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Climate Change – A Burning Issue

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“Despite what you may hear in Washington, climate change is a factor… This is not about theory. It’s not about politics. This is about fires on the ground, people’s homes…”

~ California Governor Jerry Brown

Climate Change is a Burning Issue

Recently, the Fire Foundation presented at the San Diego Foundation’s “Solution Series on Climate Change” to discuss the impact climate change is having on wildfires.

Climate Change + 3 million people = wildfires
While it’s true that some fires are started by natural factors such as lightning, more than 95% of all fires are started by people, which means ”…95 percent of all fires can be prevented….” (CAL FIRE Chief Ken Pimlott, San Diego Union Tribune, May 7, 2014.)

We need to be Careful! It just takes one spark to start a wildfire. In fact, the May 2014 Bernardo fire was sparked by a tractor doing soil testing at a construction site. The fire lasted several days, scorching 1,548 acres in North County and forcing thousands to evacuate.

Physical and financial costs are substantial

Chaparral

Dry California chaparral burns fast, but grasslands burn faster. Photo © K.E. Pack.

The cost of wildfires is huge. Not only is it expensive to suppress and recover—our May fires cost $28 million to suppress and $29 million in private property damage—the damage to wildlife, air and water quality, and the propensity for erosion and mudslides is substantial.

As an example, chaparral—woody native plants that cover the hillsides—take 15 years to regrow. If fires occur more frequently, chaparral will turn to grasslands, which not only removes valuable habitat for animals, it also burns faster, creating a greater danger.

Santa Ana winds are coming earlier
Californians know that Santa Ana winds enrage wildfires. The hot, explosive winds blow fire embers ahead of where firefighters are trying to suppress the fires.

The Santa Ana winds traditionally blow in October and coincide with fire season. What we experienced in May—fourteen significant fires fueled by fierce Santa Ana winds—is unheard of, but it may be our new normal. Climate change will likely bring us longer, more severe fire seasons.

San Diego will be warmer
Factors influencing wildfires

Activities that create sparks:

  • Mowing or using a weed-wacker
  • chain saws,
  • grinders,
  • welders,
  • tractors,
  • vehicles
  • Hunting (target practice)

Wildfires are greatly influenced by climatic conditions: heat, drought, and wind. San Diego’s rough terrain and vegetation make us one of the most fire prone regions in the country. As temperatures are predicted to increase and drought conditions worsen, vegetation will become drier, creating more ready fuel for explosive wildfires. Already this year, we have had 3,600, almost 50% more statewide wildfires than usual.
With climate change, wildfire season looks like it may be longer and more extreme. Be prepared.

For more information on Climate Change: