Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 8, 2009

Wildfire hotspots predicted to shift

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on April 8, 2009


Recent global probability of wildfire.

Climate patterns obviously influence the probability of wildfire. Predicted shifts in climate are likely to increase the probability of wildfire across some areas of the United States, according to a study funded by the Nature Conservancy and published today in PLoSOne

The study finds, “Although recent perceived increases in fire through many parts of western North America are causing ecological, economic, and social concern, our results suggest a challenge to any simplistic view that climate change will lead to more fire in all locations. Rather, we find that the interplay of changing temperature and precipitation might result in a rearrangement of global fire probabilities overall, even as global temperature increases.”   The study suggests, for example, no significant change in wildfire probability for Southern California and the American Southwest, but under certain conditions projects greater likelihood of wildfires east of the Mississippi.

In a separate study focusing on California alone, “Scientists at UC Merced and Pardee RAND Graduate School performed a novel analysis of wildfire risk in California. They estimated that wildfire risk would increase throughout the end of the century. Average annual monetary impacts due to home loss may plausibly to be on the order of 2 billion dollars per year by mid-century and up to $14 billion per year by the end of the century.”

On March 25 the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 1404 to create a separate federal fund for fighting wildfires.  According to the Associated Press, “The Forest Service and Interior Department spent about $2.4 billion last year (2008) fighting fires, a $500 million increase over the previous year and double the average amount spent a decade ago.”

The House bill is currently under consideration by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The maps above display the observed and modeled distribution of fire under recent climatic conditions. 

There is a related story on global wildfire patterns in today’s Science News.

Information on wildfire and other climate-related issues relevant to California in particular is available from the state government’s  Climate Action Team.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 8, 2009 @ 8:50 am

What I find most interesting about this post is that the Executive Branch of the federal government has sent almost no legislative or budget recommendations to Congress on the Wildland Fire/Urban interface in recent years. Also, State and local governments seem to ignore the necessary changes in land use arrangements to minimize fire loss. I suggest that Congress mandate the Department of Interior and Commerce (NOAA) to immediately start a federal mapping program that would identify these areas and make them readily available to the public. Just as the up to 30% increase caused by better contour intervals in the National Flood Insurance Programs (NFIP) revised digital flood maps (although long predicted) are causing consternation at the local government level, those exploiters of the ignorance and the past mobility of the American public should be picking up the direct costs of the mapping of the flood and fire hazards. Interesting to me how the mere disclosure of natural hazards (and I consider Fire a natural hazard generally although over FBI opposition Arson finally was labeled a class-one crime in the 80’s)is opposed by so-many making money off the ignorance of the public. Oh that’s right that seems to be the American way. CAVEAT EMPTOR! And then have the feds subsidize the impacts.

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