Western wildfires burning bigger and more often

Global warming seen as key factor in trend

wildfire acreage graph

Study documents significant trend in size and frequency of western wildfires.

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Western wildfires: How much bigger will they get?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The size and frequency of western wildfires have been increasing at a startling rate the past few decades, researchers said this week after scrutinizing satellite data to measure burned areas.

The number of wildfires larger than 1,000 acres increased by a rate of seven fires a year from 1984 to 2011 and the total areas burned grew by about 90,000 acres per year — an area the size of Las Vegas, according to the new study accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal published by the American Geophysical Union.

“We looked at the probability that increases of this magnitude could be random, and in each case it was less than one percent,” said Philip Dennison, an associate professor of geography at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and lead author of the paper. Continue reading

Environment: Is the Amazon rainforest near a tipping point?

A NASA photo taken from the International Space Station shows sunlight glinting off the Amazon River.

A NASA photo taken from the International Space Station shows sunlight glinting off the Amazon River.

Drought the main driver of destructive fires

By Staff Report

FRISCO — Longer droughts, land-use changes and wildfires may  be pushing parts of the Amazon rainforest toward an ecological tipping point, a team of scientists said after analyzing the effects of fire in a series of study plots.

The changes may abruptly increase tree mortality and change vegetation over large areas, the researchers said, pointing out that current Amazon forest models don’t include the impacts of wildfires. As a result, projections of future forest health tend to underestimate the amount of tree death and overestimate overall forest health, said Dr. Michael Coe, of the Woods Hole Research Center. Continue reading

Can golf clubs spark wildfires?

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You can add titanium alloy golf clubs to the list of things that can start wildfires.

Lab study shows titanium alloy clubs can generate super-hot sparks

Staff Report

FRISCO — As if there wasn’t already enough to worry about, golfers in the southwestern United States and other arid regions now have to keep in mind that their chip shot out of the rough could spark a wildfire.

High-tech titanium alloy clubs are the culprit, according scientists with the University of California, Irvine. When a club coated with the lightweight metal is swung and strikes a rock, it creates sparks that can heat to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit for long enough to ignite dry foliage, according to the findings published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Fire and Materials. Continue reading

Colorado ready to grant $5.2 million for wildfire risk reduction projects on non-federal lands

Heavy machinery is on the move in the quest to restore Summit County's forests.

Heavy machinery is on the move in the quest to restore Colorado’s forests.

Applications due March 13

Staff Report

FRISCO — Neighborhoods looking to reduce wildfire threats can now apply for grants under a state program that will disburse a total of $5.2 million for projects that reduce the risk for damage to property, infrastructure, and water supplies, and those that limit the likelihood of wildfires spreading into populated areas.

The grant program, administered by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, is accepting applications through March 13. The grants will be awarded in early May. Information and applications are online at the DNR website. Continue reading

Environment: New model could boost forecasts for predicting behavior of large and complex wildfires

Local firefighters teamed up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire along Montezuma Road, near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Local firefighters team up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire along Montezuma Road, near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Updated satellite instruments help refine predictions

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As the West Fork Fire Complex roared through the spruce and fir forests of the Colorado San Juans last summer, on its way to becoming the state’s second-largest wildfire on record, communities in the region were on edge for days. Slight shifts in wind pushed the fire in new directions every other day, forcing some residents to leave their homes for weeks.

Like many large fires, the West Fork Complex even created its own weather, making it even harder for experts to project its path. But new research by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Maryland may help firefighters and resource managers get a better handle on predicting fire behavior. Continue reading

Scientists caution against too much post-fire logging

Burned areas a critical piece of overall forest health

Post-fire landscapes are important in the big picture of long-term forest health. bberwyn photo.

Post-fire landscapes are important in the big picture of forest health. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With political momentum growing in support of more logging, a group of leading scientists is trying to counterbalance the forest crisis mythology that has developed in the past few years. That mythology has no basis in science and is promulgated to support a political agenda.

In an open letter to the U.S. Congress, the scientists asked Congress show restraint in speeding up logging in the wake of this year’s wildfires, most notably the Rim fire in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

It’s important to recognize that the scientists are not saying that there should neve be any logging, anywhere. Rather, the decisions need to be made in a measured way, considering all the environmental implications and the role that burned areas have in the bigger picture of long-term forest health. Continue reading

Global warming: Forests can’t win for losing

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Drought stress can lead to more tree mortality in the aftermath of forest fires. Photo courtesy Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, Summit County, Colorado.

Yet another climate feedback

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Even if trees aren’t directly killed by drought, the ongoing stress of dry conditions can lead to more tree mortality in the aftermath of forest fires and prescribed burns.

The findings come from a new study that took a close look at varied forest types around the west, including in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.

Most of the data was compiled in areas where agencies conducted prescribed fires between 1984 and 2005. The researchers looked at more than 7,000 individual conifers. Continue reading

Excess Air Force planes eyed for firefighting duty

Sen. Mark Udall pressing Defense Department to transfer unneeded cargo planes to U.S. Forest Service as soon as possible

A  C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

A C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service efforts to modernize its firefighting air tanker fleet aren’t moving fast enough for Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado democrat who has been pushing for more wildfire resources on all fronts.

This week, Udall pressed the U.S. Defense Department to quickly transfer excess military aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service. In a bipartisan letter, spearheaded with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), Udall said the Pentagon isn’t using its authority to transfer its excess aircraft at no cost to taxpayers.

According to the letter, the Forest Service was unable to meet about half of the requests for firefighting air support in 2012. The Air Force is nearing completion of a divestiture plan for the C-27J Spartan aircraft, and Udall wants to see at least some of those planes put to work fighting fires. Read the letter here. Continue reading

Could drones help battle wildfires?

Test sites proposed to learn how drones could improve wildfire monitoring, mitigation, and containment

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Images taken from space can provide a lot of information about wildfires, but low-level flights by unmanned aircraft could help make firefighting safer and more efficient, some experts believe. This image of the West Fork Fire Complex in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado was taken June 26 from the International Space Station. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory page for more information about the image.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A pair of U.S. Senators wants to get a leg up on wildfires by spurring the use of unmanned surveillance aircraft to make firefighting efforts more efficient.

“Extreme wildfires have become an all too common occurrence in Colorado, leaving families without homes and hundreds of thousands of charred acreage in their paths,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). “We need to employ every tool available to help firefighters in their battles. This bipartisan amendment will help us develop UAS technology and teach us more about how they can strengthen our fights against wildfires more quickly and safely.”

Bennet (D-CO) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) this week introduced an amendment to create two additional test sites for unmanned aerial systems, with a focus on how they could be used for firefighting. Continue reading

A vicious cycle: New study says wildfire soot may be a bigger factor in global warming than previously thought

The Las Conchas Fire, burning July 6, 2011 in the Jemez Mountains, sends up a pyrocumulus cloud. Photo courtesy

The Las Conchas Fire, burning July 6, 2011 in the Jemez Mountains, sends up a pyrocumulus cloud. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Tiny ‘tar balls’ are very good at absorbing the sun’s energy

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Soot from wildfires includes tiny tarball-like particles that focus sunlight and warm the atmosphere when they absorb light. The overall effect may contribute more to global warming than previously thought, researchers with Los Alamos National Laboratory said in a new study based on measurements during the huge 2011 Las Conchas Fire, which burned in the vicinity of the lab.

“We’ve found that substances resembling tar balls dominate, and even the soot is coated by organics that focus sunlight,” said senior laboratory scientist Manvendra Dubey, “Both components can potentially increase climate warming by increased light absorption.” Continue reading

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