The scientific literature paints a hellish future if we don’t quickly reverse greenhouse gas emissions trends (see “Climate change expected to sharply increase Western wildfire burn area — as much as 175% by the 2050s“). Even the watered down, consensus-based 2007 IPCC report acknowledged the danger:
A warming climate encourages wildfires through a longer summer period that dries fuels, promoting easier ignition and faster spread. Westerling et al. (2006 -see here) found that, in the last three decades, the wildfire season in the western U.S. has increased by 78 days, and burn durations of fires >1000 ha have increased from 7.5 to 37.1 days, in response to a spring-summer warming of 0.87°C. Earlier spring snowmelt has led to longer growing seasons and drought, especially at higher elevations, where the increase in wildfire activity has been greatest. In the south-western U.S., fire activity is correlated with ENSO positive phases, and higher Palmer Drought Severity Indices….
Insects and diseases are a natural part of ecosystems. In forests, periodic insect epidemics kill trees over large regions, providing dead, desiccated fuels for large wildfires. These epidemics are related to aspects of insect life cycles that are climate sensitive.
Now brutal heat and drought are fueling massive California wildfires once again (see, for instance, the BBC piece “Heat fuelling California wildfire“). We can’t expect much from the status quo media (see “CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story — never mention climate change“). So here is CAP’s Tom Kenworthy explaining “What a 1-Degree Temperature Increase Means for Wildfires” – and I’ll end with some comments on this positive or amplifying carbon-cycle feedback:
Climate change will wreck havoc not only on water supplies but on wildfires. Forests will dry out faster. Damage by insects that had been held in check by cold weather will spread.
More houses will be put in danger of burning, in areas that will burn before the drying actions of the Santa Ann winds even begin.
Wildfires plague the eastern part of Washington and are beginning to be more frequent around the Sound. One of the benefits of the wetter climate here is less time for drying out brush. That could change
According to the report, fires in the NW could double by 2055 with a 40 percent increase in carbon aerosols. I guess the silver lining here is that aerosols can lower atmospheric warming. I doubt, though, that this will have a huge effect by then. And I would expect that the poor air quality caused by the soot would result in more human deaths.
So, keep an eye on California because it could also begin to happen in the Pacific NW.