Decades of climate change in California have left the arid state vulnerable to wildfires, the most recent of which was caused by a gender-reveal party

Ishita Goel, Staff Writer

California is burning again, and climate change is usually to blame for its raging fires, a gender-reveal party is being held responsible for igniting the first spark of the El Dorado Fire near Yucaipa in California.

Gender-reveal parties are generally intimate gatherings held to reveal the sex of an unborn baby by releasing pink or blue silly string or bursting balloons with pink or blue confetti. However, with the rising fanfare of such occasions on social media, more and more people are encouraged to make a spectacle out of these celebrations. 

Things went disastrously wrong at the El Dorado Ranch park on the 5th of September when a couple used a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device to reveal the sex of their baby. The device, which was supposed to release blue smoke and reveal the gender of the couple’s unborn baby, ignited a fire which consumed approximately twenty-three thousand acres of East Los Angeles.

This level of devastation begs the question: why is California so prone to devastating wildfires? As Park Williams, a bio-climatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said in an interview with the New York Times, “In pretty much every single way, a perfect recipe for fire is just kind of written in California.”

Climate Change

Climate change creates warmer temperatures, increases the amount of dried vegetation, and reduces water availability through earlier snowmelt and evaporation. These factors can turn a simple spark into the explosive blazes of wildfire that have become characteristic of California. 

“This climate-change connection is straightforward: warmer temperatures dry out fuels. In areas with abundant and very dry fuels, all you need is a spark,” said Dr Park in another New York Times interview. 

This climate-change connection is straightforward: warmer temperatures dry out fuels. In areas with abundant and very dry fuels, all you need is a spark.

Park Williams, Columbia University

Once the spark is ignited, climate change in California  not only lengthens its fire season but also making its wildfires more intense and severe. Warmer temperatures in summer worsen drought conditions and cause evapotranspiration, further increasing and drying out already parched soil and plants, while warmer winters cause earlier snowmelt and less snowpack. These factors, coupled with the fast-blowing Santa Ana winds and human-driven errors, can often lead to catastrophic consequences.

Forest Management

Ironically, another factor which contributes to worsening California fires is the attempt of suppressing these fires itself. 

Dr Park explains, “For the last century we fought fire, and we did pretty well at it across all of the Western United States, and every time we fought a fire successfully, that means that a bunch of stuff that would have burned didn’t burn. And so in a lot of California now when fires start, those fires are burning through places that have a lot more plants to burn than they would have if we had been allowing fires to burn for the last hundred years.”

This means that fire suppression only delays the inevitable, but does not serve to prevent it. The fire suppression policy increases residual fuel in forests, which would have otherwise been burned and thinned prior to the current wildfires.

These wildfires can cause immense harm to the climate and air quality of not only the United States of America but also parts of other countries.

In fact, the recent California fires have released substantial amounts of toxic pollutants that have affected some European nations. Mark Parrington, a senior scientist for Europe’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service said, “The fact that these fires are emitting so much pollution into the atmosphere that we can still see thick smoke over 8,000 kilometers away reflects just how devastating they have been in their magnitude and duration.” 

Ultimately, as ‘human errors’ and climate change are not controlled, these relentless fires are a small taste of  the explosive future that lies ahead.

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