Climate change said driving force behind larger, more extreme wildfires

Aug. 1, 2013 at 5:11 PM
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EAST LANSING, Mich., Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Climate change is likely behind the larger and more frequent extreme wildfires being experienced in the U.S. West, researchers say.

More of the unpredictable and erratic fires, harder to contain and often resulting in catastrophic damage and loss of property and life, could be in store with ongoing climate change, a study led by Michigan State University indicates.

The researchers analyzed current and future climate patterns and their effect on the spread of fire in a mountainous region that includes Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, a university release said Thursday.

"Our findings suggest that future lower atmospheric conditions may favor larger and more extreme wildfires, posing an additional challenge to fire and forest management," MSU geography Professor Lifeng Luo said.

The study focused on August -- the most active month for wildfires in the western United States -- and found 3.6 million acres burned there in that month in 2012, the most of any August since 2000.

However, the researchers noted, the number of fires was the second fewest in that 12-year time frame, meaning the fires were much larger.

Exceptionally dry and unstable conditions in the Earth's lower atmosphere can increase natural factors including the availability of fuel (vegetation), precipitation, wind and the location of lightning strikes, they said.

"Global climate change may have a significant impact on these factors, thus affecting potential wildfire activity across many parts of the world," the study authors said.

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