WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) -- A number of studies have shown that climate change -- with its higher temperatures and prolonged droughts -- is encouraging more frequent and severe wildfires.
Researchers at George Washington University agree climate change is driving an increase in wildfire severity, but argue the role of human activities are afforded too little attention in the scientific literature.
In a recent study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, a team of scientists present a new model for predicting future wildfire damages in California -- one that more accurately accounts for human impact.
Currently, human activities, whether cigarettes or felled power lines, trigger 90 percent of wildfires in California.
"Individuals don't have much control over how climate change will affect wildfires in the future," lead study author Michael Mann, assistant professor of geography at George Washington, said in a news release. "However, we do have the ability to influence the other half of the equation, those variables that control our impact on the landscape."
"We can reduce our risks by disincentivizing housing development in fire-prone areas, better managing public land and rethinking the effectiveness of our current firefighting approach," Mann added.
When taking a wide-angle view of wildfire trends, the influence of a changing climate is undeniable, but researchers say when localized models ignore the role of humans, the importance of climate becomes overstated.
"You can get the story quite wrong if you don't include human development patterns," said co-author Max Moritz, a researcher at the University of California. "This is an important finding about how we model climate change effects, and it also confirms that getting a handle on where and how we build our communities is essential to limiting future losses."