If it seems that wildfires are burning nearly all the time these days, that there’s no longer a definable fire season in California, you’re right. Fourteen of the 20 most destructive fires in state history have occurred since 2007, and California has 78 more annual “fire days” now than it had 50 years ago.
When 2018 became the worst fire year on record, we recognized a new reality. Now each year could surpass the last, setting records for the size, destruction, cost and loss of life. A state-commissioned report makes the harrowing projection that under current emissions trends, the average burn area in California will increase 77 percent by the end of the century.
The state has spent, conservatively, more than $4.7 billion from its emergency fund in the last 10 years to fight fires. Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency, has been chewing through its firefighting budget only months into a year, leaving little to pay for thinning California’s overgrown forests and helping rural communities protect their infrastructure and water supplies.
The problem has the attention of Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators, who have been working at an accelerated pace to address the problem. So far, their approach has been to stabilize the financial health of the state’s electric utilities by creating a $21 billion compensation fund to pay for fire victims’ claims, seeded with equal contributions from the companies and their customers.
They are also mandating more safety oversight and a requirement that
the three largest utilities invest a total of $5 billion to fireproof
their equipment. Increasingly, those precautions have included
preemptively cutting the power in high-risk areas during windy, red-flag
conditions — a measure that has its own downsides, as California
customers quickly discovered.
California’s fires are disruptive long after they are put out, displacing homeowners and even entire communities for months or years. Even as the charred wood decays, it generates emissions that set back the state’s efforts to combat climate change—only worsening the wildfires to come.
This article originally appeared on Calmatters.org California’s worsening wildfires, explained