State Fire Marshall Kate Dargan says half of the most damaging fires in California– in terms of lost property – have occurred in the last ten years.
“It used to be it would go 10 and 20 years between these kinds of events in the 50’s and 60’s. Starting in the 70’s these increases started to become a decadal event – and now we’re looking at these types of catastrophic occurrences once every five years in the state.”
Mary Nichols Chairs the state’s Air Resources Board – that’s the agency responsible for implementing a state law to slash greenhouse gas emissions. She says the hot, dry conditions that fanned the flames will be a long-time concern:
“As we’ve seen with the kinds of weather conditions that are before us right now – the severity of the forest fires this year, the drought, these are conditions which are going to get worse under global warming.”
Though scientists are reluctant to say that global warming contributed to the fires – some say the fires are definitely contributing to global warming. Dr. Tom Bonnicksen is a forest science professor and a visiting scholar at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He says it’s clear that fires help contribute to climate change because of the smoke and particles they spew. He says so far emissions from the Southern California fire are equal to four million cars on the road for a year:
"Iit would be almost the equivalent of seven 500 megawatt coal fire power plants, so we’re really talking a major contribution to greenhouse gas emissions from an event that has lasted only five days.”
Bonnicksen argues preventing such massive fires in the future by changing forest management policies would make a big difference in the fight against global warming. Other researchers say it’s more of a development issue – noting that more and more people are building in fire-prone areas of the south. Meantime, forecasters say the region may be in for another hot, dry year.