Jonathan Levinson of Oregon Public Broadcasting, we appreciate your reporting on all this. It's a mix of rural and suburban communities. MARTIN: Right. They're on motorcycles. MILLER: So if you think about those numbers, that means lots of people have moved into what we call the wildland-urban interface, which is awful. Download (pdf, 647 KB), Business Environmental Leadership Council, Mayors/Business Alliance for a Sustainable Future, doubled the number of large fires between 1984 and 2015, at least a 30 percent increase from 2011 in the area burned, have caused at least $1 billion in damages each, U.S. Forest Service fire suppression expenditures. The risk of wildfire is expected to grow across the United States due to reduced precipitation in some regions, and higher temperatures caused by climate change. HALL: I said, Ty, this is Alex Hall, the reporter from KQED who interviewed you yesterday. New research documents how a warming climate contributes to patterns in wildfire severity and frequency and how the fires contribute to climate change. MARTIN: Now let's go to Oregon, where the wildfires have now forced about 500,000 people from their homes. But it's still important to include them in the calculations for reaching the greenhouse gas reduction targets in the Paris climate agreement. Wildfire risk depends on a number of factors, including temperature, soil moisture, and the presence of trees, shrubs, and other potential fuel. And so suddenly, people who had already evacuated their homes were getting ready to evacuate the shelter. The most urgent, a Level 3 zone, which means leave now, had also moved and was now just a mile away from the shelter. It's not a normal fire season. He rushed to evacuate. But life on the ground is lived at the moment, not in the long term. I barely made it out of there. The American Red Cross says wildfires and hurricanes contributed to a … Land use and forest management do affect wildfire risk. Climate change contributes to more and bigger wildfires in a variety of ways. MILLER: All of it. Oregon Public Broadcasting's Jonathan Levinson has been covering the fires. MARTIN: All right. Wildfires are a natural part of many boreal ecosystems, but the extent of flames during the past fire season was directly influenced by climate change … The rise in average global temperatures has led to higher spring and summer temperatures, and importantly an earlier onset of spring. Copyright © 2020 NPR. Thank you. It's now about 6 miles from the southern edge of the city. Can you tell us what you have seen as you've been out reporting? It's called Cressman's. MARTIN: It's like a local landmark there in the mountains with a little bakery inside, rows of framed black-and-white photos hanging on the wall. Newsom has pointed directly at climate change as the source of the extreme heat wave and a primary factor in the scores of wildfires plaguing California. By raising temperatures, melting snow sooner, and drying soils and forests, climate change is fueling the problem. But those numbers only begin to convey what it feels like to be there. MARTIN: Armando Mendoza (ph) was visiting family in Oroville in Northern California when strong winds sent flames racing towards town. Learn more about resilience by visiting our Climate Resilience Portal. And then beyond that, you kind of just accept it for what it is. Wildfire has far-reaching impacts that can ripple through communities, regions, watersheds, and ecosystems. We're going to get the bigger picture now from Char Miller. And we know that there's a fire season every year, but this really is just so exceptional. They're facing a risk that is immediate, local and personal. And my buddies were behind me. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information. On 26 October 2019 lightning struck the drought-stricken region of Gospers Mountain in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area of New South Wales, Australia. Why is this happening right now, Char? Climate Change and Forest Management Have Both Fueled Western Wildfires Climate change and forest management practices both have contributed to today’s fire conditions, and reducing wildfire … Gavin Newsom and other West Coast leaders, many of whom are Democrats, point to climate change as the main cause of these massive conflagrations. Climate change has been a key factor in increasing the risk and extent of wildfires in the Western United States. It seems slow, but I think actually we can see its manifestation on all of these signal flares, all of these fires. We know that they're fire zones, and yet we keep building in them. Severe heat and drought fuel wildfires, conditions scientists have linked to climate change. Wildfires have burned in six states on the west coast. CHAR MILLER: Oh, it's my great pleasure. I am so, so sorry to hear about your business. Accuracy and availability may vary. And the fires are still growing. The Essentials. Incorporating fire-resistant design features and materials in buildings. A friend outside San Francisco told me it feels like the apocalypse. And yet, the size of it and the speed with which these fires are moving - that's the other thing that's just really mind-blowing. The number of heatwaves observed in 2011 and 2012 were triple the long-term average, and require planning for economic, health and …, View Details LEVINSON: And so to give you an idea of how fast things are changing, while I was there talking to people, the evacuation zone actually shifted, and the shelter was suddenly elevated to a Level 2, which means prepare to leave. The wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and blanketed entire cities with smoke are unprecedented, but climate scientists warn that these events could grow far … That is totally unheard of, which means you can't really evacuate. And, in fact, Oregon is having what in Southern California we call the Santa Ana winds, and they don't tend to get those. I walked out of my house today at 3:15 in the morning, and the first thing that hit my face was ash. Climate change has been a key factor in increasing the risk and extent of wildfires in the Western United States. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Char Miller, Director of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College about the the fires and climate change. 1. They have no idea where the fire is exactly. The hotter weather increases the incidence of lightning, the major cause of naturally occurring biomass burning. NOAA estimates the total costs of wildfires in 2017 and 2018 to be more than $40 billion. Scientists blame the longer and more intense fire seasons on warming and drying due to climate change. Changes in climate add to these factors and are expected to continue to increase the area affected by wildfires in the United States. Climate change is making wildfires even worse. But as a result, then, I mean, have people been able to predict this? Thank you so much for being here this morning. INSKEEP: So both his business and his home were destroyed. They don't know if it's reached their town or their home. Research shows that changes in climate that create warmer, drier conditions, increased drought, and a longer fire season are boosting these increases in wildfire risk. But even they may find it harder to rebound amid the mounting impacts of climate change. At least four people have been killed so far in the state. INSKEEP: The next morning, Alex woke up and learned that Cressman's General Store was gone. Thank you. ALEX HALL, BYLINE: And I came to a general store and gas station that's been here for well over a hundred years. Statistically significant at a 10% level for all regions except the Snake Plain/Columbian Plateau, Basin and Range, and Mediterranean California regions. Portland Fire and Rescue spokesperson said that right now, there's no danger to the city. The black lines are fitted trend lines. MILLER: Yeah. More than 25 million acres of California wildlands are classified nder very high or extreme fire threat.Approximately25 percent of the state’s We appreciate it. He's the director of environmental analysis at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. And he has spent a long time studying wildfires. I mean, did policymakers, did, you know, local leaders - did they see this coming this year? This ignited a bushfire which ran for three months to burn-out 838,000 hectares (around 80% of the World Heritage Area) and impact an estimated 140 million reptiles, birds and mammals. Although wildfires occur naturally and play a long-term role in the health of these ecosystems, climate change threatens to increase the frequency, extent, and severity of fires through increased temperatures and drought (see the U.S. and Global Temperature and Drought indicators). Climate change … And that's what we're seeing. All these factors have strong direct or indirect ties to climate variability and climate change. I got caught in the middle of the Bear Fire. And so as much as we might all say climate change, that actually doesn't seem to appear. In turn, wildfires are aggravating climate change by killing trees that could absorb carbon in the atmosphere. That seems to be the state of mind that I found most of the people I've interviewed so far. ARMANDO MENDOZA: I got caught in a fire. Not only is the average wildfire season three and a half months longer than it was a few decades back, but the number of annual large fires in the West has tripled — burning twice as many acres. All these factors have strong direct or indirect ties to climate variability and climate change. MARTIN: What about Portland itself, where you are? I mean, are we seeing a progression that every season is worse? This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Thank you so much for taking the time today. For much of the U.S. West, projections show that an average annual 1 degree C temperature increase would increase the median burned area per year as much as 600 percent in some types of forests. Climate change is not the only factor determining the size and destructiveness of a fire. And one of the ways you can see this is in housing. The science of how climate change impacts fires in the West She's 69. There are 3,000 firefighters working across the state. The effects have been painfully felt. Climate change is this long-term process. But, you know, same as property damage, fires are still spreading, and they just don't know the extent of the loss yet. And they had to leave so quickly on Tuesday that they didn't pack anything, not even their medication. They don't know what they're going back to. Download (pdf, 1 MB), Across the United States, the risk of drought is expected to grow due to reduced precipitation and higher temperatures caused by climate change. Once the spark is lit, humans can't do much to change wildfires' greenhouse gas emissions. He said the flames were getting closer. This is not - this is an apocalypse to be sure, but I think it's the norm. They were getting burned and everything. Alex Hall, a reporter with our member station KQED, was driving through dense smoke that hung over Highway 168 near Shaver Lake. But let's start with the southwest and west drying out. As he notes, “climate change is occurring and playing a role in warmer temperatures and heatwaves”. And we can tie lots of this to changing climate, of course. GILLETT: We've set up pumps and hoses. California's iconic old-growth redwoods are incredibly resilient and built to survive fires. And immediately, my throat and nose could smell the woodsmoke. Here’s what we know. The year 2018 was California's worst wildfire season on record, on the heels of a devasting 2017 fire season. #1: Wildfires are getting worse LEVINSON: So I spent the past two days in Clackamas County. MARTIN: Can you say whether this is just the norm now? MILLER: Well, there's - God, there's so many reasons why. INSKEEP: Two hundred eighty miles south of there, near Fresno, California's Creek Fire grew to more than 175,000 acres on Thursday. Developing recovery plans before a fire hits, and implementing plans quickly after a fire to reduce erosion, limit flooding, and minimize habitat damage. Let's just call it the fire zone. MARTIN: I mean, can you explain - you mentioned climate change as a driver... MARTIN: ...Here. And that's just south of Portland. In 2019, wildfires have already burned 2.5 million acres in Alaska in an extreme fire season driven by high temperatures, which have also led to massive fires in Siberia. TY GILLETT: We're trying to save the store and get prepared for when the fire gets here. Drought’s far-reaching impacts can ripple through communities, regions, watersheds, economies and ecosystems. MARTIN: All right. This graphic from the Fourth National Climate Assessment shows the growth in large wildfires throughout the West. So it isn't just that human beings are helping to drive climate change with our emissions of one form or another. More than 3 million acres have burned in California this year. We've just got small ones currently burning in Southern California. In the Southeastern United States modeling suggests increased fire risk and a longer fire season, with at least a 30 percent increase from 2011 in the area burned by lightning-ignited wildfire by 2060. It tells us a great deal about the next decade and beyond. So when wind starts picking up the desiccated plants, the fuel is burning, and then it's moving quickly. Voters are making climate action a growing priority because they understand that global warming is a force multiplier. Climate change will continue to drive temperature rise and more unpredictable rainfall in many parts of the world, meaning that the number of days with “fire weather” – conditions in which fires are likely to burn – is expected to increase in coming decades, says Kirchmeier-Young: As every firefighter is saying, that they're moving at a speed they're not - they're not used to fighting fire at this rate. This fact sheet overviews strategies …, View Details The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record. Warmer, drier conditions also contribute to the spread of the mountain pine beetle and other insects that can weaken or kill trees, building up the fuels in a forest. HALL: You know, when I had talked to him, it seemed like we were all on the same page that everything was going to be OK. And then it wasn't. Climate change causes forest fuels (the organic matter that burns and spreads wildfire) to be more dry, and has doubled the number of large fires between 1984 and 2015 in the western United States. It was pretty crazy. Alex spoke with the owner, Ty Gillett. (SOUNDBITE OF SLEEP DEALER'S "THE WAY HOME"). MARTIN: Char Miller - he is the director of environmental analysis at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. And he just looked exhausted. Wildfire activity in the United States is changing dangerously, particularly in the west, as conditions become hotter and drier due to climate change. How will wildfires change in the future? This pattern has led to a rapid melting of spring snowpack, causing soils to dry out earlier and remain dry longer. Something worse is unfolding across the West. MILLER: This has been going on for 40 years. That's almost double what burns in an average fire season. MARTIN: So why is that happening - just because everything's so arid, it's just... MARTIN: ...It's just spreading quicker, or the winds, or all of it? See a map of billion-dollar extreme weather disasters here. I spoke to Nancy Price (ph). You know, the photographs - and I've taken my share of this dystopic imagery - we call that summer, right? NANCY PRICE: The thing that's bothering me the most is we don't know what's going on, how soon we can get back in to see - just to know if we have a home. The evacuation zone has steadily moved towards the southern edge of Portland. MILLER: I don't think - well, see, that's the problem, right? And so look - this tells us something about this moment. More than 10% of Oregon's residents have evacuated. We're also driving the destruction that we're now seeing because we've moved into areas that historically have burned. In Russia, the wildfires are believed caused by a warming climate that made the current summer the hottest on record. They were at a makeshift shelter at a community college parking lot when I spoke to them. Across the Pacific Coast states, at least 14 people are dead. Increasing the space between structures and nearby trees and brush, and clearing space between neighboring houses. California How climate change is fueling record-breaking California wildfires, heat and smog Smoke and haze from wildfires hovered Thursday … You know, there - the logic is, wind, fuel, heat. You can see it. “It’s well established that climate change has impacted aridity and dryness of fuels and decreased soil moisture. So that's, like, 20 miles from Portland. So what is driving all these explosive wildfires, and how much does climate change factor into it? So we've got heavy winds. One of the striking things about every single one of these fires are the large numbers of people who are being evacuated - what is it, 500,000 in Oregon? Alaska’s record-breaking heat and dry conditions over the summer months set the conditions for the state’s historic wildfire season. But there is a concern that a fire could start inside the city, in the parks, and so Mayor Ted Wheeler issued an emergency order closing the city parks and outdoor properties. HALL: A lot of people keep saying, it is what it is. MARTIN: This is a big question, but it's really the most important. California Gov. Once a fire starts—more than 80 percent of U.S. wildfires are caused by people—warmer temperatures and drier conditions can help fires spread and make them harder to put out. Climate-change-related declines in western spring snowpack, and increased evaporation from higher … Many of this year's fires began when California's Bay Area experienced more than 12,000 lightning strikes in mid-August, Dahl said. Increasing resources allocated to firefighting and fire prevention. In southern Oregon alone, an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 homes have been lost. All rights reserved. She and her husband had to evacuate their home in nearby Molalla. She saw photos of a pile of smoldering rubble and she sent Gillett a text. In the western United States i human-caused climate change caused more than half the increase in forest fuel aridity (how dry and flammable vegetation is) since the 1970s and has approximately doubled the cumulative area burned in forest fires since 1984. JONATHAN LEVINSON, BYLINE: Nearly a million acres have burned across the state since Monday. And we used to call it the new normal, but I don't think it's new any longer. One of the fires up in the Central Sierra moved 15 miles in an afternoon. And, you know, people were tense. They know the fire is getting close to their homes. NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. Do the fires represent a real threat there? But what that changing climate is doing while it's drying out this region is also producing the kind of energy - literally fire energy - that we're watching every single moment. And fire officials say things are moving so fast that they don't have a good estimate. And in the northern part of the state, no one's been able to get back to their towns to assess the damage. People are living under orange skies amid ashes. Human-induced climate change promotes the conditions on which wildfires depend, increasing their likelihood -- according to a review of research on global climate change and wildfire … Wildfire risk depends on a number of factors, including temperature, soil moisture, and the presence of trees, shrubs, and other potential fuel. And we don't have massive fires. This …, View Details We don't know. Wildfires and Climate Change. You get the things out that you can't replace. Climate change isn't the only culprit The wildfires didn't initially spark because of climate change. MENDOZA: The flames were, like, 50, 60 feet high. Between Wednesday and Thursday, it came about 10 miles closer. It has a lot of history. Climate change is exacerbating the severity of the wildfires on the West Coast, but prior and current forest management decisions, and politics, also play a huge role. Climate change is increasing the vulnerability of many forests to wildfires and is also projected to increase the frequency of wildfires in certain regions of the United States. The state’sfire seasonis now almost year round. So we - this is an immediate thing that we feel. HALL: He was in the moment, you know, where you have to respond right now. Every year, millions of acres of land are consumed by fire in the United States. Since 2000, 14 forest fires in the United States have caused at least $1 billion in damages each, mainly from the loss of homes and infrastructure, along with firefighting costs. The 2017 wildfire season was well above average, with deadly fires in California and throughout the West, including Montana, Oregon, and Washington state. Wildfires: A Symptom of Climate Change, NASA, U.S. Forest Service Climate Change Resource Center: Wildland Fire and Climate Change. Past forest and fire … In 2019, wildfires caused an estimated $4.5 billion in damages in California and Alaska. Removing fuels, such as dead trees, from forests that are at risk. The 2018 wildfire season went on to also break records as the deadliest and most destructive season on record in California. Long periods of record high temperatures are associated with droughts that contribute to … Download (pdf, 633 KB), Climate change is contributing to more frequent, severe, and longer heat waves during summer months across the United Sates. I hope you and your family are OK. And he said, still got a lot of stuff to process; lost our house last night, too. Climate change is this long-term process. Like, you can't outrace fires. Wildfires and Climate Change: California’s Energy Future Executive Summary asu Climate change has created a new wildfire reality for California. It seems slow, but I think actually we can see its manifestation on all of these signal flares, all of these fires. For some, it can seem like the world is on fire. The expectation is that it will continue across the rest of this century. Many also think of the larger implications of climate change. In other words, though climate change does not cause the heat waves or fires, it sets the stage so that when conditions are ripe, like the summer and fall of … And so policy doesn't change that rapidly. There is a strong connection between climate change and wildfires. Climate change can affect the winds that drive fires Multiple experts pointed out that the fires in California are fanned by seasonal strong, dry winds … Soja said she hopes the wildfires in Russia prompt the country to support efforts to mitigate climate change. We've cut down a lot of trees. The state has a natural cycle of wet winters, which nourish vegetation, followed by arid summers, which dry out the landscape and leave it susceptible to fire. 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