Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wildfires in the western US have worsened in past decade, analysis shows

Janet Zimmerman in the Press-Enterprise (California): Wildfires in the West have been larger and more frequent in the past decade than in any of the 30 years before that, according to an analysis of U.S. Forest Service data released Tuesday, Sept. 18.

The news may come as little surprise after a summer of devastating blazes across Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada and Northern California in a season that is shaping up to be one of the worst on record in the western United States. The official fire season won’t be over for two more months.

"This is not an encouraging trend," said Richard Wiles, director of research for Climate Central, a Princeton, N.J.-based nonprofit group that studies the science of climate change.

Climate Central analyzed 42 years of data for its report, "The Age of Western Wildfires," and chose Forest Service statistics because they were the most complete, Wiles said. The past decade has been the worst for the sheer size and number of fires, a trend that will become the new normal, the report says.

When compared to the average year in the 1970s, in the past decade there were:
  • Seven times more fires over 10,000 acres each year.
  • Nearly five times more fires larger than 25,000 acres each year.
  • Twice as many fires over 1,000 acres each year, with an average of more than 100 per year from 2002 through 2011, compared with fewer than 50 during the 1970s...
Forest fire photo by the US Department of Agriculture, location unknown

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