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News > U.S.

The Climate Change-Wildfires Link Is Real, US Scientists Recall

  • A firefighter participates in battling wildfire at the Angeles National Forest in Azusa, California, U.S., July 31, 2020.

    A firefighter participates in battling wildfire at the Angeles National Forest in Azusa, California, U.S., July 31, 2020. | Photo: Xinhua

Published 22 October 2020

Since the year began, 8,700 wildfires have decimated over 4.1 million acres and 9,200 structures in the United States.

Roughly one-third of the 48 contiguous U.S. states -more than 1 million square miles- has become a deadly, flammable tinderbox this year because of global warming.


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A growing number of environmental scientists have openly refuted contradictory words from the U.S. government that deny the fact and blame the fires on "poor forest management."

"Yes, climate change is almost certainly fueling California's massive fires," MIT Technology Review posted Tuesday.

In a letter to the editor published by Global Change Biology last week, two of the world's foremost experts on wildfires concluded that, "record-setting climate enabled the extraordinary 2020 fire season in the western United States."

"This year was shocking," Daniel Swain, one of the authors and a climate scientist at the University of California (UCLA), added on Twitter this week. "Examining all the evidence, it's clear why conditions are extraordinarily flammable this fall," he noted.

Swain said the fires that have polluted air for millions across the country were triggered by "a compound issue of short-term natural climate variability layered on top of fundamental changes to the long-term climate from global warming."

"These extremes are intensifying and extending at unprecedented spatial scales, allowing current wildfires to burn across the entire U.S. West Coast," said Mojtaba Sadegh, an engineering professor at Idaho's Boise State University.

"Our 2020 wildfire season is showing us that climate change is here and now in Colorado. Warming is setting the stage for a lot of burning across an extended fire season," Jennifer Balch, the director of Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, said.

Climate change is driving the scale and impact of recent wildfires that have raged in California, scientists have said. Their analysis finds an "unequivocal and pervasive" role for global heating in boosting the conditions for fire, stated a report published by ProPublica.

Even more ominously, the towering infernos that have reached Europe with their smoke "have caused extreme air pollution that has threatened the health of millions of residents," the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) posted last month.

"Ecologists fear the wildfires also could inflict lasting damage on species and ecosystems," the AAAS added.

Monday's CBS report summed things up more succinctly: "The scorched-earth impacts of climate change have arrived."

While attention is focused on COVID-19 and the upcoming Nov. 3 presidential election, the West is being hit by the worst fire season in "70 years," according to media reports.

"Six of the seven largest wildfires in California history have all burned in 2020, and the largest, the August Complex fire, became the state's first ever gigafire -- meaning it burned over 1 million acres, scorching more acreage than the state of Rhode Island," the Washington Post reported last month.

As of Wednesday in California, there were some 6,700 firefighters battling 20 wildfires, and since the year began, 8,700 wildfires have decimated over 4.1 million acres, 9,200 structures, and killed 31 people in the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

From California eastward, some 1,600 km to the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado, the entire region - 11 of America's 13 largest states - have suffered record setting wildfires, with 43 lives lost, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.


Daniel Swain
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