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.