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Worrisome U.S. Wildfire Risks Leading into Summer of 2018

The trend of increasing large wildfires for the U.S. West due to climate change is clear as clear can be. And as we enter 2018, fire officials are concerned that we might experience another damaging summer and fall similar to 2017.

(Analysis of the present state of U.S. fire season.)

According to forecasters from the National Interagency Fire Center:

…warmer and drier-than-normal conditions have put large portions of the Western United States at above-average risk for significant wildfires between now and September.

This year’s wildfire season could rival last year’s, which was one of the most devastating on record, said Vicki Christiansen, interim chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

With drought conditions and warmer than normal temperatures prevailing across the U.S. West at present, a number of large wildfires are breaking out. The most significant now run through Colorado, New Mexico and California. In addition, four large fires are burning over Alaska where much warmer than normal temperatures have also settled in.

Last year was one of the most destructive fire seasons on record. 53 lives were lost, 12,300 homes were destroyed, and more than ten million acres burned. The situation this year, though not quite as intense as early 2017, has sparked concern. Presently 1.75 million acres have already burned from more than 24,000 fires — which makes the start of 2018 fire season the third worst of the past ten years.

(Severe western drought and above average temperatures are contributing to increased fire potential during June of 2018. Warmer temperatures and worsening droughts are also related to human-caused climate change. As a result, unless human caused warming is abated, fires will continue to grow larger and more intense. Image source: The National Weather Service.)

Climate change is identified as the primary factor increasing wildfire risk across the United States by the Union of Concerned Scientists. According to that scientific body, the incidence of large fires covering more than 1,000 acres has increased from 140 over the U.S. West during the 1980s to more than 250 after 2000. The same study found that fire season for the West had increased from five months to seven months, that temperatures were rising, and that mountain snows were melting earlier.

In the future, unless fossil fuel burning is rapidly reduced, the area of land burned in the U.S. West could increase by up to 650 percent. So wildfires are a substantial hazard related to climate change. And the present more severe season cannot be excluded from a trend that has been amplified by that change.

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