Jun 16, 2017

Sharp Uptick in Wildfires Strains Great Plains Agencies

Nebraska
USA
by
John Upton
,
Climate Central
Smoke from a 2016 wildfire in South Dakota. Photo: orientalizing, Flickr
Smoke from a 2016 wildfire in South Dakota. Photo: orientalizing, Flickr

The Great Plains had long been spared the agony of frequent wildfires — until recent years.

A satellite analysis published by scientists this week showed the number of large wildfires burning up swaths of the Great Plains rose 350 percent during 30 years, while the total area burned each year increased four-fold.

“There haven’t really been very many large wildfires in the Great Plains — until recently,” said Victoria Donovan, a PhD candidate at the University of Nebraska who led the analysis, published Friday in Geophysical Research Letters.

A variety of factors are thought to be behind the wildfires, including warming caused by fossil fuel pollution, growing populations and the expansions of cities and towns, invasions by fire-prone weeds, and the after-effects of a century of firefighting, which allowed flammable trees and dry grass to build up in wilderness and rural areas.

...

The rise in wildfires in the Great Plains mirrors similar changes underway elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad as the climate and environment change, and as humans spark fires at times of year when they wouldn’t naturally strike, reshaping landscapes and ecosystems.