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Why Everything They Say About California Fires — Including That Climate Matters Most — Is Wrong

In 2018, a fire ripped through the town of Paradise, California, killing 85 people. It was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.

Liabilities from wildfires started by its powerlines bankrupted Pacific Gas & Electric, which cut off power to nearly one million homes and businesses last month to prevent wind from triggering and fanning fires.

Many blame climate change.“The reason these wildfires have worsened is because of climate change,” said Leonardo DiCaprio.“This is what climate change looks like,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On Sunday, after President Donald Trump tweeted, “The Governor of California, @GavinNewsom, has done a terrible job of forest management,” Newsom tweeted back, “You don’t believe in climate change. You are excused from this conversation.”

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But can the increase in fires in California really be blamed on climate change?

I asked Dr. Jonathan Keeley, a US Geological Survey scientist who has researched the topic for 40 years, if he thought the 2018 Paradise fire could be attributed to climate change.

“It’s almost certainly not climate change,” he said. “We’ve looked at the history of climate and fire throughout the whole state, and through much of the state, particularly the western half of the state, we don’t see any relationship between past climates and the amount of area burned in any given year.”

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