Climate change set to prolong fire seasons, study reveals

December 13, 2023
wildfire firefighters

Impact of climate change on wildfire seasons

A recent study has highlighted a growing concern in the field of environmental science: the impact of climate change on wildfire seasons.

According to the research, increasing climate change conditions are predicted to heighten the risk of wildfires and extend their seasons.

Wildfires, known for their devastating effects on communities and ecosystems, pose significant threats to lives, homes, and infrastructures while also contributing to air pollution.

Regional variations in wildfire risks

The study points out significant regional differences in the United States regarding wildfire risks.

In areas like the southern Great Plains, which includes Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas, an increase of over 40 additional days per year of extreme wildfire danger is projected.

Conversely, a few regions, such as the Pacific Northwest coast and the mid-Atlantic coast, might experience a decrease in their annual wildfire risk seasons, attributed to increased rainfall and humidity.

Seasonal changes in fire risks

The Southwest is particularly vulnerable, with projections indicating an increase of more than 20 days per year in extreme wildfire season, mainly during the spring and summer.

Additionally, longer fire seasons extending into the winter months are expected, especially in areas like the Texas-Louisiana coastal plain.

Guo Yu, Assistant Research Professor at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Nevada and the study’s lead author, expressed surprise at the increased fire danger in winter, attributing this to the multifaceted impacts of climate change on the landscape.

Methodology and findings of the study

The study, published in Earth’s Future, involved researchers from the United States examining four fire danger indices used across North America.

These indices, which predict and manage wildfire risks, incorporate data about weather conditions and fuel moisture.

By analyzing satellite remote sensing data from 1984 to 2019, the researchers assessed how potential fire risk correlated with actual wildfire sizes for over 13,000 wildfires, excluding controlled burns.

They observed a strong correlation between higher wildfire risk and larger fire sizes, especially over more extensive areas.

Incorporating these indices into future climate projections, the study concluded that the extreme wildfire risk is likely to increase by an average of 10 days across the continental U.S.

by the century’s end.

This increase is primarily driven by rising temperatures, highlighting the direct link between climate change and heightened wildfire risks.

FSJA Comment

This study underscores the critical need for adaptive and proactive measures in wildfire management and climate change mitigation.

The projected increase in wildfire duration and intensity due to climate change poses significant challenges to emergency services, resource management, and community safety.

Particularly concerning is the extension of wildfire seasons into traditionally cooler months, necessitating a reevaluation of current wildfire preparedness and response strategies.

This research serves as a reminder of the interconnected nature of climate change and natural disasters, reinforcing the urgency for comprehensive and collaborative approaches to environmental stewardship and disaster risk reduction.

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