'California is now in a new climate:' Stanford scientist explains state's heat wave, dry conditions

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- A record heat wave in the Pacific Northwest is serving as a sign for California firefighters of what's to come this fire season.

ABC7 News reporter Luz Pena spoke to a Stanford climate expert who says multiple data points serve as evidence that climate change is contributing to these heat events.

Wildfires are unpredictable, but as the drought worsens and heat waves intensify scientists view these as red flags.

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"California is now in a new climate. We are in a climate now where essentially, all of our years are warm years. We are getting these very severe heat waves as a result. We are getting rapid snow melt that means that water supply that we have counted on in the past is much less reliable and the vegetation is much drier," said Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh, Stanford University Climate Scientist.

Dr. Diffenbaugh has been studying California's climate for years and believes the wildfire risk is elevated. The heat wave hitting the Pacific Northwest is proof of that.

"We found for example that the autumn wildfire season is becoming much more severe and about a doubling of the frequency of wildfire weather during the autumn season and that is primarily from the warming," said Dr. Diffenbaugh.

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Governor Newsom declared that 41 of 58 counties are currently in drought.

Scientists see these dry conditions as signs of what's to come. To gear up for upcoming wildfires, Cal Fire added 1,400 firefighters along with more fire engines to their teams.

"We have pre-positioned of a number of different units throughout Contra Costa County our additional units just assigned for major incidents throughout CoCo and all our allied police stations are ready to respond," said Fire Marshal Steve Aubert, with East Contra Costa County Fire.

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Another concern as the 4th of July approaches is fireworks.

"We've had a significant amount of fires over the past couple weeks here, where they have instantly ignited due to illegal fireworks, due to sparks that have been introduced and have threaten communities and homes," said Aubert.

Even though we are in a race against climate change, Dr. Diffenbaugh says there are still steps we can take now to prevent worsening climate conditions.

"Hardening homes and clearing defensible space around structures is something we all can do. In terms of reducing ignition more than 90 percent of the ignitions in California are human caused," said Dr. Diffenbaugh.

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