Here’s how climate change affects wildfires

Not only is the average wildfire season three and a half months longer than it was a few decades back, but the number of annual large fires in the West has tripled — burning twice as many acres.

Severe heat and drought fuel wildfires, conditions scientists have linked to climate change. If we don’t break the warming cycle, we expect more and worse wildfires in the years ahead.

What’s causing this devastating cycle?

Although human activities — such as lighting campfires and discarding lit cigarettes — are mainly responsible for starting the fires, hotter weather makes forests drier and more susceptible to burning.

Rising temperatures, a key indicator of climate change, evaporate more moisture from the ground, drying out the soil, and making vegetation more flammable.

At the same time, winter snowpacks are melting about a month earlier, meaning that the forests are drier for longer periods of time.

Meanwhile, shifting meteorological patterns can drive rain away from wildfire-prone regions, a phenomenon scientists discovered in California and have linked to human-made climate change.

As drought and heat continue with rising greenhouse gas emissions, we expect more wildfires in years ahead, especially with the fire seasons getting longer.

We have the power to break the cycle and get on track toward a more sustainable future.

We can keep spending an ever-rising amount of money to address devastating fires and other weather disasters that climate change makes worse — or we can work together to slow and eventually stop the greenhouse gas emissions warming our planet.

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Climate Central, "Western Wildfires," 2016 [PDF]