This fire season has been more prevalent this season than years past, especially for states like Colorado and California. Multiple major fires currently are burning in both states with additional fires throughout the rest of the western U.S. Irresponsible behavior is partially to blame for some of the fires, but climate change is showing that fire season is only going to get worse with years to come.
According to the Center For Climate And Energy Solutions, climate change is causing wildfires to both grow in number and size.
One of the main causes is drought conditions causing fire fuel to become drier. Hotter and drier conditions have started to lengthen fire season in many regions. Projections are showing that a 1ºC increase could increase the median acres burned by 600% in some forests. Hotter temperatures will also accelerate the spread of mountain pine beetle which can weaken or kill trees, allowing for even more fire fuel. Currently, the Williams Fork Fire in Colorado is in a substantial beetle kill area which helped the fire grow rapidly. A combination of both longer fire season with worse fuel conditions will allow for fires to grow faster.
Currently, these changing climate conditions are making droughts more and more common in the western states. Currently, there are large swaths under drought conditions.
Between 1984 and 2015, large wildfires have doubled in number in the western United States. Additionally, there has been a noticeable increase in annual acres burned across the entire U.S.
Wildfires also have a large financial toll on both communities they affect and the federal/state governments. NOAA estimated that the record-setting 2018 and 2017 fire seasons caused more than $40-billion in damages.
It must be noted that roughly 80% of wildfires in the western United States are human-caused. They can be avoided. Just being smart when having fires or not having a fire at all when out can be the difference between a good weekend outdoors and hundreds of thousands of acres burned. Listening to local and state fire restrictions and fire danger must be a priority when living in the western U.S. as lives, communities, and the planet depends on it.