Aug 26, 2015

Why we have such large wildfires this summer

Twisp, WA
Chelan, WA
Okanogan County, WA
USA
by
Evan Bush
,
The Seattle Times
Flames blanket the hillsides on Twisp River Road just outside of the town of Twisp, Wash. last week. More than 900,000 acres have already burned this year in Washington wildfires. Photo: Erika Schultz, The Seattle Times
Flames blanket the hillsides on Twisp River Road just outside of the town of Twisp, Wash. last week. More than 900,000 acres have already burned this year in Washington wildfires. Photo: Erika Schultz, The Seattle Times

Fire seasons vary widely, depending on a host of factors. But scientists expect climate change to exacerbate the nation’s fire problem.

“Regardless of what the projections are for climate change, we do have a fire issue,” said Jeremy Littell, the lead research scientist at the Alaska Climate Science Center, in an interview earlier this summer. “Climate change only makes it worse in most cases. Generally speaking, you expect more fire activity.”

Dave Peterson, a research biologist at the Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory who studies climate change’s effect on fire, said he expects areas burned by wildfire in the West to double or triple by midcentury.

Scientists say this year’s drought conditions could be a clue of what the future holds for our climate.

“I talk about this year as a dress rehearsal for the future,” said Guillaume Mauger, a University of Washington climate researcher, earlier this summer. “If you look at precipitation, it was just like any other year. But the temperature was far above what we’ve seen in the 20th century — and that’s exactly what we expect of climate change.”