California’s wildfires are likely only going to get worse, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Firefighters have already battled over 100 large fires in the American West, and the unusually hot and dry conditions will almost certainly exacerbate the problem, scientists from NOAA said during their monthly report on Thursday. In July, for example, California saw its warmest month ever with average temperatures of almost 80 degrees.
The increased temperatures and fast gust of extremely hot and dry winds that whip up fire — called “Diablo winds” — could increase and ignite the dry trees, grasses, and shrubs in the area, Tim Brown, the director of the Western Regional Climate Center, explained during a press call on Thursday. Diablo winds stoked the monumental fires last fall in Sonoma and other counties, according to McClatchy.
But October could bring a “decline in significant fire potential,” Brown said.
The current conditions have already caused eight major fires burning their way through California, and many of them are expected to continue burning through at least the rest of August, according to NOAA. Many more have been injured and lost their pets and homes. Dozens of other fires are burning in the West, including in Alaska, Montana, Arizona, Idaho, and Washington state. In California alone, at least eight people have been killed as a result of wildfires.
While NOAA scientists didn’t directly blame climate change for the rise of wildfires, Brown said in a press call that the increased trend in the West, combined with firefighters’ difficulty containing them, “has really taken off” during the past few decades.
But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told KCRA 3 in Sacramento on Sunday that the idea that climate change has affected increased fires is bogus.
“I've heard the climate change argument back and forth,” Zinke told the news outlet. “This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management.”
“The argument of climate change to me takes a backseat to 'Let's manage it,’” he added. “Because if it's climate change, you still have to manage the forest.”
Cover image: Hummer Estes watches a helicopter battling the Hat Fire, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Fall River Mills, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher)