May 10, 2016

It's not just Alberta: Warming-fueled fires are increasing

Fort McMurray, AB
Canada
by
Seth Borenstein
,
Associated Press
In this May 7, 2016 file photo, a wildfire burns south of Fort McMurray, Alberta. A dry and blistering hot northern Alberta is burning and doing so unusually early in the year, but that’s only the latest of many gargantuan fires on an Earth that’s grown hotter with more extreme weather. Photo: Jonathan Hayward, The Canadian Press, AP
In this May 7, 2016 file photo, a wildfire burns south of Fort McMurray, Alberta. A dry and blistering hot northern Alberta is burning and doing so unusually early in the year, but that’s only the latest of many gargantuan fires on an Earth that’s grown hotter with more extreme weather. Photo: Jonathan Hayward, The Canadian Press, AP

Alberta's unusually early and large fire is just the latest of many gargantuan fires on an Earth that's grown hotter with more extreme weather...

"The warmer it is, the more fires we get," said Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta.

Last week, temperatures pushed past 90 degrees Fahrenheit (mid 30s Celsius) in Alberta, which is unusual for May in northern Canada.

"The Alberta wildfires are an excellent example of what we're seeing more and more of: warming means snow melts earlier, soils and vegetation dries out earlier, and the fire season starts earlier. It's a train wreck," University of Arizona climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck wrote in an email.

Worldwide, the length of Earth's fire season increased nearly 19 percent from 1979 to 2013, according to a study by Mark Cochrane, a professor of fire ecology at South Dakota State University.

For the entire U.S., the 10-year average number of acres burned in wildfires has more than doubled from about 3 million acres in the mid-1980s to 7 million acres now, according to an analysis of government data by The Associated Press