Heart Talk: The Fires Yet to Come

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By James Utt

After years of below average rainfall in Southern California, most of us rejoiced this January and February when our town received a normal dose of precipitation. Oh, happy day. Our hillsides turned a green not seen in years, followed by an explosion of bright yellow as the mustard plants carpeted the area.

My home has a large “backyard,” that points down toward Park Ave. A previous owner had fenced the property in to keep deer out. It also prevents the goat herds from getting in to dine. Looking down on “Utt’s Slope,” one could see ground choked with new growth that had never made an appearance in all the years my wife and I lived there. But what is pleasing- to-the-eye foliage now will become fuel for wildfires when the searing summer heat comes calling.

Our wonderful Laguna Beach Fire Department offers a wildfire inspection for homeowners. I called and made an appointment and not one, not two, but three of Laguna’s finest from Fire Station 3 came to inspect my overgrown property. They were professional, courteous, and extremely knowledgeable. But anyone who has come in contact with these men knows that to be the case.

They liked the ice plant that was close to my deck, but told me to go to war now with the new growth that was advancing up the hill. It is much better to cut this stuff down before they start to wither. Shooting the breeze with them, I learned that the city now has 600 goats at work on our hillsides, that fire season seems to be getting longer, and they have seen mustard plants this season that seem to be taller than ever.

So, Laguna Beach waits nervously for the fires that may come. It is not just our town, but California as a whole. Remember the Thomas Fire in 2017? Fifty thousand acres burned in one day. Since 2017, five of the 20 worst fires in California history have taken place. Last November came the Woolsey Fire, which forced 170,000 people to be evacuated. Even worse was the Camp Fire, which burned 200 square miles and was the deadliest fire in the state’s history. Unfortunately, this could be the “new normal.”  Of the 10 years with the most wildfire activity in the western U.S., nine have happened in the last 18 years.

Wonder if this increased wildfire activity could have anything to do with human-caused global warming? Let me go out on a limb and say…yes. I am not too afraid to be out on this limb because there with me are 97 percent of the climate scientists who agree climate warming trends are extremely likely to be caused by human activity. Also, out on my limb are, among others, The American Association for Advanced Science, The American Medical Association, The American Meteorological Society, The American Geological Society, The U.S. National Academy of Science…OK, you get the idea.

There are those that seek to debunk the scientific consensus on human caused global warming. Among these are the Koch brothers. In one such attempt, they gave Dr. Richard Muller of UC Berkeley $150,000 to study if global warming was really happening. Until Dr. Muller undertook the study, he was a skeptic on this issue. To the great dismay of the brothers Koch, Dr. Muller, upon completion of his study, found global warming to be real and humans as almost entirely the cause. Ouch.

Given the fact that global warming is taking place, listen to what the Union of Concerned Scientists say about wildfires: “…hot dry conditions increase likelihood that wildfires will be more intense and long lasting.”

President Trump used to say global warming was a Chinese hoax. He has backed off that ridiculous position and now says warming may be happening, but it will reverse itself. No, it won’t.

A warmer world makes for a more combustible country, a more combustible Orange County, a more dangerous Laguna Beach. Next time you have a chance to speak to a Laguna Beach fire fighter, wish them well and tell them how much you support their great efforts.

James Utt is the author of “Laguna Tales and Boomer Wails.” He very much wishes we had not withdrawn from the Paris Agreement.

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  1. What can be done to prevent such a catastrophe? We can write. our representative in Washington D.C and Sacramento. We can contribute to organizations that are warning us about climate changes and what will happen to our world if nothing is done, We can do what we can as individuals to reduce our impact on the world. What we should not do is give up and do nothing.

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