It's Not Your Imagination: Fires Are More Common

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In the Southeast this week, extreme drought created the perfect conditions for wild fires, including the largest one ever recorded in Georgia. And across the country, Southern California is facing its driest weather on record; the wildfires season is starting early there.

The fire-friendly conditions are partly the result of climate change. And it looks like there is more parched weather, and fires, on the way.

Scientists who study long-term weather patterns say that the United States were due for a dry spell: The past century was unusually wet when compared to averages of the past two millennia.

Government officials say they can't say that the current droughts are caused by global climate change. But epidemics of tree-killing insects, droughts and wild fires are some of symptoms of global warming.

And scientists say they'll become much more common in coming years.

Jay Lawrimore, who tracks droughts for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is working on a study to see if climate change is responsible for making recent droughts worse.

"Some of the early results do point to the fact that drought severity in the U.S. and the expansion of drought have actually worsened because of the warmer temperatures," Lawrimore said, "particularly the rapid warming that has occurred over the last 30 years."

Whether or not climate change is to blame, Lawrimore says that more acres were burned by fires in 2006 than in any other year on record.

And Marc Rounsville, of the U.S. Forest Service, thinks that 2007 doesn't look any better.

"It's not shaping up to be good," he said. "We've already had quite a bit of activity in the south and in the east, and they got very little moisture over the winter in Southern California. That's a real concern."

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