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Large-Scale Forest Fires Predicted to Increase in Western States

The number of days in Utah's fire seasons is likely to increase by 20 percent to 50 percent. (Pixabay)
The number of days in Utah's fire seasons is likely to increase by 20 percent to 50 percent. (Pixabay)
April 18, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY – As the Trump administration takes steps to sideline environmental science, recent research confirms that states will need to brace for more frequent, and bigger, wildfires because of climate change.

South Dakota State University scientist, Mark Cochrane, studied more than a decade's worth of satellite data examining nearly 23,000 fires worldwide. He says the biggest fires emerged from similar conditions.

"Extreme drought, high wind, high heat and low humidity are getting more and more common," he said. "That correlates completely with where we see these, we'll call them 'mega-fires,' and those conditions seem to be worsening, and therefore we would expect more and more of these very large fires to continue occurring."

Cochrane says western states will continue to be most at risk in the U.S. unless leaders get serious about cutting carbon emissions.

President Trump has blocked EPA efforts to reduce climate pollution and wants to cut the agency's budget by at least 30 percent, citing a need to reverse what he sees as government intrusion and also to create jobs.

Using 15 years of weather data, researchers modeled how fires would behave as the planet gets warmer, and predict the number of days in fire seasons is likely to increase by 20 to 50 percent. Cochrane says it's important to take steps to adapt.

"Part of that would be not building our houses in extremely flammable landscapes, or, if we're going to do that, then to build them to be more survivable in those landscapes," he added. "Right now we're building very flammable houses in flammable landscapes, and so that's a recipe for disaster."

Cochrane says assuming business-as-usual CO2 emissions, by 2041 western states should expect four extreme fire events for every three that occur now.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - UT