Our local fire season thus far has not been remarkable, but it has been for others. We did get smoke from the Sage fires recently, but we were never seriously threatened.

Other communities in the West have not been so fortunate. The Rocky Mountain states had very large and destructive fires in June, and the West Coast states had very large fires in August. Northern California had many large fires in its forested areas, some still burning as of this writing.

Nationally we have had fewer fires than average but they have burned much more acreage. The fires are getting bigger.

Budgets in the states with these big fires are all going to struggle to pay for the unbudgeted portion of their fire suppression efforts. Utah, for example, budgeted $3 million for fire suppression, but will have to pay over $16 million for their share of firefighting costs. Large budget shortfalls in firefighting allocations will be the typical case in Western states this year.

This situation is probably going to get worse. Unfortunately for all of us the atmosphere of our planet is getting warmer and that will not help. The fire risk will double in California over the next 40 years, largely due to climate change and land development, according to a study published this summer for the California Energy Commission. The author, Professor Anthony Westerling, is on the faculty at the University of California, Merced, School of Engineering.

The report shows a complex interaction between climate, people and land use that affects wildfire. Different scenarios bring different results, so that fewer people moving into wildland areas, or a slower increase in average temperature, produce fewer fires. But the probability is that higher temperatures and more people will cause more fires.

I would have guessed that the threat would be greatest in Southern California, but the report indicates the greatest threat is to the forests in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and foothills of Northern California.

Whichever scenario plays out in the future, we are very likely to continue on the path of the last decade, which has seen more large fires. As they always do, firefighters will put most of them out (nature will handle the rest).

But as a society we will have to pay more for an increase in suppression effort. How we pay for it is up to us.

Professor Westerling said in a press release that though policies to mitigate climate change could help to limit changes in wildfire, it is still going to get warmer, no matter what we do at this point.

Carbon limits aside, we have some important local policy options. “Fire suppression, fuels management and development policies such as zoning and building codes are the primary means we have to manage wildfire risks”, he states in his press release.

Locally, many of these issues have been addressed. The 2006 Esperanza Fire led to a Riverside County Fire Hazard Reduction Task Force that dealt with just about all of the policy issues named in the study. From my point of view county leaders are well aware of the fire risk and have taken appropriate steps to deal with it.

For those of us living in this high fire area, our most important tasks are to reduce the fuel around our homes and harden them against fire intrusion. I think we also need to accept that we will need to pay more for fire protection and prevention in the coming years.