The 2013 fire season could be worse than last year's when the western United States went through a harrowing season. This year does not promise improved weather conditions. A combination of droughts, careless people and destructive pest populations that explode in warmer weather will increase the odds of catastrophic fires like New Mexico's Whitewater Baldy Complex fire. According to a Jan. 27 Grist article, the New Mexico fire was the largest in that state’s history
According to Climate Central, a study confirmed steady growth over the past nine years with increasing size and number of forest fires and wildfires. Fires larger than 10,000 acres occured seven times more each year. Almost 5 times as many fires were larger than 25,000 acres. Twice as many fires were over 1,000 acres. The average number of fires was more than 100 per year from 2002 through 2011. There were less than 50 fires during the 1970’s.
Scientists cannot confirm that global warming is a direct cause of record temperatures or prolonged droughts because global warming applies to the atmosphere of the entire planet. Weather events apply to specific events occurring at specific times and in specific places. Many, including President Obama, suggest that climate change is causing unusual weather that could lead to a second catastrophic fire season in a row. In his inauguration speech, he said,
"Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
Western fire seasons are not what they used to be. It is becoming more difficult to define a “typical” wildfire year in the West. The past 40 years have brought rising temperatures in spring and summer. This has combined with drought that causes declines in winter snow pack, or earlier spring melts. This serves to increase wildfire risk in most parts of the western U.S.
The first western wildfires of the year have been starting earlier while the last fires of the year are starting later. A typical fire year is now about 75 days longer it was 40 years ago.
Fire size and duration may be affected by firefighting policies that have changed from directly attacking fires, to setting backfires that take away the fuel and stop the fire from progressing.
This is the year for rural property owners and park visitors to exercise more care, prepare their property and make some evacuation plans. Failure to evacuate when ordered is the biggest problem for residents who live in heavily forested areas.
Cal Watchdog has plenty of tips for protecting property and life before the 2013 fire season goes into effect. With earlier spring warming trends, the time to start planning is now.