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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In a wide-ranging interview on the eve of his retirement, CAL FIRE Chief Ken Pimlott reflected on his three decades with the agency and talked about the more recent rise in mega-fires, which he said is a clear product of climate change.
"At the end of the day, firefighters are seeing climate change every day firsthand. It's staring them in the face," Pimlott, who retired Friday, told ABC10's Liz Kreutz.
"Literally within the last 10 years you can point to areas where these changes are occurring," he continued. "Fires we would normally be able to contain, normally we would be able to look historically where they have burned, they're not happening in the same place or we're not able to do the same things in the same places."
Pimlott traces the start of these mega fires back to the drought, where firefighters started noticing the vegetation was changing and growing more fire prone. Asked about President Donald Trump's denial that climate change is a factor in these fires, Pimlott said it's obvious that on that point they disagree.
"I think it can be puzzling when we're experiencing it in real time," he said. "But the reality is we're not letting that stop us."
Pimlott spent the past eight years as CAL FIRE Chief, overseeing 8,000 people all across the state. It's a difficult job and one that, even if he didn't know it, he had prepared for nearly all his life.
Pimlott said his interest in fire began when he was 17-years-old as a senior in high school.
"I just got interested," he said. "And so I literally was a volunteer firefighter...that was my foot in the door."
From there, he went on to get degrees at Humboldt State University and American River College in Sacramento, eventually joining CAL FIRE where he rose through the ranks.
While it might seem surprising that Pimlott is retiring in a year so consumed by fire, he says after his decades of service it's simply time.
"Eight years of very difficult conditions, obviously, has everyone tired. But no, I'm not burnt [sic] out," he explained. "Now is the time to bring in the next wave and let those folks get their feet on the ground and carry this ball to the next step."
Pimlott, who is optimistic that over time California will mitigate wildfires, said, for now, the biggest challenge for the person who replaces him is making sure we're prepared for what could come next.
"Going forward, it’s we’re really only one Spring away from another devastating fire," Pimlott said. "So, the biggest challenge is going to be how are we going to ensure we’re ready for the next wave?"
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