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Wildfires Stir Global Warming Debate


In the wake of the devastating Southern California wildfires last month, climate scientists Thursday linked such events to global warming.

While scientists say no single calamity can be attributed to climate change, most of the scientific community agrees large wildfires could well become more frequent and intense as global temperatures increase. Paul Sisco reports.

California's wildfires sent millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. University of Colorado researchers report that from October 19th to the 26th, an estimated 8.7 million tons of the global warming gas were released.

Armed with that report, a key U.S. House committee on energy and warming sought answers from a panel of scientists.

Committee Chairman Edward Markey wondered about global warming's impact on wildfires and public safety.

Professor of Ecology Steven Running described the trend. "We see the current acceleration of wildfires and the current acceleration of people building homes in fire prone areas. It just all adds up to this issue getting bigger and bigger."

Climate scientist Michael Medler agreed. He said, "Most of the models and many of our predictions indicate we are going to be seeing increased fire behavior, fire severity."

Representative Markey asked, "Because of global warming?"

Medler responded, "I would be able to say that."

Researchers have established the fire season in America's west is, on average, 78 days longer annually than it was in the 1980s.

Running added, "That's on the order of 20 to 30 percent increase in number of days and we expect another 20 or 30 percent increase with the climate model projections for the future, and so. We are in the middle of a trend that has been progressing for 30 to 40 years and there is no reason to suggest it is going to slow down with any of the climate projections we see."

By the time of the hearing, the wildfires that swept through southern California were mostly under control. But weather forecasters expected more hot, dry and windy weather.