Monday, April 27, 2015

‘Explosive’ Wildfires Are Already Out of Control Months Before Fire Season

California’s firefighters are bracing for a long summer. (Credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) Click to Enlarge.
“Wildfire season” seems to be a thing of the past for drought-stricken California, with fires now raging throughout the year.

There have already been nearly 850 wildfires this year — 70 percent above the average, according to CAL FIRE data.  High temperatures and low precipitation, both related to climate change, have dried out forests and scrublands across the western United States, allowing fires to spread faster and farther than usual, any time during the year.

“Since 2000 we’ve been seeing larger and more damaging fires,” Daniel Berlant, chief of public information for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), told NBC News.  “What we’re seeing now is that the rain is starting later and stopping much earlier.  The fires are burning at explosive speed because the vegetation is so dry and that allows them to get much larger.”
Snowpack is a key source of water for California, and it is now at a historic low.  In fact, even the ponds where firefighters fill up their helicopters have run dry.

“Because of the drought we are having to locate other water sources for our aerial program.  Some of the holding ponds in central California are just not there anymore.  So we have to plan prior to the fires where the helicopters can go to fill up,” Mike Mohler, a fire captain with CAL FIRE, told NBC News.
Firefighters are seeing the climate change effects firsthand.  The drought and higher temperatures are not only increasing the likelihood of fires, they are making fires worse, experts say.

“Five years ago without a drought in California you would still get wildland fires.  But the vegetation wouldn’t burn as quickly.  Now there’s zero moisture and you get explosive fire growth,” Mohler said.

Read more at ‘Explosive’ Wildfires Are Already Out of Control Months Before Fire Season

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