Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Number of Large Fires Rising in the West

July 26, 2017

Wildfires have burned more than 4.5 million acres in the U.S. so far in 2017. That’s 38 percent more than the average acreage burned for the year-to-date over the past decade. And it is the third largest area burned by wildfires in the last decade through late July.

The bulk of U.S. wildfires burn in the western half of the country because soils and vegetation are generally drier there in summer than in the East. As temperatures rise from the increase of greenhouse gases, evaporation rates from soils increase, which can worsen drought and dry out vegetation, creating ample fuel for fires. Hotter and drier conditions also allow wildfires to spread over large areas. Overall, the West is seeing trends toward more large wildfires burning more acres with longer fire seasons. In fact, the most active wildfire seasons are often those that are hotter and drier than average.

Wildfires can be very costly. Of the 17 years since 2000, the U.S. Forest Service has spent more than $1 billion in 12 of them to suppress fires, whereas in the last 15 years of the 1900s, the annual cost only exceeded $500 million dollars twice.


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