Tag: Wildfires

U.S. wildfire season on pace to break last year’s record

Colorado forest fire
Climate change has increased the risk of dangerous forest fires across the West. @bberwyn photo.

Global warming a key factor in surge of giant forest blazes

By Bob Berwyn

With about 1.5 million acres already scarred by wildfires across the U.S. this year, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is warning of a long, hot fire season ahead. Following a meeting with regional Forest Service leaders, Vilsack, along with Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, said that federal budgets are not keeping pace with the steep increase in fires.

Vilsack said 2015 was the most expensive fire season in the department’s history, costing more than $2.6 billion on fire alone.

“The 2016 wildfire season is off to a worrisome start. Southern California, the Great Basin in Nevada, portions of the southwest, and even Florida and Hawaii are particularly vulnerable this year,” Vilsack said. The sustained California drought killed more than 40 million trees, which are all potential fuel, and projections for hot summer weather, driven by global warming and a massive El Niño hangover, will likely increase the danger even more, he added. Continue reading “U.S. wildfire season on pace to break last year’s record”

Experts project below average Rocky Mountain wildfire season

Alaska, Southwest could see early season forest fires

spring wildfire outlook rocky mountains
Experts say they aren’t expecting a severe wildfire season in the Rocky Mountain region.
Summit County wildfire
An unusual high elevation early season wildfire burns near Keystone, Colorado in 2012. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

April precipitation may have helped dampen the potential for a severe wildfire season in parts of the Rocky Mountain region and in the adjacent Great Plains, according to a new outlook from the interagency Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.

The projections is based on various seasonal indicators including precipitation, snowpack average, temperatures, wind, plant and soil moisture, and the timing of green-up. These indices support a below average to near average fire season in 2016.

“The timing of the recent precipitation events, primarily in April, has been critical to assure the availability of soil moisture and subsequent green-up, which diminishes the threat of an early onset of fire season,” said RMACC fire meteorologist Tim Mathewson. Continue reading “Experts project below average Rocky Mountain wildfire season”

SW Europe faces greatest multi-hazard climate risks

Europe drought and climate change
In early December 2015 the European Alps were mostly free of snow during a lengthy dry period. @bberwyn photo.

Flooding, droughts and wildfires all expected to increase

Staff Report

New European climate modeling doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the decades ahead. With global warming, Europe is facing a progressively stronger increase in multiple climate hazards, according to the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Early in the 21st century, reported losses from extreme weather are already at historically high levels, and climate change is likely to increase the risk, the researchers concluded in a new paper presented late April at the European Geosciences Union annual assembly in Vienna. Continue reading “SW Europe faces greatest multi-hazard climate risks”

Study maps increasing threat of large wildfires in Europe

European wildfire danger
Smoke from wildfires burning in Greece in 2007 was captured in this image by NASA’s Aqua satellite. At least 60 people died in the fires, which also destroyed hundreds of homes. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory page for more information.

Global warming, shifting land-use patterns heighten risk to urban, tourist areas in Mediterranean region

Staff Report

It’s pretty clear that global warming is going to increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires in many parts of the world. One study has shown, for example, that massive fires in Siberia in 2012 were caused in part by a “stuck” weather pattern in the region.

A new study University of Leicester researchers maps high-risk wildfire zones in Europe, including cities and tourist areas like Catalonia, Madrid and Valencia — all tabbed as facing potentially catastrophic wildfires. Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Italy and Spain could also see more wildfires in the wildland-urban interface zone, according to the study published in the Journal of Environmental Management. Continue reading “Study maps increasing threat of large wildfires in Europe”

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 “Distant wildfire smoke may raise ozone levels”

Wildfires burned across 10 million acres in 2015

Feds spend more than $2.6 billion on fire suppression

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 “Wildfires burned across 10 million acres in 2015”

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 “Forest Service steps up restoration efforts in 2015”