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As fire season arrives, this could be hottest year ever

The Rocky Fire burns near Clear Lake, California, in August of last year. Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

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U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell meet Tuesday with stewards of regional forest lands to discuss preparations for fighting wildfires this season. 

Last year was a record fire season. And with 2016 poised potentially to be the hottest year on record, many experts expect another difficult year for firefighting.

Rising temperatures tied to climate change mean fire season starts earlier, especially in places like drought-ridden Southern California, according to Glen MacDonald, a climate change expert at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“You have fires occurring in January,” he said. “You have major fires occurring in April and May. And that’s because of very warm conditions and very dry conditions in the five-year drought we’ve been experiencing.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, climate change is leading to fire seasons that are, on average, 78 days longer than in 1970. 

Longer, more aggressive fire seasons in places like California also require greater resources. 

“We’ve had to hire more firefighters, we’ve had to staff more equipment, we’ve had to contract with additional private aircraft — anything and everything to augment the normal staffing that we have,” said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

Berlant said despite some rains in California this winter, he’s still expecting another big wildfire season.

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