Experts warn changing climate will intensify forest fires

Experts warn changing climate will intensifyforest fires

7 November 2007

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USA — Climatologists are warning that the recent wildfires in Californiamay be a result of climate change and a taste of things to come, reportsLloyd’s.
Models are suggesting the North American west coast is experiencing longer-termprecipitation patterns — several wet years in a row, followed by several thatare drier than normal, Ronald Neilson, a professor at Oregon State Universityand bio-climatologist, told Lloyd’s.
These longer “wet” periods encourage vegetation growth, increasing theavailable fuel for such events, so that when the area does enter a dry period, aforest fire has even more surface vegetation on which to feed, he explained.
“As the planet warms, more water is getting evaporated from the oceans and allthat water has to come down somewhere as precipitation,” Neilson toldLloyd’s.
“That can lead, at times, to heavier vegetation loads popping up and thecreation of a tremendous fuel load. But the warmth and other climatic forces arealso going to create periodic droughts. If you get an ignition source duringthese periods, the fires can just become explosive.”
He noted that one cannot look at an event like the recent fires and say withcertainty that it was caused by climate change, but the event is consistent withpredictions from the latest models and are “another piece of evidence thatclimate change is a reality.”

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