Nov 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Kinsey Metts moved to California for its wilderness and great outdoors. Now she wants to leave for the same reasons.
This autumn’s rash of destructive wildfires – predicted to grow worse in coming years as climate change strengthens – is threatening to shatter the California Dream that has long lured people to the state, drawn by its sunny weather and opportunities for a better life.
With increasingly powerful fires ripping through northern and southern California again and again, the question of leaving is now on plenty of people’s minds.
Metts, on maternity leave with a nine-week-old son, was forced to evacuate her rural Geyserville home, in the wine country north of the San Francisco Bay area, when the October Kincade fire tore through the hills behind it.
“We’ve loved our life here,” said Metts, who works for a non-profit helping at-risk children. “We love the outdoors and to backpack and kayak.”
“But I don’t know if I want to stay here anymore. It just feels like it’s getting worse and worse,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
California has long faced annual wildfires, but their geographic extent has increased fivefold since the early 1970s, according to research published this summer in Earth’s Future, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, an international group of scientists.
The study pointed to more fires and to fires increasingly fueled by vegetation made drier by climate change.
“Human-caused warming has already significantly enhanced wildfire activity in California … and will likely continue to do so in the coming decades,” the study said.
Many residents say those differences are now hitting perilously close to home.
Rocio Mercado moved to California from Mexico 23 years ago and was one of the nearly 200,000 people ordered to evacuate as the Kincade fire burned.
“I love California, but honestly I don’t know if I want to live here for the rest of my life,” she said outside the Healdsburg grocery store, where she is a supervisor. “I don’t feel safe anymore.”