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Rochester is a refuge for climate migrants escaping heat and wildfires

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Randall family
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Jon Randall's backyard thermometer in Danville, California. Randall and his wife, Mariane, moved to Webster in 2020 to escape the stifling heat and wildfires in the Bay area.

No part of the world can expect to escape the effects of climate change, but some places are already experiencing extreme heat, droughts, wildfires and poor air quality.

Some people are migrating to Rochester from other parts of the U.S. in search of a more moderate climate.

In the last couple of years, two families, astounded by increasingly stifling temperatures and fearful of losing their homes to encroaching wildfires, made the decision to relocate.

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Jon Randall
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Jon Randall stands outside of his Webster home. Randall and his wife moved to the Rochester area from Danville, California, in 2020 to escape the stifling heat and encroaching wildfires.

Jon and Mariane Randall moved to Webster from Danville, California, in November 2020.

"The number of days during the summer when it got into the triple digits increased," Jon Randall said. "By 2020, we were hitting 113 (degrees) in the backyard. We loved to garden, and we were watching all the plants just wilting."

Randall downloaded two apps to monitor weather conditions and air quality. He recalled one day when dangerous levels of pollution from a wildfire smoke plume reached across California, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. "I just said, 'OK, we're in big trouble. This is serious.'"

He called the decision to leave their friends and musical community "wrenching." But Randall believed his chances of losing everything to a fire had become uncomfortably high.

The Randalls found a home on a wooded lot in Webster that they love and they're now nearer to both of their parents, who live in the Northeast.

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Hibner family
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Lauren, Justin, Ella, and Hazel Hibner pose for a picture during a walk along the Erie Canal in Bushnell's Basin. The Hibners relocated to Pittsford from California in 2021 because they were worried about increasing wildfires.

Architects Justin and Lauren Hibner reached a similar decision to flee California with their two daughters, Ella and Hazel, in 2021.

Justin Hibner vividly recalls the day they reached that point. Raging wildfires had painted the sky orange and smoke blocked out the sunlight.

"It was just this sort of ominous, like, really scary moment," he said. "And that was kind of the catalyst for us to say, 'Let's just do it. Let's move.'"

The Penfield native admitted that Rochester wasn't an immediate first choice because he and his wife weren't sure they could sustain their careers here.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the workforce and presented the opportunity to work remotely. Lauren was able to keep her California job and work from their new Pittsford home, and Justin became a stay-at-home dad.

The lower cost of living made that possible, he said.

Click on the audio link above to hear Hibner and Randall tell their stories.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.