Editor’s note: Over the next week, we’re publishing videos from The Story Group that show Americans on the front lines of climate change. The series puts faces to the warnings in the latest National Climate Assessment. 

Elk Creek Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin has firsthand experience of the spread of wildfires throughout the western United States. In 2012, his teams fought the Lower North Fork Fire in Colorado, an unusual early-season fire that kicked off the most destructive fire season in Colorado’s recorded history — until 2013 eclipsed that record.

According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, higher average temperatures are drying out forest fuels, increasing the length of the fire season, reducing snow cover, and generally increasing the vulnerability of western forests to more wildfire. The fire season in Southern California is already off to an early start. “Climate change is very real,” Chief McLaughlin says, “It’s changed my entire life.”

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