“You can’t help but look at the fires now that are burning and see that Climate Change is why.”
– Chief of Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade, Martha Karstens
Every first responder on stage could agree: over the course of their long careers, they’ve seen the nature of fires change in both California and Australia. Above all, firefighters are experiencing the same things scientists are observing: first, that fires are bigger than they used to be and second, that fire seasons are longer than ever.
“It’s a year-long fire season now in California,” says Chief Karstens
Climate change literally adds fuel to the fire. Simply, warm weather is coming sooner and lasting longer. Precipitation patterns are changing and drought is coming more often.
Together, these factors mean conditions are consistently dry – creating what Dir of California Dept of Forestry & Fire Protection, Chief Ken Pimlott calls a tinderbox, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. The vegetation … in the western US, is changing. It is so receptive. We call it 100% probability of ignition. Which means on any afternoon around the West, any spark that lands has a 100% chance of starting a fire … you put a little bit of wind on that and the fire quickly races away from firefighters.”
When we fail to act on climate change, we’re putting firefighters at risk. In Australia, Former Deputy Fire Chief of New South Wales, Ken Thompson reports that fire season now runs for nine months out of the year. “The climate is changing and we’re seeing the effects of that on the frontline by more and more fires, more frequently, and more severe,” he said.
The bigger a fire is, the greater the risk it poses to the people who fight it. And according to Chief Pimlott, “Fires are spreading at rates unlike they’ve ever spread… It would usually be the exception to the rule to have a fire that was more than a hundred thousand acres. Now that’s common.”