Climate legislation may be taking a back seat in Washington, but the wildfires currently raging near Los Angeles are making it an inescapable topic out West. To be sure, Southern California has always been a highly flammable area, but several new studies all argue that global warming is currently making wildfires more likely—and the situation will only get worse going forward.
The climate-wildfire link is pretty straightforward: Higher average temperatures throughout the West have reduced snowpack in the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas and led to early melts, both of which contribute to longer and drier fire seasons. On top of that, though, L.A.’s population boom over the past few decades has spurred new and ill-advised developments in the fire-prone foothills and canyons surrounding the city, creating pressure on local governments to ramp up fire-prevention and suppression measures in those areas. The problem is that while these policies save homes in the short term, they also have the effect of turning the nearby forests—ecologically accustomed to periodic small burns—into effective tinderboxes that eventually ignite in a big way.
Also of note: The Los Angeles Times has put together a pretty dramatic photo essay documenting efforts to fight or escape the current blaze.
(flickr photo credit: szeke)