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A study published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims that human-induced climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires in the West over the last thirty years. 

The study shows that since 1984, higher temperatures and resulting dryness have caused fires to spread over an additional 16,000 square miles than otherwise would have been the case. This is an vast area - larger than the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. And it will get worse. The authors of the study warn that both warming and fire incidence will increase exponentially. "Climate is really running the show in terms of what burns. We should be getting ready for bigger fire years than those familiar to previous generations," according to Columbia University bioclimatologist, Park Williams, co-author of the study.

Predictions that wild fires will become still more prevalent in the future are especially troubling in light of the record-setting nature of the current year. The Big Sur fire that burned for weeks in September of this year has achieved the dubious distinction of the most expensive fire to fight in U.S. history, at over $200 million. A southern California fire in August caused evacuation orders that affected 82,000 people and 34,000 homes. 

Obviously no one can predict that a specific area will be struck by wild fire at a particular time. Wild fires are events of nature, and in that sense are random. But factors, such as climate change and global warming, are not random in their broader effects. It is a fact that temperatures in the forested parts of the West have risen 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s are are expected to keep rising. It is a fact that the forested area susceptible to wild fires has increased enormously in that period. And it is a fact that homes, businesses and communities have expanded into many of those susceptible areas in that period. 

The attitudes that you (or your parents) had toward fire insurance 30 years ago should be reconsidered in light of these new facts. It behooves all of us in California, but especially those in the vicinity of wild fire areas, to review our fire insurance coverage to make certain that we have proper protection.

Alex Pfeifer
650 762-7080

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