Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last month, you know the Pacific Northwest just experienced an unprecedented heatwave. Seattle, Washington, for example, just experienced their hottest temperature ever recorded of 108 degrees Fahrenheit on June 28th. For Standford climatologist Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh, this heatwave that extended into northern California is further evidence of changing climate for The Golden State.
Dr. Diffenbaugh, in an interview with ABC 7 News, believes the state is only getting warm years, meaning that the area is consistently experiencing higher temperatures than the average for this time of year. This consistent increase in temperature is leading to drier vegetation and rapid snowmelt. Increased snowmelt means a much less reliable water supply than what is typical for the state. Decreased moisture is creating drier soils. Drier soils absorb less heat than soils with more moisture. This is evident by 41 of 58 counties having drought conditions as declared by Governor Newsom. Therefore a system is being created where more extreme heatwaves are possible.
Firefighters across California are taking note of data suggesting that fire season can start earlier and end later every year due to the changing climate. 14,000 firefighters have been added to Cal Fire and have even placed teams throughout Contra Costa County specifically in anticipation of fires to come. Fire Marshall of East Contra Costa Fire, Steve Aubert, states that these teams are placed specifically for “major incidents.” With the heatwave taking place around the 4th of July, Aubert states the importance of adhering to fireworks laws. There have been incidences of illegal fireworks being discharged and dry areas immediately igniting, and these fires often start in populated areas that threaten homes.
Dr. Diffenbaugh acknowledges there are steps we can take to prevent fire conditions from worsening. He states that hardening homes and clearing ignitable materials from around the home are the first steps. Hardening of homes consists of remodeling walls with ignition-resistant materials such as treated wood, stucco, fiber-cement wall siding, and treated wood.
As California’s climate becomes increasingly arid, it is more important now than ever to take the proper steps towards preventing fires. According to Dr. Diffenbaugh, more than 90 percent of fires started in California are caused by humans. This is encouraging, as it seems there are steps we can immediately take to slow the rate of climate change in California as it pertains to fires.