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Study: Human Activity To Blame For 90% Of Wildfires In California

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Tony Cyphert / Flickr

This undated photo shows an aerial shot of a wildfire.

Study: Human Activity To Blame For 90% Of Wildfires In California

GUEST:

Michael Mann, assistant professor of geography, George Washington University

Transcript

In its latest forecast, the U.S. Forest Service this week said Southern California is “particularly vulnerable” to wildfire given the ongoing drought and the 40 million dead trees that could fuel fires. The agency said that five times more acres have burned in 2016 compared to the same time last year.

But a new study, published in the scientific journal PLOS One, suggests it’s not just the weather that's driving wildfires.

Researchers at the George Washington University found human activity — everything from cigarette litter to toppled power poles — is as much to blame for how often and where wildfires occur.

According to the study, people are responsible for igniting about 90 percent of the wildfires in California.

"Half of the changes in wildfire patterns over the last 25 years were determined by the location and the density of residential communities," Michael Mann, assistant professor of geography at the George Washington University and lead author of the study, told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday.

He said that policy makers need to take a more proactive approach to wildfire management, and that local governments should rethink the way they plan communities.

"The decisions that we make today about the location of housing, the way that we zone our buildings, building codes — these all have really long-term impacts on the risks that we face in the future," Mann said.

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