‘Dice was really loaded’ for wildfires exploding in California, experts say

By Stuart Leavenworth
The Sacramento Bee
October 10, 2017
Category: Forestry
Region: United States, US West

A cascade of extreme weather events fed Northern California’s wildfires that exploded Sunday: Unusually high winds blew flames through unusually dense and dry vegetation, which sprung up following last winter’s heavy rains and then were toasted by months of record hot temperatures. “The dice was really loaded because of the big wet winter,” said Park Williams, a California native and a research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. “That set up the West with a lot of fuel to burn, and this summer has been exceptional in terms of dryness.” Scientists such as Williams say California is especially prone to wildfires, in part because of the state’s dense population, which makes it easy for sparks to be ignited and turn into raging fire storms. But this week’s blazes also show the fingerprints of climate change, he said, a harbinger of what the West should expect in the years to come. “The fingerprint is definitely there,” said Williams, who last year contributed to a study on climate change’s impact on western wildfires. “The connection between temperatures and fire is one we see again and again in the correlation analyses we do.”

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