By Charles McDermid, May 23, 2018, The New York Times
Rusty Witwer has the soot and flames of California wildfires seared into his blood. Over more than 40 fire seasons, he’s watched “the chain saws get lighter and the helicopters get bigger.”
In 1968, he started as a 17-year-old with the California Department of Forestry, now Cal Fire. He went on to lead the Tahoe Hotshots, an elite U.S. Forest Service fire crew, for 16 years.
Mr. Witwer, 68, said that he’d “never bet his pink slip” predicting a fire season like the one ahead, but what he foresees for his home state troubles him.
“Listen, I’m not a scientist — and, trust me, fires burned just as hot 40 years ago,” he said on Tuesday, “but I know something is going on.”
Mr. Witwer was referring to what many are calling the “new normal,” a term now commonly applied to the state’s drastically worsening fire seasons as a result of cyclical drought, climate change and the ceaseless drive to populate fire-prone areas. Last year was the most destructive fire season in California history: more than $10 billion in damage and 44 dead.