The intensity of wildfires has increased over the last few years. In high-risk areas like California, the record of fire catastrophes has left considerable territory burned and billions in expenses.
Back in 2020, the wildfire season destroyed more than 4.3 million acres and burned around 10,488 buildings to the ground, causing a minimum of 33 fatalities.
Experts inform that the California wildfires climate change problem is heavily affecting the frequency and intensity of the wildfires. This situation produces higher temperatures and droughts.
Also, the constant variation of precipitation patterns makes forests and vegetation more likely to catch fire and burn. Likewise, extreme weather events like severe lightning storms or high winds play a role in spreading wildfires uncontrollably.
In this article, we will analyze the connection between wildfires in California and climate change. Also, this informative piece will explore scientific evidence and research that back up this theory.
Rising Temperature and Drier Conditions
Elevated temperature is a direct result of climate change, consequently leading to drier conditions in forests and ecosystems.
The combination of these two factors, along with others, exacerbates the wildfire risks across the United States and in California particularly.
Reports suggest this problem will only get worst in the upcoming years. Thus, taking action and adopting effective measures are necessary to overcome climate change.
What Does Data Say About California’s Temperature Increase?
California is one of the states that have suffered the most devastating wildfires in the last five years (2018-2022). However, the increase in temperature has been a problem for this state for longer than that.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states that the temperature in California has increased to 3°F since the 20th century. This period covers from 1895 to 2020, with the warmest years from 2014 to 2020.
Unfortunately, the effects of climate change on the country are not over.
Per the California Climate Change Assessment, the temperature in California will rise to 5.8°F in the next 25 years.
This situation would exacerbate wildfire problems, leading to a significant impact on the communities and the ecosystem.
The Effect of Warmer Temperatures on the Ecosystem
Warmer temperatures directly affect the situation in high-risk areas like California.
This type of climate increase evaporation rates significantly, resulting in dry soil and vegetation. Therefore, the ecosystem is dryer and more vulnerable to ignition. The results are severe droughts for a longer time.
Every one of these factors comes together and creates a combustive scenario. The dry vegetation, extended droughts, and warmer temperatures allow wildfires to start and spread rapidly.
Examples Proving the Rising Temperature and Wildfire Activity Connection
Many disasters over the last five years are enough to prove the connection between rising temperatures and wildfires in California. In this case, we want to bring out the 2017 Thomas Fire in California.
The 2017 Thomas Fire took place in Southern California and was the largest wildfire recorded in the state at the time. This incident burned over 280,000 acres and left more than 1,000 structures destroyed or damaged.
After a thorough investigation, it was clear that the fire took place due to factors like dry conditions, high winds, and intense temperatures (above 100°F).
Initially, these fires escalated exponentially due to record-breaking heat waves, severe drought, and high winds. Similarly, the same conditions led to the ignition of the August Complex fire.
And wildfires in California have increased their frequency by 10% since the 1980s.
These examples boldly highlight the influence of rising temperatures on wildfires and their devastating consequences.
Extended Fire Season
Fire seasons in California have been increasing in duration, but why? Here’s what research and data show on this matter.
Research and Data — A Quick Overview of the Proof Showing the Lengthening of California Fire Seasons
A study published in 2021 revealed that the California fire season’s length has increased by 75 days since the 2000s. This study recollected satellite data, which allowed researchers to evaluate the timing and fire propagation in the state.
Likewise, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) continuously publishes information about wildfires in California.
This statistic reveals that an average fire season in the state can last longer than ten months. In 1970, the estimated length of a fire season was five months.
Regular publication of these studies allows us to understand the duration of wildfire seasons and their concerning lengthening over the years.
The Implications of Longer Fire Seasons
Longer fire seasons have severe implications, including increased exposure and new challenges for firefighter agencies and communities. Let’s give you a look over some of the effects.
Longer wildfire seasons put many people and communities at risk of having significant losses. When the fires extend deep into spring and fall, more fires can break out in areas that were less prone to this danger.
More Challenges to Communities
The chaos ensued after a wildfire inevitably resulted in economic and social damage to communities around the area. These fires destroy homes, buildings, and even the ecosystem.
As a result, people face money loss, fewer job opportunities, and even psychological trauma. Lengthier wildfire seasons will also affect access to essential resources like water and pure air, taking a toll on human health.
A Highly and Exhaustive Duty for Firefighters
Throughout long fire seasons, firefighters struggle to contain the damage and protect communities. As a result, firefighting personnel needs to work more hours and usually under severe weather conditions.
These conditions can be exhaustive both physically and mentally. Similarly, fewer resources will be available as time passes.
Uncontrolled fire heavily alters firefighting costs and recovery funds.
Likewise, wildfires result in significant costs to recover property damage, like destroyed homes, businesses, and infrastructure. When communities suffer from respiratory issues, the situation can also lead to higher healthcare costs while recovering from respiratory issues or when wildfire victims need medical services.
Overall, longer fire seasons in California have long-lasting implications for the ecosystem and communities. They also underscore financial resources and efforts employed to mitigate the fires.
Specific Examples of Fire Seasons Lasting Longer than the Historical Norm
Interestingly, the most recent examples of wildfires extending beyond historical norms happened in California. Let’s get a look at them.
The 2020 Wildfire Seasons
This period began in mid-August, already a date earlier than usual. Then, the season extended into November. From beginning to end, this incident broke every historical norm and record.
2018 Fire Season
A devastating and chaotic season that resulted in some of the most intense fires burning across the state. The fires started in early May, again earlier than expected. Then, the fire season continued through November.
2017 Fire Season
In 2017, the state suffered the largest and most intense wildfires ever in California. Again, the fire season started earlier in June and burned through November, a month later than usual.
These are a few examples of how the wildfire seasons have increased in duration and intensity in recent years.
Impact on Vegetation and Fuel Load
The impact of the California wildfires climate change problem on vegetation includes many scenarios like longer growing seasons, severe drought, and heat stress on plants.
Here’s how these scenarios play out and increase the fuel load danger in wildfires.
Climate Change — Effect on Vegetation and How Does It Contribute to Increased Fuel Load
Climate change severely affects vegetation in multiple ways. This situation produces an increased fuel load, which means higher risks of wildfires. The following are the main observations to consider.
Longer Growing Seasons
Some regions have to deal with longer growing seasons due to climate change. Over time, this problem results in more vegetation, meaning more fuel to ignite wildfires.
Infestations and Invasive Species
Warmer temperatures allow invasive species like bark beetles to resist the weather and survive the winter. Infestations of these species can affect trees, resulting in standing dead fuel that is highly flammable.
Vapor Pressure Deficit
Varying temperatures and consequences of climate change also result in dry air, which fuels a significant vapor pressure deficit.
This term refers to the difference between the actual air moisture and how much moisture the air can hold while saturated.
Poor Forest Management
Lastly, an overlooked factor that contributes to increased fuel load is the lack of effective forest management policies. Unattended ecosystems deal with dead wood, leaves, and undergrowth that directly assist in igniting fires.
These factors can increase fuel load and increase wildfire risks. They play a direct role in stressing out vegetation or increasing trees’ presence.
In any case, firefighting agencies have the urgency of working on proactive measures to lower the fuel load danger. For example, firefighters must work on prescribed burns or mechanical thinning.
Research Findings: Changes in Vegetation Patterns and Subsequent Impact on Wildfire Behavior
Research proves that recent changes in vegetation patterns primarily occurred due to climate change. This problem affects wildlife behavior in the following ways:
Elevated Fire Intensity
Longer growing seasons lead to more tree abundance, resulting in more fuel load and hotter wildfires. As a result, the fires are more challenging to contain, increasing the risk of property damage and loss of human lives.
Rapid Fire Spread
Dense vegetation stands and invasive species can produce constant fuel pathways, allowing the fires to spread faster between areas.
Longer Fire Seasons
Prolonged growing seasons and extreme drought extend the fire’s duration and increase its spreading pattern. Thus, wildfires are more frequent and intense.
Altered vegetation patterns impact ecosystems significantly, affecting plant and animal communities. Likewise, soil health and nutrient cycling also receive severe damage.
The findings indicate that changes in vegetation patterns caused by climate change impact wildlife behavior considerably.
Amplified Fire Intensity and Frequency
The consequences of more frequent and intense wildfires are visible for everyone to see. Here, we will discuss the factor behind this occurrence.
Research Findings — What Studies Tell Us About Wildfire Increased Intensity and Frequency
Research proves that the intensity and frequency of wildfires in California have risen exponentially in recent years. These are the key findings backing up this claim.
Research Studies and Statistical Data Supporting Climate Change Implications over California Wildfires
The University of California, Davis, conducted a study that backs the theory about the frequency and intensity of wildfires in California.
Researchers from the university published this study in Environmental Research Letters, detailing the severe drought between 2012-2016 and how it quadrupled the area burned.
This is in comparison to the droughts between 1987-1992, which were cooler.
And this study highlights the necessity of implementing thoughtful land-use planning and fuel management measures. Ideally, firefighting agencies and communities must employ this type of action quickly, especially in high-risk locations in the state.
An Increased Number of Fires Ignited by Climate Change
Researchers studied data from the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity and found that the country has experienced more fires since 2005 than before that year up to 1984.
Therefore, not only is the United States dealing with intense and more frequent fires, but they’re also more in quantity.
The Detrimental Effects of Wildfire Intensity and Frequency on California Communities
The high intensity and frequency of wildfires in California have taken a toll on the state’s communities. Currently, the destruction by disasters affects natural resources, infrastructure, and human lives.
All of these elements inevitably alter the quality of living in communities state-wide.
Loss of Life and Property Destruction
Wildfires threaten the human lives of people living in areas with high risk or near wildlands. Likewise, California residents living in these areas are prone to losing their homes, businesses, and infrastructure.
Large wildfires produce intense smoke and other types of pollution into the air, causing respiratory issues and affecting human health. Vulnerable groups like kids can suffer severe consequences because of this.
Likewise, the elderly and pregnant women are groups equally affected by smoke inhalation. Ultimately, everyone is prone to dealing with health issues during or after a wildfire.
Wildfires can consume hundreds of acres at once, destroying or damaging property. Infrastructures like roads and water treatment buildings are also in danger.
The Native Americans are communities that suffer deeply from this problem, too. When fires force these communities out of their habitats, the community members also take their knowledge about taking care of the ecosystem around them.
Frequent and Severe Fires — The Effect on Ecosystems and Fauna
Wildfires have a massive impact on the ecosystem, affecting elements like forests, wildlife, and biodiversity. Here’s a detailed look into this issue.
Damage to Forests
Frequent and intense fires can change the structure and previous composition of forests. For example, some tree or plant types may disappear entirely.
As a result, the area will have to deal with less diversity and fewer ecosystem services, like a reduced number of natural water filtration.
Soil health is another concern to keep in mind. Wildfires lower the number of organic matter, and the flames can also mess up the soil nutrients. So, some plants or trees planted may not survive in these conditions.
Carbon Storage. Huge trees in the forest are directly responsible for sequestering carbon and mitigating the damage done by climate change.
Examples of Specific Communities and Ecosystems Affected by Recent Wildfires
Recent wildfires have been some of the most devastating ever recorded. These are a few examples of how these disasters affected communities and ecosystems.
2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California
This incident occurred when the Camp Fire set ablaze in the town of Paradise, California. The chaos ended the lives of 86 people and destroyed over 18,000 structures.
Both the Paradise and Concow towns suffered nearly total destruction, losing approximately 95% of their structures.
Sierra Nevada Forests
Wildfires have been hitting the Sierra Nevada forest constantly in the last few years, burning over 375,000 acres and resulting in the closure of national parks and recreational areas. Plus, these fires heavily affected wildlife habitats.
This wildfire sent California’s wine country into spiraled chaos and resulted in heavy economic damage. The fires destroyed over 67,000 acres of land and dozens of wineries. Due to the fires, the region lost millions of dollars in economic damage.
The intensity and frequency of wildfires in California should become a clear sign of the dangers posed by climate change in high-risk areas of the state.
Rising temperatures, extended drought, and variations in vegetation patterns are all the perfect elements for disaster. Controlling these elements is essential to avoid fires and save lives, the ecosystem, and California’s infrastructure.
It’s obvious that actions are necessary to address the root of the problem.
Both the state and community must work closely to promote awareness, preparedness and discuss potential plans to mitigate the damage in a joint effort. For example, forest management practices, prescribed burns, and other strategies could be a massive difference for the better.
We cannot overstate the urgency of taking action to protect California’s communities, forests, and wildlife from the dangers of climate change. Only when we work together, we will start taking proper steps in the right direction.