Wildfires To Increase In Severity
July 10, 2013

Wildfires Are Only Going To Get Worse, Says Study

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Wildfires like the ones that have ravaged Arizona and Nevada this summer are expected to become far more severe over the next several decades, say researchers from the University of Alberta Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences (ALES) in a new study.

In fact, lead author Dr. Mike Flannigan and his colleagues report that the severity of wildfires will increase three-fold by the end of the century, and that as these events become increasingly dangerous, they will necessitate changes to existing wildlife management plans.

"Globally, more area is expected to burn and there will be increased fire occurrence and greater fire intensity. In turn, that will result in more severe fire seasons and an increase in fire control difficulty," the university explained. "Many parts of the world, such as tropical areas and the Mediterranean region already have a full-year fire season, but in northern high latitudes, fire season lengths will, by the end of the century, increase by more than 20 days a year."

The study, which appears in a special edition of the journal Forest Ecology and Management, is said to be the first ever worldwide review to describe the extent to which the fire season will become longer and more severe. The researchers say that their work provides a "state of the science" assessment of global fire and climate change, while also indicating the strength and trajectory of change in future fire regimes.

The results of the study indicate just how important it is for fire safety officials throughout the world to share resources for increased fire-protection capacity, while also demonstrating how important it is to have a stable, efficient early warning system in place to help prevent or limit the damage caused by wildfires, they added.

"Referring to recent disastrous fires in Australia in '09, Russia in '10 and Texas and other US states in '11 as possible precursors of what is coming, the publication reinforces its underlying message that fire management is going to be greatly challenged in the future and new policy/strategy development is needed," ALES officials said in a statement.

"The study notes four factors that strongly influence fire - fuels, ignition agents, climate/weather and people but adds that we cannot change the weather, nor can we significantly modify lightning activity," they added. "The remaining options are to reduce human-caused ignitions (through education, restricting or excluding the use of fire and by rigorous enforcement of existing policies) and to modify fuels."

While Flannigan and his colleagues note that fuels cannot be treated on a global scale, they point out that they can be treated on a local level near regions considered to be of high value. Other credited authors of the study include Alan S. Cantin, William J. de Groot, Alison Newbery and Lynn M. Gowman of the Canadian Forest Service and Mike Wotton of the Canadian Forest Service and the University of Toronto.