2016 Wildfire Season


Fueled by deep drought, blistering heat, tree death, and wind, wildfires are raging across the American Southwest, destroying hundreds of homes, torching tens of thousands of acres, and forcing mandatory evacuations of communities in California, Arizona and New Mexico. Some blazes have even been visible from space.


Source: Climate Signals

According to the US National Academy of Sciences, over the past 30 years, there has been a fourfold increase in the number of large and long-duration forest fires in the American West. The length of the fire season has expanded by 2.5 months, and the size of wildfires has increased several times over. More than half the US Western states have experienced their largest wildfire on record since 2000.

On June 29th, Climate Nexus hosted a press briefing on wildfires featuring:

  • Dr. LeRoy Westerling – Associate Professor, University of California-Merced
  • Susan Jane Brown – Attorney, Wildlands & Wildlife Program Director at the Western Environmental Law Center
  • Dr. Keith Gilless – Chair of CA State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, Dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources

Listen to the briefing here:

Key quotes: 

  • “One of the tragedies is the lack of social resilience when the flames come. Often, fires burn through low-income areas and the loss of an uninsured home is an overwhelming one for people there. Communities like that need to be very engaged with fire services to plan evacuation routes.” – Dr. Keith Gilless
  • “There is still a lot of concern among communities about fire and states such as Oregon are worried about the health impacts of smoke, which is certainly something to be aware of. But the thing is we will get the smoke one way or the other. We either get it through controlled burns, where we know where and when it will happen, or big doses of smoke through uncontrolled wildfires that occur at the height of summer.” – Susan Jane Brown
  • “I don’t ever envision the fire season ever shutting down again. In areas like southern California, the deployment of staff and resources to deal with wildfire is going to become a permanent feature rather than a seasonal one.” – Dr. Keith Gilless
  • “Wildfire in forested areas is increasing dramatically, there are more opportunities for large fires. In a lot of places the climate restricted fires, but now it’s all about fuel availability and we are seeing very large burned patches in areas that aren’t used to it. Each decade since the 1980s has seen a big increase in fire activity, and we don’t expect that trend to stop any time soon.” – Dr. Leroy Westerling
This tree is a schematic of the climate change links to the 2016 wildfire season. See the full interactive version on Climate Signals

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