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The 'New Normal' For Wildfires In California

Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

A firefighter battles a wildfire near Placerita Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, Calif., Sunday, July 24, 2016. The Sand Fire forced evacuations as it raged in tinder-dry California hills and canyons.

Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

Blame the increase in frequency and severity of wildfires in California on drought and climate change.

As the number of fires goes up each year, so does the costs of suppression.

Those firefighting costs have also increased because more people are living in what fire scientists call the "urban-wildland interface."

"It just shows you the cost escalation because of just the way we've chosen to live in our landscape," says Scott Stephens, Professor of Fire Science at UC Berkeley and co-director of the Center for Fire Research and Outreach at the university. "And climate change is also making this tougher because it's warming things up and making fuels dryer, and droughts are maybe a little bit more frequent." 

Stephens says firefighting costs in the urban-wildland interface, borne by state and federal agencies, should also be partly shared by the counties that approve the development projects in those areas. He calls it a land management issue.


080316 Scott Stevens -UCB

UC Berkeley Professor of Fire Science Scott Stephens says restoration efforts in California forest areas could reduce the severity of wildfires and increase the resiliency of trees. UC Berkeley / Courtesy


"Fire season in Southern California, I do think it's a 12-month enterprise now," Stephens says. "Even in parts of Northern California, where we had traditionally very wet periods, we're seeing fires burning in January, December sometimes, which are just unfathomable 15 years ago."

Stephens says restoration efforts and fuel treatments on forest land in the state could improve the resiliency of trees and reduce the severity of wildfires.

Resources for homeowners

The UC Center for Fire Research and Outreach has useful tools for homeowners to protect their homes at: http://firecenter.berkeley.edu/toolkit/homeowners.html

The Homeowner’s wildfire mitigation guide is practical information based on UC research: http://ucanr.edu/sites/Wildfire 

There is also a "Fire Information Toolkit"at: http://ucanr.edu/sites/cfro

080316 Wildfire -Sept Outlook -in

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