Saturday, August 22, 2015

Drought-Fueled Wildfires Burn 7 Million Acres in U.S.

The Aggie Creek fire burns along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in June. (Credit: USDA/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Sap a forest of rain — say, for three or four years — toss in seemingly endless sunshine and high temperatures, and you’ve got just the right recipe for some catastrophic wildfires.

Such is the story playing out in the West, where, thanks in part to climate change, drought-fueled infernos are incinerating forests at a record pace from Alaska to California, claiming the lives of 13 firefighters, destroying more than 900 structures and requiring firefighting agencies to call in help from the U.S. Army and as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Here’s the breakdown:  as of Aug. 20, more than 41,300 wildfires have scorched more than 7.2 million acres in 2015, mostly in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.  That’s nearly three times the 2.6 million acres that burned nationwide in 2014 and more land area than has burned in any other year over the last decade.

The blazes have consumed so much land this year because of the drought, fueled by record high temperatures during the warmest January-to-July period in history for the region.  Partly to blame for the heat is a giant area of warm water in the Pacific known as “the blob” and the rapidly growing El Niño, which could be one of the most extreme on record.

The drought and high temperatures are stressing forests to the point where they can’t fend off the worst effects of wildfire, even in those forests that depend on occasional fires to survive.

Read  more at Drought-Fueled Wildfires Burn 7 Million Acres in U.S.

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