Are wildfires a product of climate change? Stanford scientist weighs in

With over 900 fires burning across the state, scientists are categorizing this as unprecedented territory and a troubling sign of what lies ahead.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In the last three weeks, California has set highly concerning records. With over 900 fires burning across the state, scientists are categorizing this as unprecedented territory and a sign of what lies ahead.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Track wildfires across Bay Area, other parts of CA

"We are also seeing that the area burned in California is going up substantially," said Noah Diffenbaugh, Climate Scientist and Stanford Professor/Senior Fellow. "The vast majority of the large wildfires in California's history have occurred in the last two decades. Right now, just over the last three weeks, we've had California's second, third, and fourth largest wildfires," he said.

Over 1.8 million acres burned in the past 30 days. The main contributing fires the LNU, CZU and SCU, lighting complexes all of them ignited by dry lighting. An event that only occurs every 10 to 12 years.

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"The fact that we had a dry rainy season and low snow pack means that fuel is everywhere vulnerable and fires are burning hotter and spreading easier than usual," said Steve Leach, Fire and Weather Meteorologist with the Bureau of Land Management.

Leach is noticing a pattern wildfires are happening with higher frequency and sooner than anticipated.

"When we talk about the big fire weather events like we are seeing today those are the types of things you see one to two weeks out in the future," said Leach.

Today Governor Newsom pointing to climate change, "I quite literally have no patience for climate change deniers."

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The big question is will it get worse?

After a two years of research, Stanford scientists concluded that climate change is increasing the likelihood of extreme autumn wildfires.

The research suggests, "continued climate change will further amplify the number of days with extreme fire weather by the end of this century."

"As global warming continues, in the future those risks will intensify. We can manage those risks not only by managing how much global warming happens in the future through our greenhouse gas emissions, but also by managing wildfire risk. Parting of the electrical grid," said Diffenbaugh.

Leach is concerned about rain season happening later than expected, "As far as the fuel situation goes they are drier than normal in some cases we are setting records and that is a major concern," said Leach.

"We are in a situation where the risk is elevated. Given the heatwaves and fires that are happening, and the onset of our off-shore winds season it'll be hard to come up with the higher risk combination of conditions," said Diffenbaugh

Another concerning data point shows that California is experiencing an increase in the frequency of extreme wildfire weather. "The number of days with wildfire weather during the autumn season has doubled over the last four decades," said Diffenbaugh.


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