2017 Wildfire Season: “Fuel, aridity, and ignition switches were all on”

“Fuel, aridity, and ignition switches were all on in 2017, making it one of the largest and costliest wildfire years in the United States”– that’s the bottom line of a new study published this week by researchers from the University of Idaho, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Columbia University.

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“Last year we saw a pile on of extreme events across large portions of the Western U.S., the wettest winter, the hottest summer and the driest fall — all helping to promote wildfires,” Jennifer Balch, director of Earth Lab and lead author on the study, said in a news release.

The study says that “Anthropogenic climate change helped flip on some of these switches rapidly in 2017, and kept them on for longer than usual.”

The 2017 wildfire season cost the United States more than $18 billion in damages, as about 71,000 wildfires burned 10 million acres of land. 12,000 homes were lost, 200,000 people were evacuated, and 66 people died.

“Policy steps are being made to alleviate the costs of firefighting and allow for more proactive fire risk mitigation,” John Abatzoglou, associate professor in U of I Department of Geography, said in a news release. “However, fire is a natural hazard that we will live with and efforts should be made to reflect fire risks based on future conditions rather than the past.”

Nearly 90 percent of total wildfires last year were caused by people. Human activity triples the length of the average fire season.

News of the new study came as a U.S. Senate Energy & Natural Resources Subcommittee on June 5 was being briefed on the upcoming 2018 fire season outlook.

“For years now the committee has heard over and over that our wildfires are getting worse,” Washington U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell said. “Climate scientists have been telling us the fire season is getting longer and hotter.

“Most of the West received less than 50 percent of its average precipitation for May, which will likely result in fuels in the mountains becoming critically dry by late July,” Cantwell said.

The research was published in the journal Fire, at the link:

http://www.mdpi.com/2571-6255/1/1/17

Posted June 5, 2018

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