Aug 17, 2016

‘A very dangerous place to be': Huge California blaze forces 82,000 evacuations

Cajon Pass, California
William Dauber and Darryl Fears
Washington Post

Exacerbating conditions and the wildfire’s aggressive nature are the state’s five years of record drought, experts say. Park Williams, a bio-climatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said vegetation that fuels wildfires is drier than it ordinarily would be.

Global warming “is absolutely contributing to what we’re seeing in California this year, and more broadly, to the increases in fire activity that we’ve seen over the past several decades throughout the western United States,” Williams said Wednesday. “The relationship between fuel dryness and fire activity is exponential. This means that as drying occurs, the effects on fire are increasingly extreme.”

Williams pushed back against statements by some in California that called huge wildfires “the new normal” there. The state’s “relationship between fire and climate is the most unreliable,” he said. While it’s true that warmer, drier years are big fire years in California, the cause and forces that make them grow are more complicated than climate alone