Written by Thomas Orr, ESLLC 2016-2017
A recent study found that that human induced climate change had doubled the area of forest fires in the past 30 years. As the atmosphere warms so does the air, warmer air can hold more moisture and this results in the drying out of forests. Like a tinderbox many areas are so dry that a single lightening strike can induce a blaze. Average temperatures in large parts of forests in the U.S. have risen 2.5 degrees F. The drought in California is an example of how warm air and lack of moisture can result in widespread forest fires. This combined with fire fighters preventing cleansing fires to remove dry material leads to large amounts of fuel piling up. The effects of increased wildfires are more than the destruction of forests and homes, smoke from these fires can cause health problems killing up to 340,000 people each year. Not only that but the carbon released into the air increases warming leading to even more negative effects on the environment.
On June 19, 2013 The East Peak fire destroyed large parts of a Scout Ranch where I happened to be working. After evacuating the staff and scouts, we went to the the nearby town where I live and we could see the plumes of smoke and flashes of fire from my house. The smoke was blinding and made breathing painful. I lost a lot of my possessions in the fire when the staff quarters burned. Several buildings were lost but luckily no one was seriously injured. This was only a minor forest fire and larger ones can seriously threaten the lives of thousands of people and destroy large amounts of property.
“No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear,” said study coauthor Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Climate is really running the show in terms of what burns. We should be getting ready for bigger fire years than those familiar to previous generations.”