A recent publication by the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) addresses the security implications of the current US wildfires.
Wildfires have been raging in the western United States, as a result of recent high temperatures and severe drought which are also influenced by climate change. These conditions dry out the vegetation, which in combination with forest management practices, left large volumes of dry fuel on the ground. This has been ignited by dry lightning strikes, while wind and storms have further increased the intensity and the spread of wildfires.
The extreme fires experienced in the US have several different security implications for both people and the military. People are affected in multiple ways, as the fires have resulted in deaths of people, pets and livestock, as well as the loss of property, natural vegetation and increased air pollution. In combination with the current Covid-19 crisis, increased air pollution may also make people more vulnerable to the virus, or it may prolong recovery. Mental health problems often emerge from the traumatic experience of wildfires, too. These experiences can result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression.
Besides the direct impacts, the infrastructural hazards have also jeopardised people’s safety. Several Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) have taken place in order to reduce the risk of the electrical equipment starting a fire. As a result, some 150.000 people experienced an electricity shutdown in California alone.
The military is also affected by the wildfires, as it disrupts operational readiness of the military units. Soldiers and equipment have been diverted from their primary missions in order to help fighting the fires, meaning that the readiness of these units to respond to other emergencies is reduced. In some places, military facilities might also face physical damage due to the fires.
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