Valley Fire: This could be the face of our future

I am so grateful for the rain that fell yesterday, so unusual for California in September.

In these last months, I feel like I’ve had front row seats to the climate disaster unfolding as fire ravages our state, unable to do anything about it. The intensity and proximity of the Valley fire in Lake County has really brought this home. It’s not fair to attribute the fire to climate change. But the extremely dry conditions of vegetation, after four years of drought, are consistent with what we can expect going forward if climate change goes unabated. Climate Scientists say that climate change is responsible for at least a 15% increase in the intensity of California’s drought. They explain that a warmer climate causes increased evaporation, which means that even when rain and snow fall, less stays on – and in – the ground and plants, making for extremely volatile fuel loads. This is what has made this year’s fire season – and especially the Valley fire – so unprecedented.

The Valley fire exploded from 400 acres midday on Saturday to 40,000 acres by Sunday morning, overrunning the community of Middletown and consuming hundreds of homes in its path. Firefighters worked valiantly to save many of the public buildings, including the school, but the devastation was horrific.

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said of the Valley fire and the Butte fire, “The fires are spreading faster than I have seen in my 30 years.

Thankfully, the weather is giving firefighters a break. The fire has already burned 70,000 acres and is the third significant fire in Lake County in two months. Altogether, more than 164,000 acres have burned.

As you look at the ash-colored rubble and twisted steel of the Middletown wreckage, you have to ask yourself: “How many warnings do we need before we take significant action?” The slow motion train wreck is in progress. We need to do something now, if we don’t want this to become the new normal.

Valley Fire: This could be the face of our future, by Barry Vesser, Center for Climate Protection, September 16, 2015.

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