When it comes to wildfires, most people know that climate change is one of the factors that led to an increased risk. However, this is not the only connection between the two.
Wildfire risk is calculated based on various factors, like soil moisture, temperature, and even the presence of shrubs or other potential sources for fuel. Such factors all have an indirect or direct connection with climate change and climate variability. Because of climate change, we have forest fuels drier, and as a result, the number of large fires in the US between 1984 and 2015 actually doubled.
Climate changes lead to drier, warmer conditions, more drought, and even longer fire seasons. In the Western US, for a temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius, the median burned area is increased by 600% in some forests every year. In the Southeastern US, there will be an increase in the areas burned by 30% from 2011 to 2060.
It needs to be added that over 80% of US wildfires are actually caused by people. However, after the fire starts, it spreads faster now because of drier conditions and warmer temperatures. These also contribute to mountain pine beetle spread, together with numerous other insects that can kill and weaken trees. As a result, fuels are built up in the forest.
Forest management and land use affect wildfire risks. Climate changes directly add to such factors and will keep increasing areas affected by wildfires.
Ever since 2000, there were 14 forest fires that caused over $1 billion (each) in damages in the US alone. The losses were because of losses of infrastructure and homes, together with the necessary firefighting costs. Unfortunately, if the trend continues, we might end up losing some breathtaking spots that are tourist hotspots in the US.
The big problem is that while climate changes increase the possibility of wildfire cases, we should also understand that wildfires can increase climate change. This might be indirectly, but we are looking at a vicious cycle that only makes things words.
As an example, when wildfire happens, homes are burned, and firefighters need to respond. Different harmful chemicals are released in the air, and some can be pretty bad for the environment. As a result, it is important to take proper measures to combat climate change.
Wildfire is capable of affecting:
- State And Federal Budgets – The fire suppression expenditures of the US Forest Service increased to 50% from 16% of the agency’s budget in 2017 alone. The nationwide suppression costs in 2018 reached $3.1 billion.
- Natural Environment – Ecosystem changes are sped up by wildfires while a large amount of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, this leads to even more climate change.
- Public Health – Smoke released by fires reduces air quality. It can also cause respiratory and eye illnesses, which is especially the case with the elderly and children.
The Need To Build Resilience
Although it takes time to implement all the changes needed to actively fight climate change, forest managers, homeowners, builders, and even entire communities can reduce the impact and sometimes the likelihood of a wildfire by:
- Discouraging the residential, commercial, and industrial developments close to forests that are fire-prone. This can be done through smarter zoning rules.
- During construction, materials and fire-resistant features should be implemented.
- The space between nearby bushes, trees and structures has to be increased. Also, space can be cleared between close-by houses.
- More resources can be allocated to fire prevention and firefighting.
- Remove all possible fuels, like dead trees in forests.
- Create recovery plans way before the fire hits. Also, plans have to be quickly implemented after the fire in order to limit flooding, minimize habitat damage, and reduce erosion.