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Powerhouse wildfire north of L.A. heralds a much longer fire season

The Powerhouse wildfire, which has blackened 30,000 acres and forced thousands to evacuate their homes, suggests climate change is making fire seasons longer, analysts say.

A helicopter puts out a hot spot on what is being called the Powerhouse fire at Elizabeth Lake on Sunday. The Powerhouse fire started last Thursday afternoon and now has 2,200 firefighters battling it on foot, vehicles, and in the air.

Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/AP

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The Powerhouse fire, which erupted in scrub-covered rugged terrain north of Los Angeles and has blackened 30,000 acres, destroyed 6 homes, and forced the evacuation of thousands of people, is dramatizing the challenges facing states across the West, including a much longer fire season, analysts say.

The Powerhouse fire started last Thursday afternoon and now has 2,200 firefighters battling it on foot, vehicles, and in the air. It spread quickly, feeding on the several-decades-old scrub covering the area’s hills and canyons.

As of Monday morning, authorities said, the fire was 40 percent contained. Officials estimated the fire would not be fully contained for another week. Temperatures Monday were expected to climb into the mid-80s with wind gusts up to 45 mph in the hills and valleys south of Lake Hughes.

Analysts said the large early-season fire creates an opportunity to raise awareness about a long list of issues facing localities, states, and the federal government. Those range from man’s contribution to climate change, to choices of where to build homes, to what safety precautions to take in building those homes and how to enforce them.

Given that as a global society we are not seriously addressing climate change, says Dominik Kulakowski, adjunct professor of biology at Clark University Graduate School of Geography in Worcester, Mass., one good question is, “Is this the new normal?” The public, he says, should conclude not merely that this fire season is predicted to be longer, but that such longer seasons will continue for the foreseeable future.

“A lot of the public seems to be saying, ‘oh, well, we’ll just have to keep planting forests [to replace burned areas] in more northern climes,’ that it will play out gradually and we’ll have time to adapt,” says Professor Kulakowski, who in April testified before Congress on the impact climate and weather have on fires. “But the overwhelming conclusion of research is that the [climate] change will be more dramatic and abrupt,” he says.


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