Arthur “Art” Gonzales, a fire behavior analyst from Williams, Arizona, recently described the changing dynamics of his role due to the unpredictable nature of wildfires.
According to a recent report from Japan Times, this unpredictability is largely due to climate change and its volatile weather patterns.
Back in June 2020, Gonzales faced a particularly challenging situation.
A wildfire had ignited in Tonto National Forest, just north of Phoenix.
While normally he would be on the scene to assess the fire, COVID-19 restrictions forced him to work remotely from his home, over 100 miles away.
Gonzales recalled: “I was just refreshing my computer and watching this huge column of smoke grow.”
He identified three main factors influencing the fire: “fuel, weather and topography.”
In light of the increasing unpredictability, he states, “It’s hard to think of a community anymore that’s not at risk.”
Throughout the past decade, analyzing wildfire behavior has grown increasingly difficult.
Unpredictable wildfires, exacerbated by climate change, challenge even experienced analysts.
Gonzales noted: “It seems like every fire I go on now is outside of the norm.”
While there are approximately 224 fire behavior analysts in the U.S., the rapidly changing climate, especially in areas between Las Vegas and Phoenix, means that analysts like Gonzales are continuously on high alert.
Another challenge facing the wildfire community is a labor crisis.
Due to the stress of the job and relatively low pay, nearly half of all full-time U.S. federal wildland firefighters have resigned in the past three years.
The National Federation of Federal Employees estimates that this could rise to between 30% and 50% if pay raises aren’t made permanent.
The changes in wildfire behavior, as highlighted in the Japan Times article, underscore a broader challenge for fire safety professionals in the Americas.
The evolution in fire patterns, intensified by climate change, necessitates a shift in our strategies, tools, and training.
This is not just about preserving our ecosystems but also safeguarding our communities.
The labor crisis further adds to the urgency of the situation.
Collectively, these trends emphasize the need for a proactive and adaptive approach in tackling wildfires, along with increased support for the brave individuals on the front lines.