Distant wildfire smoke may raise ozone levels

Summer 2012 wildfires Colorado

Wildfire smoke may interact with other pollutants to raise ozone levels. @bobberwyn photo.

Across the U.S., ozone levels were higher on smoky days than on smoke-free days

Staff Report

Wildfire smoke on its own can trigger health warnings for direct exposure, and new research from Colorado State University suggests that there may be a more widespread impact after they linked smoke with elevated levels of ozone.

In globally warming world, where the number and size of wildfires keeps growing, the findings have significant implications for public health. Continue reading

Wildfires burned across 10 million acres in 2015

Feds spend more than $2.6 billion on fire suppression

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Wildfire activity surged in 2015. Graph courtesy NIFC.

By Bob Berwyn

For the first time in the era of modern record-keeping, wildfires burned across more than 10 million acres in 2015, mainly due to a series of large fires in Alaska.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, there were more than 50 fires that exceeded 50,000 acres, and 20 fires exceeded more than 100,000 acres. The fires destroyed more than 4,500 homes and other structures and killed 13 wildland firefighters.

The big wildfire season came after two-year lull, when the total wildfire footprint stayed below 5 million acres. For the last years, the average now stands at about 6.6 million acres.

The uptick in fires is no surprise to experts, who have been warning that global warming will result in bigger burns. Alaska, for example, reported its second-warmest year on record in 2015. Since 2000, fire seasons have grown longer, and the frequency, size and severity of wildland fires has increased.

In 2013, scientists linked a spate of massive Siberian wildfires with a “stuck” weather pattern associated with global warming. Overall, scientists say, those links are becoming more clear. It’s also clear that forests will have a more difficult time rebounding from fires as temperatures warm. Continue reading

Forest Service steps up restoration efforts in 2015

Colorado aspens

Restoration work needed across 65 million acres of national forest lands.

With wildfire costs soaring, agency takes funds from other programs

Staff Report

U.S. Forest Service officials said they were able to step up the pace of restoration projects in 2015 despite facing tough budget challenges during a record wildfire season.

Despite the gains, at least 65 million National Forest System acres are still in need of restoration, agency leaders said, explaining that the rising cost of wildfire suppression has taken funding away from restoration, watershed and wildlife programs, limiting the Forest Service’s ability to do the work that would prevent fires in the first place. Continue reading

NASA tracking this year’s global El Niño impacts

Wildfire risk growing in tropics

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A strong El Niño is peaking across the Pacific Ocean this winter.

Staff Report

Along with being one of the strongest El Niños on record, this year’s edition of the cyclical weather event in the Pacific will be one of the most studied.

NASA, for example, has been tracking the effects of El Niño via satellite data, which shows global impacts, from increasing fire danger in some tropical regions to a reduction of certain types of pollution in other areas.

Some of the findings were presented this week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, where researchers said that atmospheric rivers, significant sources of rainfall, tend to intensify during El Niño events, and that California may see some relief from an extreme multiyear drought. Continue reading

Forests: Study says spruce beetle not a big factor in recent southwest Colorado wildfires

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A major spruce beetle outbreak has been spreading across forests of southwest Colorado, but that hasn’t been a big factor in recent wildfires in the region, according to CU-Boulder research.

Climate, topography likely more significant, researchers say

Staff Report

Colorado researchers have added another chapter to the long-running debate over beetle-kill and wildfires, finding that spruce beetle infestations haven’t increased the severity of wildfires in southwestern Colorado.

Spruce bark beetles have affected roughly half a million acres of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir forests across the state in recent years, with infestations documented across an additional 87,000 acres in 2014. Continue reading

Study shows nuances in Coloradans beliefs about wildfires and climate change

Focusing on local threats, not climate change, may be the best way to spur wildfire mitigation actions

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Colorado residents believe that climate change affects the risk of wildfires, but those beliefs don’t necessarily affect their actions when it comes to wildfire mitigation. Photo via U.S. Forest Service.

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Wildfires are getting bigger in Colorado.

Staff Report

Whether or not people are convinced that human activities are changing the climate doesn’t play a big role in their decisions about trying to reduce wildfire risks around their property, Colorado-based researchers wrote in a new paper that focused on the Colorado Front Range.

The researchers tried to take a close look at social factors that might motivate people to try and lessen wildfire threats. They found that a “belief” in human-caused climate change is not as significant as previously thought. Continue reading

Warmer climate means more fires — any questions?

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More wildfires ahead as world warms up. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Study ties ancient wildfire surge in the Rockies to warmer climate phase

Staff Report

Offering yet more evidence that the West’s recent spate of megafires is linked with a warming climate, University of Wyoming researchers showed that a warm spell about 1,000 years ago also spurred more blazes. The study suggests that large fires will continue to increase as a result of a warming climate.

“What our research shows is that even modest regional warming trends, like we are currently experiencing, can cause exceptionally large areas in the Rockies to be burned by wildfires,” says John Calder, a Ph.D. candidate in UW’s Program in Ecology and the Department of Geology and Geophysics. Continue reading

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