In more alarming evidence on the negative effects of climate change, wildfires have now been shown to be more dangerous thanks to climate change. These destructive wildfires that are wiping out forests and endangering lives are being fuelled by human-caused climate change. And yet, despite this evidence in our own backyard, many in the White House are still content to ignore the facts and not take action until it’s too late.
How Are the Wildfires Worse?
Over the past three decades, wildfires have gotten more severe and destructive. Since 1984, wildfires have spread 16,000 square miles more than they would have due to the aridity from higher temperatures. This area, larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined, was discovered in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study looked at western states where wildfires have been occurring recently. The states studied included: California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming. Temperatures in the forests of these states increased by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970. Even worse, these temperatures are expected to continue to rise. With higher temperatures, the land becomes dry and the moisture leaves the air, creating the perfect environment for increased wildfires.
How Is Climate Change to Blame?
While it’s evident that wildfires have become more destructive, how do we know that climate change is to blame? To reach this conclusion, researchers studied eight systems that look at forest aridity compared to actual fires and climate models that estimate the human effects on climate. Based on this, researchers concluded that 55% of the fuel aridity was caused by human-made climate change. The role of climate change has grown since the year 2000 and is expected to continue to make a bigger impact on aridity.
Park Williams, a coauthor on the study and bio-climatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory explained, “No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear. Climate is really running the show in terms of what burns. We should be getting ready for bigger fire years than those familiar to previous generations.”
The Damaging Effects
The study on wildfires has become increasingly important with the news of big wildfires coming out of America’s west. Last month, Big Sur, California dealt with the Soberanes Fire. The Soberanes Fire became the most expensive wildfire in US history, costing over $236 million. Two months after the wildfire began, it is 99% contained. Over 5000 firefighters have battled the blaze, 57 homes have been destroyed and one person has lost his life.
The Future of Wildfires
This study is one of the first to look at the exact effects of climate change on expanding wildfires. However, even before this study, researchers have been warning that higher global temperatures will result in increased wildfires.
In addition to increased aridity due to global warming, researchers have also learned that the fire suppression techniques used by firefighters are also making wildfires increasingly destructive. By putting out fires, firefighters are allowing safe areas to build up their stockpile of dry fuel. The very suppression techniques that are being used to fight fires are now setting the stage for a more destructive future fire.
In 2016, the US Forest Service released a study that confirmed wildfire season has gotten longer and more expensive. The global wildfire area has doubled in the last 35 years. Another study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research concluded that there is an 80% chance that any summer between 2061 and 2080 will be warmer than the hottest area in the world on record. These studies further confirm the growing danger of wildfires.