor at play,” Butcher said. “For example, while active forest management does not completely eliminate fires, it does allow them to burn at a lower intensity without as much ‘fuel’ or debris littering the forest floor. Poor forest management practices have left many forests overcrowded, providing the perfect opportunity for fire to spread rapidly and dangerously. Both climate and forest management practices are important considerations in this discussion.”
Pearce believes the bigger issue causing the growth of wildfires is the lack of preventive measures.
“Piss-poor forest management and resources is a big deal, more so than climate change,” he said. “You either graze it, log it, or you let it burn.”
Eight of the 20 largest fires in California’s history occurred in the last three years, according to the California Air Resources Board. “During the recent ‘hotter’ drought, unusually warm temperatures intensified the effects of very low precipitation and snowpack, creating conditions for extreme, high severity wildfires that spread rapidly,” the agency said on its website.
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