Friday, July 31, 2015

The West Is Still On Fire

A wildfire burns in Napa, California. (Credit: AP Photo/Noah Berger) Click to Enlarge.
Just in time for peak tourist season, Montana’s Glacier National Park is on fire.  As of Tuesday, some 3,200 acres of the park were engulfed by wildfire, which began a week ago and caused park officials to shut down three separate campsites throughout the park as well as close off the St. Mary Visitor Center.  As of Wednesday, the wildfire was 56 percent contained, and portions of the park that were previously closed have been reopened to the public — but firefighters are still working to contain the remaining portion of the fire. According to NPR, travel companies associated with the park earn 90 percent of their revenue between June 20 and August 20.

The Glacier National Park fire is just another example of the disruption the 2015 wildfire season has already caused for Western states.  Plagued by high temperatures, low snowpack, and continued drought, states from Alaska to California are in the midst of one of the earliest and most prolific fire seasons on record.  As of Tuesday, 34,995 large fires had burned over 5,569,671 acres in 2015 — almost 2 million acres above the 10-year average.
Alaska has undergone rapid climatic changes in the past 50 years, warming by more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit.  But it has also seen a marked increase in the length and intensity of its fire season — something that climate scientists worry could hasten the melting of Alaska’s permafrost, and, in turn, exacerbate climate change.
Climate change is expected to increase both the length of fire season and the number of large fire events seen each year.  But a longer fire season could also make climate change worse, releasing carbon stored in forests into the atmosphere, hastening climate change that in turn makes wildfires worse.

Read more at The West Is Still On Fire

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