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Link between global warming and wildfires becoming more clear

The Eagle Creek Fire in Montana burns late in the 2012 wildfire season. Photo courtesy Inciweb/Air Attack.

Report outlines surge in fires since 1970s, as spring and summer temps increase and the snow melts earlier

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Nearly all western states have seen a huge surge in wildfires during the past 10 years, as warmer temperatures and earlier snowmelt make old forests more susceptible to large-scale blazes, according to a report issued by Climate Central.

The report also cites changed land-use practices and insect infestations as additional factors, and decades-long intensive fire suppression has also resulted in more widespread areas of fire-prone forests.

But the preponderance of evidence suggests that global warming will increase the likelihood of large fires into the future, with fire seasons up to 75 days longer than just 40 years ago — about the time the greenhouse-gas heating cycle kicked into high gear.

Spring and summer temperatures have increased even more than the average, and the snowmelt season comes anywhere from one to four weeks earlier (depending on region) as clearly demonstrated by nearly irrefutable evidence from long-term stream gage data showing the peak runoff flows.

“America’s western forests now see seven times more large fires over 10,000 acres in an average year than in the 1970s,” said report author Dr. Alyson Kenyard. “Over the same time period, spring and summer temperatures in the West have also increased dramatically.”

The study relies on 40 years worth of data from the U.S. Forest Service, finding a clear trend of more and larger fires on national forest lands, reaching toward an all-time high this summer. The numbers also show the largest fires are happening more often, with fires larger than 1,000 acres burning twice as often in the past decade as during an average year in the 1970s.

Fires larger than 10,000 acres are burning seven time more frequently, while the largest fires — bigger than 25,000 acres — are burning five times more frequently. Overall, fires in the past 10 years have burned twice as much land per year as 40 years ago.

 

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