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Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity

Topics: Emergency Management, Critical Infrastructure Theory, Policy and Practice,

This study analyzes 34 years of Western US wildfire history and hydro-climactic data to identify areas with the largest increase in wildfires and how climatic trends may have impacted those wildfires. They found that in the mid-1980s, wildfires transitioned from large infrequent incidents with short durations, averaging a week long, to more frequent and longer fires, burning 5 weeks’ long. They also found that since then, wildfire frequency has been four times the average 1970 to 1986, and duration was six and a half times longer. This was associated with a shift toward warmer springs, longer summer dry seasons, drier vegetation that created more fuel for fires, longer fire seasons, reduced winter precipitation, and early spring snowmelt.

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