Texas Tech professors can discuss ramifications to the ecology, relationship with
climate change and the fire itself.
Residents of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, have watched the last few days as a
massive wildfire has consumed roughly 400,000 acres, or about half the size of Rhode
Island. Due to record high temperatures in the area for this time of year, the blaze
is “zero percent contained” and heading east toward Saskatchewan. It has already displaced
more than 90,000 residents and burned more than 1,600 homes and businesses.
Changing climates are likely to continue to exacerbate severe wildfire conditions.
Wildland firefighters are increasingly being exposed to longer seasons, more severe
fires and increasingly hazardous conditions.
Wildfire risks are present in any natural forested or grassland area, from the southern
plains of Texas to the northern prairies of Canada.
We aren’t seeing more frequent wildfires these days. In fact, in the U.S., the number
of wildfires was cut in half during the 1980s due to forest management approaches
that include wildfire suppression.
However, over climate timescales of multiple decades, there is an increasing trend
across western North America in the total area burned. That’s because, in a warmer
climate, the risk of having the type of hot, dry fire weather that allows fires to
spread out of control is increasing.
“Almost a century of fire suppression has resulted in increased fuel loads,” Verble-Pearson
said. “Prescribed fire management is one way to reduce these fuel loads and create
“When long-term trends interact with natural variability like El Niño, the risks are
exacerbated even further,” Hayhoe said. “And that’s exactly what we saw this year:
a long-term trend toward warmer conditions with reduced snowpack, exacerbated by a
strong El Niño event.”
“This is just one more reminder of how, nine out of 10 times, the reason why we care
about a changing climate is not because it brings some new type of impact we’ve never
seen before, but because it interacts with and exacerbates the risks we already face
today,” Hayhoe said.
The Climate Science Center (CSC) at Texas Tech University conducts interdisciplinary research to address the
interactive effects of climate variability across the full array of landscapes within
the South Central U.S. We provide the science, tools, and information to link current
conditions with regional climate projections, and examine the real-world decision
making and planning that can be used to best anticipate, monitor, and adapt to this
projected climate change.