Western Wildfires Expected to Double by 2050

Climate change will dramatically alter wildfire patterns in the western United States before the century ends, studies show.

According to a new study of future wildfire activity and smoke pollution “Ensemble projections of wildfire activity and carbonaceous aerosol concentrations over the western United States in the mid-21st century” published by Harvard University, researchers are predicting more smoke pollution — even in communities far from the forest’s edge — as more fires burn because of rising temperatures. Yosemite National Park’s Rim over the Labor Day weekend where iconic views disappeared behind a sudden influx of thick smoke the night of Aug. 30, causing the air quality to be deemed to be unhealthy for outdoor activities, is an omen for the West.

The area burned by wildfires is expected to double in some parts of the West by 2050 and the study found temperature was the primary driver for future wildfires, at least in the West’s near future.  Behind the new forest fire patterns is climate change. Higher average temperatures will result in more wildfires by 2050, especially in August, they found.

Overall, the typical four-month fire season will gain three weeks by 2050, the researchers report. And the probability of large fires could double or even triple. The findings were published in the October issue of the journal Atmospheric Environment.

While wildfires in Texas were not a part of this study, the state has already seen indications of both the devastation, the increased number and intensity of these types of fires.