As fires rage across the state with a rising death toll – of more than 59 at press time Thursday – it’s clear that climate change and human impact have intensified California’s prolonged fire seasons.
The Woolsey, Camp and Hill Fires have so far burned more than 200,000 acres.
David Bickford, associate professor of biology, said that California is getting hotter and dryer for longer periods of times.
“Fire is part of the natural system, but it (shouldn’t) happen as often, as frequently or intensely as it is today,” he said.
Bickford said that plants and animals have evolved to survive fires, but as people expand infrastructure, wildlife has less of a chance of survival.
He added that people are a major factor determining the frequency and intensity of the fires.
Bickford said he predicts that California fire season conditions will get worse, but he stressed that it will not become an apocalyptic situation yet.
Bickford said that the fires do not pose an immediate threat to La Verne, but there is a chance that high winds will affect the air quality.
“Fortunately in the past, these winds tend to go around us,” said La Verne Fire Department Batallion Chief Kevin Greenway. “It’s when winds shift we may see a bit more of a smoke influence.”
Greenway advises people to limit their outside activities as a precaution.
According to the Air Quality Management District as of Thursday, air quality in our area remains good.
An expected El Niño winter, could bring more than average rain to the state, according to the National Weather Service.
Jay Jones, professor of biology and biochemistry, said he anticipates rain will fall farther north in California. When there is a wet season, particularly following massive fires, the rain from El Niño can cause excessive flooding and promote wildlife growth, he added.
“We don’t think about the floods because when the rain does come, vegetation doesn’t have the buffering capacity to stop flooding,” Jones said.
However, fires are still a concern for the area, according to the U.S. Forestry Department in La Verne.
“We’ve been in a drought for 10 years,” said Luis Dozal, engine captain from the local office of the U.S. Forestry Department. “Everything is super dry, and if anything starts it’ll pick up rapidly because of high temperatures and low relative humidity. I believe we would need about 20 inches of rain, which is unheard of. But we need rain.”
Because of the hotter and dryer average weather in California, all new wildlife growth will dry up, increasing fuel load for the next fire, Jones said.
“Climate change in general is making fire seasons longer and the effects of fire felt more because fire spreads with hotter, dryer winds,” Bickford said. “More energy in the system is also affected by climate change.”
A significant overarching factor on the environment is the human impact.
“Every excess item that we buy and use, every gallon of gas that we burn, is a vote for climate change,” Jones said.
“After what happens when it rains in a fire, the lands are more susceptible to mudslides and mudflows” Bickford said. “Things could get much worse and there is a high likelihood that they would.”
“There are no good things that come out of the intensity and the frequency of the fires that we see now,” Bickford said.
“Even if your home is not in danger, just breathing the air – you don’t have to be exercising or anything else – is harmful,” Bickford said.
President Donald Trump blamed the California fires on poor forest management on Twitter.
“The kinds of things that are coming out of this administration are just absurd,” Bickford said. “The comments that California is doing or not doing is not the case. It’s not the truth. The situation that we are in is part of the problem is too many people in this part of the planet.”
The Camp fire and the Woolsey fire were both started because of infrastructure, so people need to make sure everything is working properly, Bickford said.
Bickford said people need to be mindful of the environmental impact of their habits and hobbies such as electricity usage, fire hazards during camping trips.
“Anything that they do has an impact to promote the starting of fires,” Bickford said.
“What happens in the community affects us all,” Bickford said.
“Whole communities are affected by this, so even if you, as an individual or your family, are affected, we are all connected so we are all affected.”
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