Study: Climate change to increase wildfires

A major new study finds wildfires in the western U.S. are likely to increase because of climate change.

The findings arrive as fires in the West are forcing federal officials to try and boost resources to confront the blazes. New Mexico is fighting the largest fire in its history, while Colorado’s wildfire is among its worst.

President Obama on Wednesday signed legislation to speed up federal contracting for big aerial tankers to fight the wildfires in an effort to provide help to states in trouble.

The study in the journal Ecosphere suggests a growing danger for the United States.

It finds that by the end of the century, most of North America and Europe are expected to see increased frequency of fires, according to a summary of the analysis from the University of California-Berkeley. It also states that the frequency of fires in the western U.S. will likely increase over the next three decades.

The researchers used satellite-based fire records from past years combined with historical climate data and models of future climate change.

“Our study is unique in that we build a forecast for fire based upon consistent projections across 16 different climate models combined with satellite data, which gives a global perspective on recent fire patterns and their relationship to climate,” said co-author Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. 


The full study in Ecosphere — a journal of the Ecological Society of America — is available here.

The Obama administration is currently supporting efforts to respond to large fires in states including Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, the White House said Wednesday.

The U.S. Forest Service immediately used its sped-up contracting authority — which allows a waiver of a 30-day period for contract awards — on Wednesday. 

The agency said it awarded contracts to four companies to provide a total of seven next-generation airtankers for wildfire suppression, part of efforts to replace the aging fleet.

Until Obama signed the new law on Wednesday, the Forest Service had to wait 30 days to award contracts after notifying Congress of its intend to award them, according to the service.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, in a statement Wednesday, called the contract awards a “major milestone in our efforts to modernize the large airtanker fleet.”