Texas Tech University

Experts Available to Discuss Fort McMurray Wildfire and Its Effects

George Watson

May 10, 2016


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.

Robin Verble-Pearson, an assistant professor of fire ecology in the Texas Tech University Department of Natural Resources Management, is available to discuss the fire itself and its ramifications on the local ecology. She is an expert in prescribed burning, fire management and fire ecology.

Katharine Hayhoe, the director of the Texas Tech Climate Science Center, also is available to discuss the fire's relationship with and impact on climate change.


Robin Verble-Pearson, assistant professor of fire ecology, Texas Tech University Department of Natural Resources Management, (806) 742-2842 or robin.verble@ttu.edu

Katharine Hayhoe, director, Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University, (806) 834-8665 or katharine.hayhoe@ttu.edu

Talking Points

  • 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 firewire communities.”
  • “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.

Find Texas Tech news, experts and story ideas at Texas Tech Today Media Resources or follow us on Twitter.