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Climate Change: A growing wildfire season

Posted: 7:46 AM, Sep 18, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-18 10:56:08-04
Hotter years, more fires
California Wildfires

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- 10news continues the discussion of climate change ahead of next week's United Nations Climate Summit, with a focus on something San Diegans know all too well: wildfires.

Climate change is increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation which is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme fire events.

"It’s predicted that the total area burned will increase by 50% or even as high as 100% over the coming century. We’re going to see more fires, and more dangerous fires and more deadly fires, " says Tom Corringham, a post-doctoral research economist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD.

Climate Central analyzed 45 years of U.S. Forest Service records of large wildfires and found there are three times more major wildfires burning across the west each year than in the 1970s. The annual area burned has increased six-fold with wildfire season lasting an average of 105 days longer, research showed.

RELATED: Climate Change: Living in a warming world

In California, there have been more large fires, burning more acres, particularly in warmer years. In Southern California we’re already seeing the move to a year-round wildfire season.

"What we are seeing is that climate change is getting worse and it’s accelerating at a pace that is greater than we were expecting," Corringham said.

Temperatures correlate with large wildfires. Forests are more vulnerable during droughts but even wet winters can spur growth of grasses and shrubs which dry out on warmer days and add available fuel.

"With unmitigated climate change we are likely going to see wildfires burning later in the season, specifically into December which is the peak of the Santa Ana wind season. That’s when you’re likely to get back-to-back Santa Ana winds. That is what happened a couple years ago with the Thomas Fire," explained Alexander Gershunov, a research meteorologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD.

RELATED: Climate Change: Sea-level rise and the impacts to San Diego

When it comes to wildfires the best thing you can do is prepare. Clear defensible space around your home, prepare an emergency kit, go over evacuation routes with your family, and put all valuables in a safe place that will make evacuation easier if necessary.

"The science is real, climate change is happening and it’s happening faster than we expected but if we all work together we can turn this around," said Corringham.