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Wet winters no longer reduce wildfire risk in California, report claims

Wildfires ravage Northern California
Posted at 7:44 PM, Mar 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-20 22:44:09-04

(KGTV) -- Wet winters are no longer a sign that California will have a reduced risk of wildfires, according to a new study.

The study claims that from 1600 and 1903, the position of the North Pacific jet stream over California was linked to the amount of precipitation and the severity of the following wildfire season.

After 1904, the connection between winter moisture brought by the jet stream and the severity of wildfire season weakened.

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According to the study, the connection between added moisture and wildfire risk disappeared altogether after 1977.

Now, fuel buildup from decades of fire suppression and rising temperatures from climate change means any year could see large wildfires, the report states.

"The moisture availability over California is still strongly linked to the position of the jet stream, but fire no longer is," said co-author Valerie Trouet, an associate professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

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Trouet says the wet 2016-2017 winter is proof of the claim. The added moisture that winter was followed by many large fires in 2017 including the Tubbs and Thomas fires.

In 2017, 24 people died and nearly 7,000 structures were destroyed by fires.

"It's not either climate change or historical fire management--it's really a combination of the two that's creating a perfect storm for catastrophic fires in California," Trouet said.