Wildfires are one of the most dramatic consequences of the climate crisis, and are back in the news again at the moment. It’s individual places that make the headlines, rather than overall trends, but of course climate change affects wildfires in a variety of ways. Fire seasons are starting earlier and going on longer. There are more fires, and drier conditions make them more serious.
Some places are used to a fire season. It’s part of the annual cycle and people know what to do. In those places, people are going to have to adapt to more dangerous conditions. Other places are going to experience fires for the first time. Residents will have to learn, fire services will have to skill up. Local authorities are going to have to make new plans for vulnerable people, and understand how fire risk affects local economies.
These new conditions mean that a lot of us have more to learn about fires – about how to stay safe, how to rebuild, and how to know when it’s time to move on.
As an example, here is a short documentary from Sonoma, California. It follows three people and their experiences of fire – an artist who realises he has no pictures of his late mother; a woman who has lost her waitressing job because tourists aren’t coming to the area any more; a man who worries about having to move his ill father. These are very ordinary people who find themselves in extreme circumstances because of a changing climate. There will be many more people like this as the climate destabilises and the risk of fire rises. It’s worth hearing their stories.
The documentary Rebuilding Paradise take a deeper dive into a California town affected the year after Sonoma.