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El Niño May Have Increased The Risk Of Fires In Southern California

A US Forestry fire fighter fights a wall of fire during an out of control wildfire on May 2, 2013 in Camarillo, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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While many hoped that El Niño-fueled rains would help quench a parched Southern California, it seems what little rain we received may have put us at greater risk for fires this season.

According to researchers, SoCal may have received just enough rainfall to help encourage the growth of easily ignited grasses that could increase the chances for wildfires this year, reports KPCC. The rain that we did receive helped annual grasses sprout, which can be particularly problematic in areas like highway shoulders where cars backfiring or tossed cigarettes can easily ignite a fire. UC Irvine fire researcher James Randerson tells KPCC, "So that becomes a greater fuel load."

Randerson's research also indicates that hotter summers caused by climate change will also increase the fire risk in SoCal by as much as 30 percent by 2050. And a report from George Washington University suggests that over that period of time the estimated fire damage is expected to triple as a result of climate change and human behavior, which includes everything from tossed lit cigarettes to where structures are built.

This season, firefighters across SoCal are already preparing for an above normal fire risk. In addition to the sprouted grasses, years of drought have left millions of trees dead and others dehydrated, creating ideal conditions for wildfires.

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CAL FIRE director Chief Ken Pimlott tells KPCC, "It will take several seasons of El Niño-like rainfall to really turn around the status of the vegetation to be more normal."