Firefighters in New Mexico Connect Record Fires with Climate Change

May 2012

Event Helps Launch Over 1,000 Events in 100 Countries to “Connect the Dots” Between Extreme Weather and Global Warming

The largest wildfire in New Mexico state history is connected to climate change. That’s the message from a group of firefighters who gathered in the charred Santa Fe Forests to help launch a global effort to “Connect the Dots” between climate change and extreme weather. The testimonies are grave.

“Since I started in 1998, the increase in large mega-fires, where over 100,000 acres burn, has intensified,” says Porfirio Chavarria, City of Santa Fe Wildland Urban Interface Specialist.

“It’s a lot hotter and drier, we’re not getting as much rain as we’ve had in the past, and we think its going to get more intense,” adds Brian Moya, a firefighter with the Santa Fe department.

“The winds that we are having are causing the red flag warning conditions and drying up the little moisture we do have left in the ground. The fires are burning hotter and lasting longer, ” explains Brian Bird. “People need to take responsibility and show initiative to address the real problems, or else we are going to experience conditions that will be even worse.”

Graham Miller Chavarria and 10 firefighters from the Atalaya wildland hand crew traveled to the Las Conchas burn to create an image they hope will help people “connect the dots” between global warming and epic wildfires. The picture shows the firefighters in their gear, surrounded by the burnt forest, explaining the severe conditions our societies are increasingly facing due to a changing climate.

In May 2012, the international climate campaign 350.org coordinated more than 1,000 events in over 100 countries for “Climate Impacts Day.” From flood victims in Pakistan dragging boats into the streets of Karachi to villagers in Kenya holding “dots” where drought killed their crops, the day of events paintef a powerful picture of a world already reeling from the impacts of the climate crisis.

A 2012 Yale University poll in the U.S. found that Americans’ concern about climate change has increased with more extreme weather and warmer temperatures. According to the research, 82 percent of Americans report that they personally experienced one or more types of extreme weather or a natural disaster in the past year.

“Most people in the country are looking at everything that’s happened; it just seems to be one disaster after another after another,” Anthony A. Leiserowitz of Yale University, one of the researchers who commissioned the new poll, told the New York Times. “People are starting to connect the dots.”

“Coal is the primary driver of global warming emissions. In New Mexico, PNM is responsible for half of all global warming emissions. The wildfires and severe drought we are seeing are a result of these emissions,” says Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director of New Energy Economy, who went with the firefighters to the decimated forests. “There is no future in coal. Now, we need to turn to renewables that don’t cause these awful consequences.”

The June 2011 Las Conchas fire burned more than 150,000 acres, threatening the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory and causing the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents.

Scientists say that the higher temperatures brought on by climate change increase the amount of moisture that evaporates from the land, leading to hot and dry conditions that increase the likelihood and severity of wildfires. In New Mexico, the months leading up to the Las Conchas fire were part of the third-driest spring on record.

“Throughout the country, we’re seeing longer fire seasons and snowpacks that, on average, are disappearing a little earlier every spring,” Tom Tidwell, the director of the U.S. Forest Service, told senators at a hearing last June. “Our scientists believe this is due to a change in climate.”

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