Western Wildfire Season Lengthens With Climate Change

Sep 4, 2020

Firefighters are tamping down on recent record-breaking wildfires in California. But KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, scientists say bigger and more frequent blazes are here to stay.

Credit AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The wildfire season in the Western U.S. is nearly three months longer than it was in the 1980s. That’s due to the warmer temperatures, drought conditions, and earlier spring snowmelt brought on by climate change. Tzeidle Wasserman, a forest ecologist at Northern Arizona University, says, "That means we’re seeing a lot more wildfires, we’re seeing them earlier in the season, and they’re burning a lot more of the landscape." 

In California, specifically, the wildfire season now stretches later into the autumn than it did four decades ago because of dry, warm weather. A study led by Michael Goss of Stanford University shows the number of fall days with extreme wildfire conditions doubled in the last four decades. One solution, scientists say, is to speed up work to restore overcrowded forests with thinning and prescribed burns. Goss adds, "Any way that we can slow climate change will absolutely make a substantial impact on the risk as well, going into the next 50 years or so." 

The U.S. Forest Service projects that by next year two-thirds of its budget will be dedicated to fire, up from just 16 percent in 1995.