Story at a glance
- A new Stanford University study has identified 18 areas in the Western United States that pose an increased wildfire risk.
- These areas, which are afflicted with a combination of dry plants and “increased atmospheric dryness,” have been identified as “double-hazard” zones, facing an increased risk of wildfires.
- The double-hazard zones were largely concentrated in California’s southern Sierra Nevada, eastern Oregon, Nevada’s Great Basin and central Arizona’s Mogollon Rim.
A new Stanford University study has identified areas in the Western United States that pose an increased wildfire risk, known as “double-hazard” zones.
Published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, the study examined areas of “forest and shrublands” in Western states to determine those most likely to face an increased fire risk due to their plant and water ecosystems.
“Each plant is different, each species is different and the geography of a place defines how a plant’s moisture level responds to different environmental conditions,” the study’s lead author Krishna Rao said in a press release.
According to the study, the increasing vapor pressure deficit, which is an indicator of how much moisture the air can suck out of soil and plants, poses an increased wildfire risk in areas where plants and vegetation are already prone to drying out.
These areas, which are afflicted with a combination of dry plants and “increased atmospheric dryness,” have been identified as “double-hazard” zones, facing an increased risk of wildfires.
The study identified 18 new double-hazard zones in the West, largely concentrated in California’s southern Sierra Nevada, eastern Oregon, Nevada’s Great Basin, and central Arizona’s Mogollon Rim.
As the Biden administration works toward launching a 10-year, multibillion-dollar program to address the increase in wildfires by expanding forest thinning efforts and controlled burns in 11 Western states, researchers advise that these new findings need to be considered in concentrating these efforts.
However, researchers also warn that honing in on the causes of the increase in wildfires in recent years is complex, due to a number of contributing factors, including climate change, attempts at fire suppression, and population growth in undeveloped wildlife areas known as wildland-urban interface or WUI.
For example, in California more than 11 million people live in the WUI, including towns such as Paradise, which was destroyed in 2018’s Camp Fire and killed 86 people.
“This redoubles the need to be thinking about what we can do to reduce wildfire impacts in the WUI in general,” said study co-author Alexandra Konings, “including for this subgroup of people who are in the most vulnerable locations.”
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