Wildfires in Southern California this week “destroyed more than 50 homes and forced thousands of residents to flee.” “At least two deaths have been confirmed, more than 10,000 acres have been scorched, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency.” Just one week of bringing three wildfires under control cost over $12 million. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) rightly recognized that this problem is only going to get worse with global warming:
As the climate warms and wildland fires become bigger and more intense, a rapid response is critical to prevent the spread of fires.
And yet, as the San Jose Mercury News reports, “The Bush administration has failed to outfit massive California Air National Guard cargo planes for firefighting duty despite pressure from the military and elected officials—a delay that could have grave implications as the state confronts the worst of its wildfire season.” In April, Schwarzenegger told Bush it “would be reckless” to not have these aircraft ready. In July, more that 1,700 wildfires burned across California, at a cost of greater than $200 million. And October and November bring the peak of the southern California wildfire season, with Santa Ana winds fueling potentially catastrophic conditions.
Of course, Bush has not only made fighting wildfires harder by his mismanagement of the National Guard, but also by his reckless inaction on global warming. The San Francisco Chronicle explains the vicious wildfire-global warming cycle:
The risk of catastrophic wildfires like those that swept through the state the past two years is expected to increase as the world heats up, forests dry out and weather patterns shift, forestry experts said.
Studies have shown that fires in general are burning hotter and bigger and that fire season is coming earlier in the year. A recent study by NASA predicted lightning will increase about 6 percent as the amount of carbon dioxide doubles.
Research by the U.S. Forest Service shows that the average number of trees killed by fires increases due to a warmer climate and consequently less snowmelt. The data were bolstered by UC Davis scientists who have reported significant changes in weather patterns over the years, including less snowfall and more rain in the Lake Tahoe Basin contributing to drier forest fuels and more severe fires.
“It’s a vicious circle,” Pfister said. “Global warming leads to dryness, more fires, more health effects, more dead forests and less vegetation to take up the carbon. And this all adds to more global warming.”