The role climate change plays in our brush fires - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

The role climate change plays in our brush fires

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - The hot, dry and windy weather that fueled last week's wildfires was very uncommon for the month of May. That has scientists exploring the role climate change has on fire season.

We know this can happen in October and November after a hot and dry summer, but raging wildfires in May?

Doctor Dan Cayan is a climate researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"We're probably going to get dryer, earlier. We're seeing that in the climate simulations," Cayan said.

He says climate change is exacerbating the major factors that lead to wildfire, including heat, draught and dead trees. His findings are featured in the Southwest segment of a nationwide report released by the federal government. "More wildfire is projected as climate change continues," it says. "Up to 74 percent more fires in California."

"Things dry out earlier, over the landscape. The fuel supply and the vulnerable fuel supply increases," Cayan said.

The report goes on to state "…hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the spring, last later into the fall, and burn more acreage."

"We've seen an increase in the number and the acreage burned by large wildfires," Cayan said.

But in a Gallup poll from March, it's clear many Americans don't agree on the seriousness of climate change, with 42 percent saying it's generally exaggerated and only 23 percent saying it's generally correct.

Cayan says without a doubt, it's real.

"All of the higher elevation ice on the earth's surface is pretty much melting and disappearing. Sea level is rising, temperature is warming when we look at global average, so it's pretty much beyond a doubt that climate is changing," he said.

While we can't change what's been done, Cayan says we have clearly improved the way we respond to these disasters. So while they may happen more often, and earlier, hopefully they won't be as deadly and destructive.

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