A single, devastating California fire season wiped out years of efforts to cut emissions from the state’s aging, coal-fired power plants.
But the fires also forced millions of people to flee, leaving huge swaths of the Golden State vulnerable to wildfires, including the Camp Fire, the deadliest on record on the West Coast.
The Camp Fire was one of the deadliest in California’s history, killing at least 86 people and destroying more than 1,000 homes. It also left millions under evacuation orders.
As the season of deadly wildfires kicked off across the state in the autumn of 2018, scientists and experts said they’d seen signs for some time that climate change was becoming a real threat.
They argued a warmer climate means more fire.
“There are very simple mechanisms at work that are not going away,” said David Carlson, a fire research program director with the National Park Service at Yosemite National Park.
“Just as the climate has changed, the climate has changed,” he said.
The fires, fueled by climate concerns, have also stoked more intense and destructive blazes, and scientists have long noted that drought is a major factor.
“California is in this cycle of wet years followed by dry years,” said Bob Dinneen, a former state and National Park Service administrator. “As the climate moves in that direction, we see an increase in wildfire activity.”
A drought-resistant wildfire-fighting strategy is the first step to combating the threat, however, Dr. Carlson said.
“I think the whole state is going to have to pull together and do what we always have to do — be adaptive,” he said.
Firefighter John McAvoy, the chief with the Kincade Fire Protection District, said he and his colleagues were seeing more extreme weather and more fire every year.
“For the last 15 years, we’ve been dealing with drought,” he said. “And now you’re seeing the weather move into what we call an abnormal pattern,