The key triggers of the West’s costly 2017 wildfire season

  • A series of wildfire factors- fuel, aridity, and ignition- culminated in the big burns of 2017.
June 5, 2018 University of Colorado at Boulder Read full ScienceDaily article here

…Research shows that three major “switches” affecting wildfire — fuel, aridity, and ignition — were either flipped on and/or kept on longer than expected last year, triggering one of the largest and costliest U.S. wildfire seasons in recent decades.

The 2017 wildfire season cost the United States more than $18 billion in damages. That year, 71,000 wildfires scorched 10 million acres of land, destroying 12,000 homes, evacuating 200,000 people and claiming 66 lives. By comparison, 2016 saw 5.4 million acres burned….

Western wildfire seasons are worse when conditions are dry and fuel-rich, raising the chances of ignition. Climate change likely exacerbates fuels and dryness, the paper found, and human behavior contributed the sparks...

….Although naturally occurring climate variability influences environmental conditions that affect the wildfire season, that variation is superimposed on an anthropogenically warmer world, so climate change is magnifying the effects of heat and precipitation extremes, Balch said.

Jennifer Balch, Tania Schoennagel, A. Williams, John Abatzoglou, Megan Cattau, Nathan Mietkiewicz, Lise St. Denis. Switching on the Big Burn of 2017. Fire, 2018; 1 (1): 17 DOI: 10.3390/fire1010017