Is the January Fire Near Big Sur Part of a Bigger Climate Trend?

Colorado Fire - Is the January Fire Near Big Sur Part of a Bigger Climate Trend?

​​On Sunday morning, a rare winter wildfire burned more than 700 acres across the California coast north of Big Sur. When firefighters were deployed to put out what was named the Colorado Fire, its flames had reached close to the ocean and the Bixby Creek Bridge.

Cal Fire spokesperson Cecile Juliette told Reuters that the fire had affected "an area that went more than a decade without a January fire across more than 100 acres (40 hectares)." As of this morning, the blaze is 45% contained and hundreds of people have been evacuated.

Kron 4: Cal Fire gives latest update on Colorado Fire, January 23, 2022.

Why This Matters

Extreme weather events are becoming more common across the West due to climate change. Shifting weather patterns and drought are creating fire conditions outside of what is considered the typical fire season. With more than 66% of California currently facing severe drought (last month over 79% of the state was facing extreme drought), the conditions that caused Sunday’s fire will only worsen with time. Warmer winters mean less dense snowpack and in turn, less available water during summer. Year-round fire seasons won't allow forests to recover and will destroy ecosystems. They'll also result in costly damages and are likely to wipe out entire communities.

Reuters: Scientist says climate change worsened Colorado fire, January 3, 2022.

Fire Isn't Always The Enemy

Historically, when it comes to fire management, the US has always favored suppression, putting out every fire that burns. Fire has always been seen as the enemy, partially due to messaging by the Forest Service, and even iconic campaigns by Smokey the Bear.

But many Western US ecosystems actually depend on fire. They promote plant growth, clear out the forest, and many animals depend on this natural phenomenon. Natural wildfires burn through excess undergrowth, creating smaller fires, more often. When fire suppression tactics are employed, natural burning never takes place, leading to huge, uncontrollable and untimely burns.

In his Alta article, William Deverell writes, "Absolutist fire-suppression actions may have worked in the short term by catching and suppressing burns, but they failed in the longer term.

Meanwhile In Southern Europe

A massive snowstorm brings much of Turkey and Greece to a halt. The Greek government declared a holiday for parts of the country, including the capital, to keep people from going outside where overnight temperatures fell to minus 14 degrees Celsius (6.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

For both Greece and Turkey, wildfires this past summer combined with a second consecutive year of heavy snowfall means extreme weather is quickly becoming the "new normal."

Guardian: The climate science behind wildfires - why are they getting worse?, August 20, 2021.

WW0: Dr. Alex Hall & Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali Discuss the California Fires and Climate Change, September 30, 2020.