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Why Does the American West Have So Many Wildfires?


This practice has led to increasingly dense forests and ample brush on the forest floor. In consequence, forests find yourself being “tinderboxes” for more explosive fires, said Jennifer Marlon, a research scientist on the Yale School of the Environment and creator of the Global Paleofire database, a group of fireplace history records.

“When you could have fuels which might be more densely packed, they’ll burn hotter and faster and more severely,” Dr. Marlon said.

Experts say that fireplace suppression has also modified the forest floor, making fires more severe. There are actually more fire intolerant shrubs and tree species, akin to white firs, at lower elevations. White firs have needles running up their trunks that function ladders as much as the cover, creating crown fires which might be the toughest to contain and most dangerous for trees.

Lately, firefighting has turned toward the usage of “prescribed,” or controlled, burns, to treat fire-prone land by thinning its brush. Last yr, the Forest Service used prescribed fires across a record 1.8 million acres of federal land. The agency hopes to ramp up operations nationwide in the approaching years, but public backlash to the practice has grown. Opponents point to prescribed fires that sometimes get uncontrolled, like those who burned through Recent Mexico earlier this yr.

Because the Western population as grown, so has the danger of sparking a wildfire.

Half of all wildfires are ignited by lightning strikes. The opposite half are ignited by humans, whether not directly — felled power lines, or sparks from a train because the wheels press against the rails — or directly, from tossed cigarettes, cars backfiring or campfires.

Wildfires ignited by human activity spread greater than twice as fast and killed more trees than those ignited by lightning, in keeping with research presented at a 2020 meeting of the American Geophysical Union. “Where humans live, we bring opportunities for fires to start,” Dr. Tingley said.

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