‘We don’t give up really easy’: Navajo ranchers battle climate change

By Stephanie Keith and Andrew Hay

CEDAR RIDGE, Ariz. (Reuters) – Two decades into a severe drought on the Navajo reservation, the open range around Maybelle Sloan’s sheep farm stretches out in a brown expanse of earth and sagebrush.

A dry wind blows dust across the high-desert plateau, smoke from wildfires in Arizona and California shrouding the nearby rim of the Grand Canyon.

The summer monsoon rains have failed again, and stock ponds meant to collect rainwater for the hot summer months are dry.

With no ground water for her animals, Sloan, 59, fills an animal trough with water from a 1,200-gallon white plastic tank. She and her husband, Leonard, have to pay up to $300 to have the tank filled as her pickup truck has broken down. When it’s working, she hauls water herself every two days, spending $80 a week on fuel.

The cost of hauling water has made their ranch unprofitable.

The Navajo Nation – covering a 27,000 square mile area straddling the U.S. states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — competes with growing cities including Phoenix and Los Angeles for its water supply.

And as climate change dries out the U.S. West, that supply is becoming increasingly precarious.

In decades past, “we got rain every year around June, July, August,” said Leonard Sloan. The 64-year-old rancher pointed toward the dry ponds in the ground near a local butte named Missing Tooth Rock. “When we had that storm, there would be water and they would be full. And now due to global warming, we don’t get no rain, just a little.”

To keep their ranch alive the Sloans have to get water, which is free, from the sole livestock well in the area some 15 miles to the east.

They spend between $3,000 and $4,000 a year on hay to supplement their animals’ feed as the open range no longer produces enough grass to sustain them.

Maybelle has cut her sheep herd down to 24 head, and Leonard tells her to get rid of them and her 18 goats to focus on their 42 cattle, which bring more money at market.

But Maybelle bristles at the thought of giving up sheep herding learned from her mother, and grandmother before her. Maybelle’s mother, father and sister all died in April from coronavirus.

“I’m doing it for my parents,” Maybelle said, wiping tears away as she sat on the metal railing of a corral while her cattle licked salt blocks and drank water.

GRADUAL DISASTER

The Sloans remember grass growing as high as the belly of a horse as recently as the 1980’s.

But drought conditions on the reservation have become largely relentless since the mid-1990’s.

Annual average temperatures rose by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the reservation’s Navajo County area over the 100 years to 2019, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data.

The months of June to August this year were the driest on record in the area for the three-month period, according to drought monitoring data studied by climate scientist David Simeral of the Desert Research Institute in Nevada. Three of the five driest July-August rainy seasons in the area have occurred since the late 1990’s.

The warming trend has prompted desertification, with sand dunes now covering about a third of the reservation, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

All but one of the reservation’s rivers have stopped running year-round, said Margaret Redsteer, a scientist at the University of Washington in Bothell.

“That’s the really tricky thing about droughts, and climate change is like that too,” Redsteer said. “It’s a gradual disaster.”

DETERMINED PEOPLE

On paper, the Navajo Nation has extensive water rights based on the federal “reserved rights” doctrine which holds that Native American nations have rights to land and resources in treaties they signed with the United States.

In practice, the Navajos and other tribes were left out of many 20th century negotiations divvying up the West’s water.

There are signs some of the next generation are keeping up ranching traditions.

Some youths simply help their grandparents haul water each day from the sole well for livestock in the Bodaway-Gap area. Still others, including Maybelle’s children, send money from their work off the reservation to help fund their families’ ranches.

“Us Indians, we don’t give up really easy,” Maybelle said. “We’re really determined people.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Keith and Andrew Hay; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Supreme Court takes up energy companies’ appeal over Baltimore climate suit

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal by energy companies including BP PLC, Chevron Corp, Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell PLC contesting a lawsuit by the city of Baltimore seeking damages for the impact of global climate change.

The justices will weigh whether the lawsuit must be heard in state court as the city would prefer or in federal court, which corporate defendants generally view as a more favorable venue. The suit targets 21 U.S. and foreign energy companies that extract, produce, distribute or sell fossil fuels.

The outcome could affect around a dozen similar lawsuits by U.S. states, cities and counties including Rhode Island and New York City seeking to hold such companies liable for the impact of climate change.

Baltimore and the other jurisdictions are seeking damages under state law for the harms they said they have sustained due to climate change, which they attribute in part to the companies’ role in producing fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The plaintiffs have said they have had to spend more on infrastructure such as flood control measures to combat sea-level rise caused by a warming climate. Climate change has been melting land-based ice sheets and glaciers.

The Supreme Court in 2019 declined the companies’ emergency request to put the Baltimore litigation on hold after a federal judge ruled that the case should be heard in state court. In March, the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judge’s decision.

In the absence of federal legislation in the bitterly divided U.S. Congress targeting climate change, the lawsuits are the latest effort to force action via litigation.

The Supreme Court in a landmark 2007 ruling said that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that could be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Under Democratic President Barack Obama, the agency issued the first-ever regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse gases. But efforts in Congress to enact sweeping climate change legislation have failed.

The court took action in the case three days before it begins its new nine-month term short one justice after the Sept. 18 death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. President Donald Trump has nominated federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

California wine country fire quadruples in size, more evacuations ordered

By Adrees Latif and Jonathan Allen

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (Reuters) – A wildfire in northern California’s Napa Valley wine country more than quadrupled in size overnight to some 11,000 acres (4,450 hectares), burning homes and vineyards and forcing officials to order thousands of residents to evacuate on Monday.

As the small city of Santa Rosa emptied out around him, Jas Sihota stationed himself on his front porch with his garden hose close at hand, darting out every 15 minutes or so to douse spot fires around neighboring houses seeded by wind-blown embers under a hazy red sun.

Sihota, a radiology technician at a nearby hospital, had not slept in some 24 hours since the blaze, since named the Glass Fire, ignited on Sunday morning near Calistoga about 60 miles (96.5 km) north of San Francisco.

“I wouldn’t have a house if I didn’t stay,” said Sihota, adding that neither would some of his neighbors. At least 10 homes elsewhere on the street beyond the reach of his hose were destroyed.

He weighed when he might finally grab some sleep, wondering if he could stay up perhaps another six hours on adrenaline. “I’m not going to do it till I feel comfortable,” he said.

It was the latest inferno in a historically destructive year throughout the U.S. West. In California alone, wildfires so far have scorched more than 3.7 million acres, far exceeding any single year in state history.

Since Aug. 15, fires in the state have killed 26 people and destroyed more than 7,000 structures. Climate change has contributed to wildfires’ growing intensity, scientists say.

Early on Monday, new evacuation orders were issued in Sonoma and Napa counties, including parts of the cities of Santa Rosa and St. Helena.

Residents at Oakmont Gardens, a retirement community in Santa Rosa, leaned on walkers as they waited to board a bus taking them to safety, their face masks doubling as protection against smoke and the novel coronavirus.

More than a thousand firefighters are battling the Glass Fire, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), some in planes that trailed red plumes of fire retardant over the region’s famed vineyards. None of it had been contained as of Monday morning, said Cal Fire, which was also monitoring 26 other major wildfires in the state.

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning through to the end of Monday, forecasting low humidity and gusts of wind up to 55 miles per hour (89 km per hour) through certain canyons. The fire also prompted evacuation of the 151-bed Adventist Health St. Helena hospital on Sunday for a second time in recent weeks after lightning-sparked blazes swept through the area in August.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif in Santa Rosa and Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Stephen Lam in Santa Rosa and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Berkrot)

California vows to ban sale of new gasoline-powered passenger vehicles in 2035

By David Shepardson and Nichola Groom

WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California plans to ban the sale of new gasoline powered passenger cars and trucks starting in 2035 in a dramatic move to shift to electric vehicles and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday.

Newsom told a press conference the state was committing to a “firm goal” to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 and was encouraging other states to take similar action.

Newsom’s order labeled the elimination of gasoline-powered vehicles a “goal” and a “target” after his office said earlier his order would require the sale of nothing but zero emission passenger vehicle starting in 2035.

The move would be the most significant to date by a U.S. state aimed at ending the use of internal combustion engines for passenger travel.

California is the largest U.S. auto market, accounting for about 11% of all U.S. vehicle sales, and many states choose to adopt its green vehicle mandates.

Newsom also wants the state legislature to stop issuing new permits by 2024 allowing use of hydraulic fracturing technology for oil and gas drilling.

U.S. President Donald Trump has sought to bar California from requiring the sale of electric vehicles, while his rival Joe Biden has pledged to spend billions to speed the adoption of electric vehicles.

California said it was joining 15 countries that have made similar pledges, including Britain.

California’s clean vehicle goals have not always come to pass and in some cases have been pushed back.

Newsom said the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will develop regulations to mandate that 100% of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks are zero-emission by 2035, which would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35%. The board also plans to mandate by 2045 that all operations of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles be zero emission where feasible.

Newsom’s executive order does not prevent Californians from owning gasoline-powered cars or selling them on the used car market.

In response to a record wildfire season in the state, Newsom earlier this month said California needed to “fast track” its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. “Across the entire spectrum, our goals are inadequate to the reality we are experiencing,” he said on Sept. 11 while touring a burned area in the state.

A group representing major automakers including General Motors Co, Toyota Motor Corp and Volkswagen AG said “neither mandates nor bans build successful markets.”

The group noted electrified vehicles account for less than 10% of new vehicle sales in California, which is still best in the United States.

California and nearly two dozen other U.S. states have sued the Trump administration, which has rolled back Obama era vehicle emissions standards and sought to undo California’s authority to set strict car pollution rules.

The administration has been waging a multi-pronged battle to counter California’s efforts to fight climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses from vehicles.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Nichola Groom; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)

California firefighters make stand to save famed observatory, homes

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews fought on Tuesday to defend homes and the famed Mount Wilson Observatory from California’s biggest and most dangerous wildfire, standing their ground at a major highway between the flames and populated areas.

The Bobcat Fire, which broke out Sept. 6 in the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles, has already blackened an area larger than the city of Atlanta and its rapid spread prompted worried law enforcement officials to call for new evacuations on Monday evening.

Once home to the largest operational telescope in the world, the Mount Wilson Observatory, which sits on a peak of the San Gabriel mountains near vital communications towers, said in an update that almost all the forest around it had burned.

Firefighters overnight kept the Bobcat from breaching containment lines near the observatory and were preventively burning vegetation ahead of the fire along state Highway 2, which runs northeast from Los Angeles.

This summer California already has seen more land charred by wildfires than in any previous full year, with some 3.4 million acres burned since mid-August.

The fires, stoked by extreme weather conditions that some scientists call evidence of climate change, have destroyed some 6,100 homes and other structures and killed 26 people, three of them firefighters.

Another 2 million acres have burned in Oregon and Washington during an outbreak of wildfires, destroying more than 4,400 structures and claiming 10 lives. But rain showers across the western Cascade mountain range helped fire crews in the Pacific Northwest gain control of those conflagrations.

Although California has seen little rain in September, bouts of high temperatures and gale-force winds have given way in recent days to cooler weather, enabling firefighters to gain ground.

But forecasters predict rising temperatures, lower humidity and a return of strong, erratic winds around midweek in Southern California and by the weekend across the state’s northern half, lending urgency to the firefight.

The Bobcat Fire has now scorched more than 109,000 acres to become one of the largest wildfires in recorded Los Angeles County history and was only 17% contained on Tuesday afternoon.

The flames came perilously close to the Mount Wilson Observatory last week before they were driven back by crews using air support.

Several more areas, including Pasadena, a city of 140,000 people, remained under evacuation warnings.

California’s fire season historically has run through October. Five of the state’s 20 largest blazes on record have occurred this year.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

California firefighters race to subdue flames before heat and winds return

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Five weeks after California erupted in deadly wildfires supercharged by record heat and howling winds, crews battling flames pushed on Monday to consolidate their gains as forecasts called for a return of blistering, gusty weather.

California already has lost far more landscape to wildfires this summer than during any previous entire year, with scores of conflagrations – many sparked by catastrophic lightning storms – scorching some 3.4 million acres since mid-August.

The previous record was just under 2 million acres burned in 2018.

As of Monday, more than 19,000 firefighters continued to wage war on 27 major blazes across the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

The fires, stoked by extreme weather conditions that scientists have pointed to as signs of climate change, have destroyed an estimated 6,100 homes and other structures and killed 26 people, three of them firefighters, CalFire reported.

Another 2 million acres have gone up in flames in Oregon and Washington state during an overlapping outbreak of wildfires that started earlier this month, destroying more than 4,400 structures in all and claiming 10 lives.

But a weekend of intermittently heavy showers across the western Cascade mountain range helped fire crews in the Pacific Northwest tamp down blazes in those two states.

Although California has seen little or no rain in recent days, bouts of extreme heat and gale-force winds that had produced incendiary conditions for weeks have given way to lower temperatures and lighter breezes, enabling firefighters to gain ground around most fires.

“They’re going to take advantage of this cool weather while they can,” CalFire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff told Reuters.

The break in the weather is not expected to last much longer. Tolmachoff said forecasts call for rising temperatures, lower humidity and a return of strong, erratic winds around mid-week in Southern California and by the weekend across the state’s northern half.

BOBCAT FIRE PROVES STUBBORN

Some fires have proven more stubborn than others. One in particular, dubbed the Bobcat Fire, grew to more than 100,000 acres on Monday in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles, with containment levels achieved by firefighters holding steady at just 15%, CalFire said.

The Bobcat last week spread perilously close to a famed astronomical observatory and complex of vital communications towers at the summit of Mount Wilson, while forcing evacuations of communities in the foothills below.

Several more areas, including Pasadena, a city of 140,000 people, remained under an evacuation warning, advising residents to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice. At the opposite end of the sprawling mountain range to the north, the fire was reported to have destroyed some homes and other structures in the high desert of the Antelope Valley.

Across the Bobcat fire zone and others, ground crews with axes, shovels and bulldozers clambered through rugged canyons and mountain slopes, hacking away tinder-dry brush and scrub before it could burn, creating containment lines around the perimeter of advancing flames.

They were assisted by squadrons of water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers dumping flame retardant on the blazes.

Regardless of the progress they make this week, California’s record fire season remains far from over. The height of wildfire activity historically has run through October. Five of the state’s 20 largest blazes on record have occurred this year.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Mercury released by permafrost thaw puts Yukon River fish at risk: study

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE (Reuters) – If carbon emissions continue at current rates, so much mercury will leach from thawing permafrost that fish in the Yukon River could become dangerous to eat within a few decades, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications.

Current emissions rates threaten to trigger enough thaw release to drive mercury levels in Yukon River fish above federal safety guidelines by 2050, according to the study.

Mercury concentration in the Yukon is expected to double by the end of the century if carbon emissions continue at present rates, according to the study.

But if emissions are reduced in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, mercury concentrations will increase by only 14% by the end of the century, keeping levels in fish at or below safety guidelines, according to the study.

“A lot will depend on what we do in terms of response to climate change,” said Kevin Schaefer of the Colorado-based National Snow and Ice Data Center, the study’s lead author.

The study has implications beyond the indigenous communities in Alaska and Canada that depend on Yukon River fish for their income, diets and culture, Schaefer said.

The nearly 2,000-mile river is “a bellwether or a canary-in-the-coal mine kind of thing, an indicator of what might happen over the whole Arctic,” he said. Thaw-released mercury will work its way from the land to the river and ultimately, into the oceans, and thaw-released mercury in gaseous form will encircle the world, he said.

“What happens in the Yukon is going to affect the entire globe, not just the people who live on or around the Yukon River,” he said.

A 2018 study co-authored by Schaefer, in collaboration with partners from the U.S. Geological Survey and other institutions, estimated that Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost soils hold nearly twice as much stored mercury as is in all the rest of the world’s soils, the oceans and the atmosphere combined.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Christopher Cushing)

Sea of Slush: Arctic sea ice lows mark a new polar climate regime

By Natalie Thomas and Cassandra Garrison

ARCTIC OCEAN (Reuters) – At the edge of the ice blanketing part of the Arctic Ocean, the ice on Monday looked sickly. Where thick sheets of ice once sat atop the water, now a layer of soft, spongy slush slid and bobbed atop the waves.

From the deck of a research ship under a bright, clear sky, “ice pilot” Paul Ruzycki mused over how quickly the region was changing since he began helping ships spot and navigate between icebergs in 1996.

“Not so long ago, I heard that we had 100 years before the Arctic would be ice free in the summer,” he said. “Then I heard 75 years, 25 years, and just recently I heard 15 years. It’s accelerating.”

As if on cue, scientists on Monday said the vast and ancient ice sheet sitting atop Greenland had sloughed off a 113 square kilometer chunk of ice last month. The section of the Spalte Glacier at the northwest corner of the Arctic island had been cracking for several years before finally breaking free on Aug. 27, clearing the way inland ice loss to the sea, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland reported.

With climate change driving up Arctic temperatures, the once-solid sea ice cover has been shrinking to stark, new lows in recent years. This year’s minimum, still a few days from being declared, is expected to be the second-lowest expanse in four decades of record-keeping. The record low of 3.41 million square kilometers – reached in September 2012 after a late-season cyclonic storm broke up the remaining ice – is not much below what we see today.

“We haven’t gone back at all to anything from 30 to 40 years ago,” said climatologist Julienne Stroeve at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. And as climate change continues, scientists say the sea ice is unlikely to recover to past levels.

In fact, the long-frozen region is already shifting to an entirely new climate regime, marked by the escalating trends in ice melt, temperature rise and rainfall days, according to new research published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Those findings, climate scientist Laura Landrum said, were “unnerving.”

All three variables – sea ice, temperatures and rainfall – are now being measured well beyond the range of past observations. That makes the future of the Arctic more of a mystery.

“The new climate can’t be predicted by the previous climate,” Landrum explained. “The year-to-year variability, the change in many of these parameters, is moving outside the bounds of past fluctuations.”

Sea ice coverage minimums, in particular, are now about 31% lower than in the decade after 1979, when satellite observations began. The ice has also lost about two-thirds of its bulk, as much of the thicker ice layer built up over years has long since melted away. The current ice regime actually began about two decades ago, the study found.

This vanishing of sea ice also contributes to the region’s warming, as the icy white expanse is replaced by patches of dark water that absorb solar radiation rather than reflecting it back out of the atmosphere. The process, referred to as Arctic amplification, helps to explain why the Arctic has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the world over the last four decades.

The polar north will also likely see more days of rain rather than snow, which would further eat into the ice. For the new research, Landrum and her colleague Marika Holland at the National Center for Atmospheric Research analyzed sea ice, air temperature and precipitation data since 1950 to project climate scenarios up to the end of the century. They used computer simulations in the analysis and assumed the world’s release of greenhouse gas emissions would continue at a high trajectory.

Back in the Arctic Ocean aboard the Greenpeace Ship Arctic Sunrise research ship, biologist Kirsten Thompson of the University of Exeter said the new study was important in underlining “how fast and how profoundly the Arctic is changing.”

For Thompson, that means big change for the region’s wildlife, from polar bears and insects to the whales she focuses on studying. “All their distributions are changing,” Thompson said. “We might find in the Arctic there will be winners and losers,” as new species enter the region and out compete indigenous animals.

“Other species certainly will not be able to survive in the future.”

(Reporting by Natalie Thomas in the Arctic Ocean and Cassandra Garrison in Buenos Aires; Editing by Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)

‘All gone:’ Residents return to burned-out Oregon towns as many West Coast wildfires keep burning

By Adrees Latif and Patrick Fallon

TALENT, Ore. (Reuters) – Search-and-rescue teams, with dogs in tow, were deployed across the blackened ruins of southern Oregon towns on Sunday as smoldering wildfires still ravaged U.S. Pacific Coast states after causing widespread destruction.

A blitz of wildfires across Oregon, California and Washington has destroyed thousands of homes and a half dozen small towns this summer, scorching more than 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) and killing more than two dozen people since early August.

Tracy Koa, a high school teacher, returned to Talent, Oregon, on Saturday after evacuating with her partner, Dave Tanksle, and 13-year-old daughter to find her house and neighborhood reduced to heaps of ash and rubble.

“We knew that it was gone,” Koa said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “But then you pull up, and the devastation of just every home, you think of every family and every situation and every burnt-down car, and there are just no words for it.”

Crews in Jackson County, Oregon, where Talent is located, were hoping to venture into rural areas where the Almeda Fire has abated slightly with slowing winds, sending up thick plumes of smoke as the embers burned. From Medford through the neighboring communities of Phoenix and Talent, an apocalyptic scene of charred residential subdivisions and trailer parks stretched for miles along Highway 99.

Community donation centers popped up around Jackson County over the weekend, including one in the parking lot of Home Depot in Phoenix, where farmers brought a pickup truck bed full of watermelons and people brought water and other supplies.

Farther north in Clackamas County, Dane Valentine, 28, showed a Reuters journalist the remains of his house.

“This is my home,” he said. “Yep. All gone.”

Down the road, a woman with a Trump 2020 sign on her home, pointed a shotgun at the journalist and shouted at him to leave.

“You’re the reason they’re setting fires up here,” she said, perhaps referring to false rumors that left-wing activists had sparked the wildfires.

After four days of brutally hot, windy weather, the weekend brought calmer winds blowing inland from the Pacific Ocean, and cooler, moister conditions that helped crews make headway against blazes that had burned unchecked last week.

Still, emergency officials worried that the shifting weather might not be enough to quell the fires.

“We’re concerned that the incoming front is not going to provide a lot of rain here in the Medford region and it’s going to bring increased winds,” Bureau of Land Management spokesman Kyle Sullivan told Reuters in a telephone interview on Sunday.

At least 10 people have been killed in Oregon, according to the office of emergency management. Oregon Governor Kate Brown has said dozens of people remain missing across three counties.

There were 34 active fires burning in Oregon as of Sunday morning, according to the state’s office of emergency management website.

CLIMATE CHANGE ‘WAKE-UP CALL’

Thick smoke and ash from the fires have darkened skies over the Pacific Northwest since Labor Day last Monday, creating some of the world’s worst air-quality levels and driving residents indoors. Satellite images showed the smoke was wafting inland in an easterly direction, the Bureau of Land Management said on Twitter on Sunday.

Drought conditions, extreme temperatures and high winds in Oregon created the “perfect firestorm” for the blazes to grow, Brown told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“This is a wake-up call for all of us that we’ve got to do everything in our power to tackle climate change,” the Democratic governor said.

President Donald Trump was scheduled to travel to California and meet with federal and state officials on Monday. He has said that Western governors bear some of the blame for intense fire seasons in recent years, as opposed to warming temperatures, and has accused them of poor forest management.

In California, evacuations were ordered for the northern tip of the San Gabriel Valley suburb of Arcadia as the Bobcat Fire threatened communities.

At Wilderness Park in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, firefighters prepared to stave off the blaze as it worked its way downhill.

Steep terrain and dry hills that have not burned for 60 years are providing fuel for the blaze, which started over the Labor Day weekend.

As the smoke that has been clogging the air and blocking heat from the sun begins to lift, firefighters expect the weather to heat up and fire activity could increase, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

All told in California, nearly 17,000 firefighters were battling 29 major wildfires on Sunday, Cal Fire said.

Improving weather conditions had helped them gain a measure of containment over blazes in many parts of the state, and some evacuated residents in Madera County near where the massive Creek Fire was burning, were allowed to go back home.

More than 4,000 homes and other structures have been incinerated in California alone over the past three weeks. About 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of land have been burned in the state, according to Cal Fire.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif in Ashland, Oregon, and Patrick Fallon in Arcadia, California; Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein, Gabriella Borter, Dan Whitcomb, Doina Chiacu, Shannon Stapleton and Aishwarya Nair; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Nick Zieminski and Peter Cooney)

How California’s wildfires could spark a financial crisis

By Ann Saphir

(Reuters) – Wildfires across the U.S. West are among the sparks from climate change that could ignite a U.S. financial crisis by damaging home values, state tourism and local government budgets, an advisory panel to a U.S. markets regulator found.

Those effects could set off a cascade of events including defaults and market disruptions, undermining the U.S. economy and sparking a crisis. Here’s how:

MORE FREQUENT AND INTENSE FIRES

Global warming is making the U.S. West hotter and drier, with wildfires more frequent and intense, scientists say.

Economists have traditionally seen natural disasters like wildfires as localized shocks. That’s changing, according to the report, produced by a 35-member panel for the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. The group included representatives of major oil companies, banks and asset managers.

LOWER HOME VALUES

CalFire, California’s fire-fighting agency, says about 3 million of the state’s 12 million homes are at high risk from wildfires.

That designation hurts home values, which in turn increases mortgage default risk, research cited by the report suggested. More defaults would damage banks, mortgage holders and markets where mortgages are sold. Securities based on mortgages were a trigger for the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

INSURERS RETREAT FROM COVERAGE

After 2018, California’s worst fire season in terms of loss of life and property, some insurers balked at renewing homeowner policies, forcing a record number of owners to turn to pricey policies from the state’s insurer of last resort.

Expensive insurance also depresses home prices, said former California insurance regulator Dave Jones, a contributor to the CFTC report.

“You can tell the same story in terms of sea level rise and flooding and more intense storms and their impact on residential real estate value,” said Jones, now a senior director at The Nature Conservancy.

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

Lower home values reduce cities’ real estate tax revenue and impair their ability to repay debt, potentially leading to bond defaults, according to the report.

Fire-related business disruptions such as a drop in tourism that slashed sales and lodging tax revenue could also hurt municipal finances. Stresses could build in the U.S. financial system in what the report termed “a systemic crisis in slow motion.”

MARKET PERCEPTIONS

Climate catastrophes can make investors aware of risks not priced into markets, the report said.

“A sudden revision of market participants’ perceptions about climate risk could trigger a disorderly repricing of assets, which could have cascading effects on portfolios and balance sheets and, therefore, systemic implications for financial stability,” the report said.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir in Berkeley, Calif.; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)