Colorado wildfires are 'what global warming really looks like' (+video)
The wildfires ravaging Colorado are a preview of the kinds of disasters that human-caused climate change could bring about, say scientists.
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In Pictures US natural disasters of 2011
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Mountain snows melted an average of two weeks earlier than normal this year, Running said. "That just sets us up for a longer, dryer summer. Then all you need is an ignition source and wind."
Warmer-than-usual winters also allow tree-killing mountain pine beetles to survive the winter and attack Western forests, leaving behind dry wood to fuel wildfires earlier in the season, Running said.
"Now we have a lot of dead trees to burn ... it's not even July yet," he said. Trying to stop such blazes driven by high winds is a bit like to trying to stop a hurricane, Running said: "There is nothing to stop that kind of holocaust."
Fires cost about $1 billion or more a year, and exact a toll on human health, ranging from increased risk of heart, lung and kidney ailments to post-traumatic stress disorder, said Howard Frumkin, a public health expert at the University of Washington.
The elderly, the very young and the ill are most vulnerable to the heat that adds to wildfire risk, he said. The strain of fleeing homes and living in communities in the path of a wildfire can trigger ailments like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
The briefing was convened by the science organization Climate Communications, with logistical support by Climate Nexus, an advocacy and communications group. An accompanying report on heat waves and climate change was released simultaneously at http://climatecommunication.org/new/articles/heat-waves-and-climate-change/overview/.
(Reporting By Deborah Zabarenko; Editing by Stacey Joyce)