U.S. Wildfires Have Gotten Bigger and More Frequent Over the Past 20 Years: Study

by Anna Dunn

According to a new study, wildfires in the United States have gotten bigger and more frequent over the past 20 years. And, if the results of this particular study hold water, it looks like it’s only going to get worse from here.

The Hill reports that this study is just one of the many that have come out recently that worry scientists about climate change. The study was published on Wednesday in Science Advances

What to Know:

  • A team of researchers from the University of Colorado analyzed more than 28,000 fires between 1984 and 2018.
  • This data came from the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity (MTBS) dataset.
  • From 2005-2018, there were more fires in the US compared to the previous two decades.

Lead Author of the Paper Virginia Iglesias had a chilling warning in a news release

“Projected changes in climate, fuel and ignitions suggest that we’ll see more and larger fires in the future. Our analyses show that those changes are already happening,” Iglesias warned in a news release about the study.

The frequency of fires has doubled in the west and east and has quadrupled in the Great plains region. But there’s also a concern when it comes to the amount of land burned. The median amount of land burned each year went from 1,552 to 5,502 square miles in the West and 465 to 1,295 square miles in the Great Plains.

Further, many of the larger fires occur around the same time.

“More and larger co-occurring fires are already altering vegetation composition and structure, snowpack, and water supply to our communities. This trend is challenging fire-suppression efforts and threatening the lives, health, and homes of millions of Americans,” Iglesias noted.  

Scientists who Conducted the Wildfire Study Warn that We Haven’t Seen The Worst of it

The size of fires has also increased. Researchers have also concluded that wildfires are becoming more frequent in areas of the country where they used to be more rare. William Travis, a co-author of the study, also had a chilling message in the release.

“These convergent trends, more large fires plus intensifying development, mean that the worst fire disasters are still to come,” he warned.

This year has already seen unusual fires, however. And unfortunately, it looks like this may become the new normal. Firefighters in Santa Barbara, who battled the raging Hollister fire, noted that the intensity of the fire and its behavior were not “typical of a fire in March.”

And in Texas, an emergency order was issued in 11 counties as wildfires raged over the weekend.

The entire study is available to anyone who may want to read it. If you want to learn more about the methodology and data, you can take a look for yourself.