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Climate Change Played Minor Role In California Wildfires, Experts Conclude

E&E News

Climate change played a minor role in the wildfires that devastated California in the past three years, a panel of experts said yesterday, blaming most of the damage on land management and development.

A helicopter crew helps fight a wildfire near Yosemite National Park in December. Photo credit: Nano Calvo/Newscom
A helicopter crew helps fight a wildfire near Yosemite National Park in December. Nano Calvo/Newscom

Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science at the University of California, Berkeley, said 20% to 25% of the wildfire damage resulted from climate change, and “75% is the way we manage lands and develop our landscape.”

Jennifer Montgomery, director of the California Forest Management Task Force, said climate change “accelerated” wildfires by creating hotter and drier conditions throughout the state that intensified naturally occurring blazes.

“Climate change is an amplifier for natural systems and natural occurrences,” Montgomery said.

The comments by Montgomery and Stephens at an environmental conference in Washington undermine recent assertions by the head of California’s largest power utility that the wildfires were climate-driven.

From 2017 to 2019, California wildfires killed 103 people, burned nearly 4 million acres and caused millions of utility customers to lose power for weeks as electric companies shut off electricity to prevent downed power lines from igniting forests or grasslands.

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