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The Pentagon Says Wildfires, Driven By Climate Change, Are A Growing National Security Threat

 February 17, 2020 at 10:19 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Climate change is making wildfires worse around the world, hotter temperatures, dry or conditions. It's a danger not only to communities but on military basis as well, which has led the Pentagon to declare fires and other effects of climate change. A national security problem from KPCC. Here's Jacob Margolis. Speaker 2: 00:21 September 19th, 2016 we Canyon wildfires burning through the dry rolling Hills of Vandenberg air force base crispy after years of record setting, drought and high temperatures. It's out of control day turns tonight as firefighters are surrounded by smoke and flames, their body cameras catch the sounds of their retreats. Speaker 3: 00:44 Let's go. Let's go. Speaker 2: 00:50 The fire started two days earlier in a remote part of the 100,000 acre air force space. Chief Mark various is a 20 year veteran of the Vandenberg fire department. Speaker 4: 00:59 It's kind of like a military battle, right? You need the ground troops, which we call, let's call them hot shots. You need the tanks, which we'll call the fire trucks and you need air support so that unholy Trinity is what we typically need for almost every fire Speaker 2: 01:13 fighting fires on military bases can be complicated. There's ordinance and chemical storage and buildings crucial to national security at Vandenberg. At the time, one of the biggest issues was a little over a mile away, a Delta two rocket ready to launch. Speaker 4: 01:27 Now having a rocket fully loaded on a pad, fully fueled. That's, that's a pucker factor, you know, and having fire all around the area and and threatening the facility. Speaker 2: 01:37 The department of defense is concerned that wildfires are becoming an increasing threat to many facilities driven by extreme weather conditions that are getting worse as the climate changes. A 2019 DOD report on the effects of a changing climate dedicated a section to the wildfire threat. Wonkily pointing out climatic factors including increased wind and drought can lead to an increased severity of wildfire activity. Maureen Sullivan is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment. Speaker 5: 02:05 No, we just had a huge fire this summer up in Alaska, which was really problematic so it wouldn't think you know of Alaska as a wildfire risk, but that tells you how the wildfire situation is changing. Speaker 2: 02:17 The Pentagon report looked at 72 basis. It said that half of those could be threatened by wildfire and that number is expected to grow. The report urges, installations to plan ahead. Speaker 5: 02:28 They have to take into consideration a changing climate, but how do they go about it? Speaker 2: 02:33 Sullivan said that the defense department is trying to help them. For instance, it developed a tool that can help basis figure out what might burn, where that fire might spread and how they could respond. There's also a new climate adaptation tool that's supposed to help facilities figure out the scope of different kinds of climate threats. Though there are practical things that the bases are doing right now, clearing vegetation is a big one, especially with controlled burns. Though some bases are limited by local. They're also partnering with local, state and national fire agencies. Actually that's what saved chief Pfarius at Vandenberg. When the fire was burning out of control back in 2016 what was the turning point where you guys were able to finally, Speaker 4: 03:13 uh, getting enough air resources and enough hot shot crews? Speaker 2: 03:16 The Vandenberg fire burned only 12,500 acres, relatively reasonable for a California fire. But she furious says it shows why his base needs better brush management, more people, and more money, Speaker 4: 03:28 and we haven't gained resources. Even though our launch tempo is more, even though it's dry or even now, things have gotten worse, we've, we're actually less people, less resourced. And so that has an impact. You know, that means that things are going to get worse before they get better. Something, you know, Speaker 2: 03:44 like other folks in California and much of the country, he knows that the next big fire could be right around the corner. I'm Jacob Margolis in Los Angeles. Speaker 3: 03:59 [inaudible].

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A 2019 Department of Defense report concluded that the effects of a changing climate, including wildfires, threaten dozens of military bases.
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