The Impact of Climate Change on California Fires

Written by Halle Brown, ESLLC 2017-2018

Over the past half decade, California has experienced fluctuating weather patterns. Up until last year, the state was experiencing the most extreme drought until receiving copious amounts of precipitation in the winter of 2016 into 2017. This year was another abnormally dry year causing the megafires that burned over 200,000 acres this fall and, recently, have lead to severe flooding.

California is my home state and it breaks my heart to hear the stories of family friends who have lost their homes and cherished belongings to these natural disasters. It is even more frightening when climate scientists claim that fire seasons similar to this past one will occur more frequently as Earth’s temperature warms. According to the New York Times article, “In a Warming California, a Future of More Fire” the variation in dry and wet years will increase causing a longer fire season and a greater risk. The wet years result in an increase in vegetation, which during the dry years is fuel for fires. Scientists also predict less rain in California during the fall and more in January and February meaning the fire season will extend farther into the year.

The effects of climate change are devastating with a loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, and sea level rise affecting nations around the world. But until recently, I personally have not experienced these effects as a middle-class Californian. We don’t have hurricanes that destroy infrastructure on the East Coast and take lives mercilessly in Puerto Rico. Once the fires broke out this fall, however, I saw the disaster and destruction of a changing climate. If we don’t take action now, every single person will know the pain of losing something to an uncontrollable weather pattern we have created.

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