World

Extreme fire seasons 'the new normal'

California governor offers grim message as wildfires ease

CALIFORNIA Brutal winds that fuelled southern California wildfires finally began to ease on Saturday, giving residents and firefighters hope for a respite from the destructive toll of the blazes.

After a five-day siege, some Californians were finally able to return home to inspect the damage wrought by the wildfires, which forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee and destroyed more than 850 structures, including multi-million dollar mansions.

Despite the intensity of the fires that raged on multiple different fronts - stretching from areas north of Los Angeles down to the San Diego region - authorities have reported only one fatality - a 70-year-old woman who died in a car accident while trying to flee the flames.

However, late yesterday, the winds that stoked the wildfires were forecast to return in force.

The National Weather Service is forecasting top wind speeds to increase yesterday.

"There's still tons and tons of hot spots out there," Captain Jon Heggie of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said on Saturday.

California Governor Jerry Brown said many scientists believe more extreme fire seasons as a result of climate change will be the "new normal".

"We're facing a new reality in this state where fires threatens people's lives, their property, their neighbourhoods," Mr Brown said at a briefing.

"We know from changing climate that (fires) are going to exacerbate everything else (and) in the longer term, I think we have to think through how are we going to adjust ourselves to nature as it changes."

He added: "We can't expect nature to adjust to our needs."

The material cost of fire suppression efforts has skyrocketed to some US$17 million (S$23m), officials estimated.

Firefighters had gained some ground battling the fires that have burned over the past week as the winds eased on Saturday. Winds and the rugged terrain have hampered firefighting efforts there, authorities said.

Last week's infernos capped California's deadliest year ever for wildfires. More than 40 people died in October when fires swept through the state's wine-producing counties north of San Francisco. - AFP, REUTERS

WORLD