Fires are white-hot signs of climate change in our backyard

Fires are white-hot signs of climate change in our backyard

News Type: Regional, Federal Source: The Denver Post
Click here to read the article: https://www.denverpost.com/2018/06/28/fires-are-white-hot-signs-of-climate-change-in-our-backyard/

My first backpacking trip as a kid was in Bear Creek in southwest Colorado where the Burro Fire is now incinerating thousands of acres of forest. Fishing poles in hand, my brother and I hiked from fishing hole to fishing hole in the shade of tall spruce and fir trees. Many of the most wonderful times in my childhood involved hunting and fishing trips across Colorado with my family. Like many in southwest Colorado, I suspect, I’ve been watching the billowing smoke plumes, now visible from outer space, of the Burro and 416 Fires with an ever-sinking feeling in my stomach.

I’m now a scientist who studies our western forests and, unfortunately, I’ve got some bad news. Massive wildfires like the 416 and Burro Fires have the fingerprints of climate change all over them.

Scientists have been studying fires and trying to predict fire risk for decades. The drivers of fires are complicated and there’s a lot of random chance involved in any given fire, but there are some crystal clear big-picture patterns. First, the West has been warming due to human greenhouse gas emissions coming from our cars, power plants, and other sources. Hotter temperatures mean lower snowpacks, earlier snowmelts, and drier forests – sound familiar from this year? All of these factors are associated with years with lots of big fires. We have been conducting research on the San Juan National Forest for a decade and I can tell you first-hand from walking around the crispy forest last week that the trees and fuels are drier than they have been in a long while.