Western U.S. Fire Season Will Only Get Worse With Climate Change

Ryan Flynn | FireFire
fire season,
Fires ravaging California. Credit: AP

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.

U.S. drought monitor as of August 18, 2020.

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.

fire season,
The annual number of acres burned in wildfires from 1980-2019 (All of the United States)

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.

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6 thoughts on “Western U.S. Fire Season Will Only Get Worse With Climate Change

  1. Just imagine how good the tree skiing would be in a naturally thin healthy forest with the dead and dying trees gone and the ground litter regularly removed by natural cool burning lighten caused ground fires that take out some ladder fuels. and an occasional sick tree here and there.

  2. Really ignorant forest fire management for the last 50 years is to blame. Fuel has been accumulating beyond what is naturally sustainable. That combined with inability to log and thin out the forest (thank environmentalist money & lobbyists).

    You have a perfect storm. Lots of fuel. Ready to ignite.

    Until the forest service has a change in philosophy and gets all the hippies out of upper management we’ll keep getting these large 50 year fires.

    The US Forrest Service is under and inside the US Department of Agriculture because when these departments were founded they were intelligent enough to understand it was a renewable resource that needed to be managed and USED properly. Now we have tree hugging flower children of the 1970’s running the department that don’t realize trees grow back and its OK to responsibly manage and utilize the natural resources of this country.

    1. Well said Smokey
      As a fire boss on the first prescribed burn in Yosemite in the 1970’s my crew and I learned
      lessons of using fire to properly fire proof forests.
      The upper echelon in Washington D.C. clearly learned nothing.

      1. Good points, and sad ones, too. Having been in Tahoe for 60 yrs, I can say the climate is definitely changing. Warmer temps has allowed the pine beetle to prosper, thus the tons of dead trees thru out the region. But your points about forest management needs to be thought thru. The dude in the whitehouse said we should be raking the forests out here to clean them up. Yikes! They are national forests, and as much as we see the huge piles of under brush around here, there are still millions of acres that need to be addressed, but how is that supposed to be done?

        1. Logging permits. They just did an amazing job on Mt Rose Hwy thinning out the forest on the Basin side of the pass. You can see 80% of the trees were thinned out with plenty of full grown trees left over to keep the forest alive. That was a commercial project and that lumber was sold into timber mills.

          They did a similar project this year at the top of 267.

          I too have been a 50 year resident and yes the lake is warmer than before. But the beetles are not the result of climate change. They were here before the 2-3 degree difference in temp. The difference is the density of the forest, spacing of trees and lack of natural fires that thin out the population.

          One of my best buds worked at UNR studying these. The sad thing is they get their grant money from enviro lobbyist groups so they have to dance to the tune and write the papers that say its all global warming but in private they are completely transparent that the lack of natural fires and over grown forests are the real culprit.

          Mother nature is just fixing what us humans (i mean bears) screwed up. Its only going to become a larger more combustible tinder box unless Washington gets some brains and stops listening to Patagonia and REI career lobbyist. FYI the whole industry is a huge self fulfilling, fund raising, bill writing, marketing machine. It’s job is to find a cause, raise money and change rules. Logging and responsible forest management is counter to their blame everything on global warming cause.

          Too much money in American politics. Its everywhere on all sides and it makes elected official make stupid decisions.

  3. Climate change? Perhaps.
    Fuel load change is a much greater part of the formula.
    Pre Columbian fuel loads were averaged 50 mature trees per acer. Now as much as 800 trees per acer inhabit the same areas due to extensive fire suppression over the last century .

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