Friday, June 16, 2017

Sharp Uptick in Wildfires Strains Great Plains Agencies

The Mule Ridge Wildfire in Arizona last year. (Credit: U.S. Forest Service/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Arizonans evacuated as wildfire approached heat wave-parched subdivisions northeast of Phoenix on Thursday followed a drill that’s becoming agonizingly commonplace through a vast stretch of America’s interior.

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.

“Obviously it’s being driven by some sort of change,” Donovan said. “It’s largely been seen as a low risk area for wildfire. We’ve had highly successful suppression efforts over the past century.”

The spreading rash of fires across the flat and grassy states west of the Mississippi River has jolted a region unaccustomed them, even as it has been overshadowed in the news and dwarfed in firefighting budgets by bigger wildfires tearing up the West Coast.

“The low frequency tends to lull all of us into a sense of complacency,” said Michele Steinberg, manager of wildland fire operations at the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association. “We have a long way to go with education, particularly for folks where they have not seen a lot of fire.”

Because wildfires have been relatively rare in the Great Plains until recently, many states and counties have come to depend heavily on each other for assistance when they strike. “They rely on their neighbors,” Steinberg said. But the shared firefighting resources are becoming strained as more fires need to be fought.

“You’re seeing conditions that are just right for not only ignition of fire, but also fire spread,” Steinberg said.

Read more at Sharp Uptick in Wildfires Strains Great Plains Agencies

No comments:

Post a Comment