The 2017 wildfire crisis

Image: Damage in Coffey Park, Santa Rosa after wildfire (NBC News, https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/western-wildfires/one-killed-major-wildfires-ignite-overnight-across-northern-california-n809206)

Since October 8, firefighters in California have responded to 250 new wildfires. In 2017, 7980 fires have burned 1,046,995 acres of land in California, according to CAL FIRE. One wildfire, the Tubbs Fire, has broken the record for most destructive wildfire in the history of California, burning 36,793 acres, destroying 5300 structures, and killing 22 civilians as also reported by CAL FIRE. In total, the wildfires have killed 42 civilians, according to CNBC. These wildfires pose serious questions about the nature of climate change and how we should treat our environment, as well as questions about how the government should respond to natural disasters.

In an article by Scientific American entitled “Scientists See Climate Change in California’s Wildfires,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain explains how climate change exacerbated the California wildfire crisis. The summer of 2017 was the warmest in more than 100 years, which dried out vegetation which in turn acted as fuel for the fires. This drying out of vegetation is also related to California’s recent historic drought, also linked to climate change. Additionally, strong winds blew the fires farther and into urban areas.

In the same article, climate scientist LeRoy Westerling says that climate models predict California to have continuing cycles of drought and rainfall due to climate change, a deadly combination when it comes to wildfires.

On October 19, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to combat wildfires in California and elsewhere, according to The Hill. Among other things, the bill would include a program for the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department agencies to treat the most potentially dangerous areas for wildfires by removing dried vegetation, which might drastically decrease wildfire destruction for reasons previously explained. It would also provide $100 million to prepare against wildfires for communities most threatened by potential wildfires. This would be in addition to $576.5 million in disaster relief funds for wildfire recovery recently approved by The House.

The wildfire crisis is not just a Californian phenomenon. So far this year, The Hill has reported that over 50,000 wildfires have burned over 8.8 million acres in the United States, a massive increase over the average number of acres burned per year over the last 10 years, which is only 6 million. As well as wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters have also been occurring at an alarming rate in the United States. We must work as a country with our government to respond to these situations and aim to prevent them in the future by addressing their root causes, including climate change.

You can donate here to help two of the counties most affected by the California wildfire crisis: https://www.gofundme.com/napa-sonoma-fires

For information on how to contact Minnesota senators to discuss wildfire prevention and relief, click here: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/senators_cfm.cfm?State=MN

 

 

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