Climate Change Means Up In Flames

High winds drive hot embers smoldering in the Malibu Hills, Monday, Oct. 22, 2007, in Malibu, Calif. A wildfire driven by powerful Santa Ana winds forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes in the Malibu Hills and briefly threatened a university Sunday. Flames destroyed a church and several homes, one of them a landmark castle. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
This column was written by CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.

You've seen the pictures from Southern California. Wildfires fanned by 50 mph winds sweeping across the countryside. Mansions and cottages destroyed in their wake.

Hundreds of thousands have been told to evacuate and the firefighters undermanned, under-equipped, and overwhelmed by the maelstrom.

We hear it hasn't rained much this year there, that the conditions for these fires are perfect: tinder dry forests and scrublands, plenty of heat. And Santa Ana winds that usually blow the smog out to sea are like bellows turning embers into infernos.

Homes destroyed; businesses ruined. Life has come to a stop in neighborhood after neighborhood. It's frightening all right. A knock at the door in the middle of the night saying you have 10 minutes to pack up and get out.

What's even more frightening is that this might be the new normal. Climate change has made whole sections of the Southwest warmer, drier, more susceptible to what's happening right now.

Harry's daily commentary can be heard on many CBS Radio News affiliates across the country.