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Virginia wildfires should be a climate change 'wake-up call,' say George Mason University scientists

A group of scientists at the George Mason University College of Science are calling the wildfires that swept through Central Virginia last month a “wake-up call” for the commonwealth and the entire Eastern Seaboard.

They warn wildfires that are a regular occurrence in the West will become more frequent along the U.S. East Coast in the decades to come.

“There have been few wildfires in Virginia over the last two decades, but the risk of wildfires has been increasing due to extreme weather and climate events caused by climate change,” John Qu, director of GMU’s Environmental Science and Technology Center, said in a statement issued by the college.

In the case of the Page and Shenandoah county wildfires, “swift actions from emergency managers and first responders, complemented by fortunate rainfall, helped dodge a dire outcome,” said Alireza Ermagun, director of the Mobility Observatory and Data Analytics Lab and an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Geoinformation Science.

Nevertheless, “the fires brought severe air pollution to northwestern Virginia,” said Daniel Tong, associate professor of atmospheric chemistry and aerosols in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences.

The scientists said this alarm bell points to the need for building resilience, solidifying emergency preparedness and planning for evacuation, particularly for vulnerable populations including those with disabilities or without private transportation. Early detection measures will help, as will making the population more aware of this increasing threat.


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