Wildfires Just a Sneak Preview?

yorba-linda-fire.jpgTed Soqui shot this in Yorba Linda the weekend past. See his amazing slideshow here.

Now that the fires have been contained, heroes have been identified, firefighting techniques have been blasted, causes have been zeroed in on, and our Last Action Hero Governor has likened the disaster to one of the crappiest action movies ever (Armageddon, which he didn’t even star in), some sobering news:

Worse wildfires are likely a-comin’.

So says a report released last week by UC Berkeley researchers David Roland-Holst and Fredrich Kahrl. “California Climate Risk and Response” says battling wildfires could rise from the current $1 billion annually to $25 billion in a smells-like-burning Golden State.

The study warns that wildfires, extreme weather and rising sea levels associated with climate change threaten $2.5 trillion worth of the state’s $4 trillion in real estate assets.

"In the case of fire the real problem for California has to do with the changing seasonal water availability,” Roland-Holst says in a Guardian UK article on the report.

The disappearing Sierra Nevada snowpack is key. With rising temperatures, the snow melts earlier and water supplies are depleted by the time fire season rolls around in the fall. The loss of the snow mass, a natural refrigerator, causes the ground to warm earlier than usual, creating tinderbox conditions sooner. Scarce water has distressed trees, causing bark beetle infestations in Southern California mountains that make the timber even more attractive as fuel for wildfires.

Meanwhile, climate models predict a very dry future for our region.

The Berkeley eggheads suggest that the state develop a strategy for dealing with all this, but not everyone is sold on the link between climate change and the latest wildfires. In the same Guardian piece, Dan Cayan, a climate researcher at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, calls it “a bit of a stretch” to claim that climate change caused these particular fires to be worse than usual.

But Cayan did agree the “climate change era,” which includes longer and more intense summers, creates a potential for larger fires to come: “Nature is shifting towards a more fire-prone environment.”

We'll bring the marshmallows.

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