College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

California Ablaze

July 4, 2008

Hot, dry atmosphere has made this spring one of the worst fire seasons in California history. Due to limited number of firefighters and equipment, hundreds of remote blazes are remained to burn. Is this a sign of fire seasons to come, and are we prepared to handle it?

We’ve had the driest spring this year in 80 years, and warm weather, too. So, can we blame that on climate change? UC Berkeley fire researcher Max Moritz gets asked this all the time, and I sense it’s one of his least favorite questions. After all: Next year might be rainy and cold. Will we take that to mean that climate change isn’t happening after all?

Here’s the best answer I’ve heard: The fire season of 2008 may or may not itself be the result of climate change, but it’s the kind of weather we’re likely to see more of in the future. That explains the Governor’s call to arm CalFire with more helicopters and fire trucks.

But it also means there’s a lot more to learn about how, exactly, climate change will drive fires in California. And if you ask Moritz, we tend to neglect those questions. No, it’s no surprise that Moritz — the researcher — wants more money for research. Still, it’s worth noting that while more than a billion dollars will be spent on fire fighting this year, UC Berkeley’s Center for Fire Research and Outreach may go broke before winter.

-- by Amy Standen

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