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Warmer temps spur western wildifires

Brandon Bickel, US Forest Service Gila National Forest. http://bit.ly/KGcdDb

Western wildfires have gotten bigger—and the wildfire season is getting longer. That’s according to a new report from the nonprofit organization Climate Central.

Since the 1970’s the average number of large fires each year has doubled in many western states, including  New Mexico.

The bigger fires are due in part to how forests have been managed.  For much of the 20th century, forest fires were suppressed—and dry timber and vegetation built up to dangerous levels.

But climate scientists say warmer temperatures are also responsible.

In particular, early snowmelt is an issue. Dr. Steven Running, of the University of Montana, points out that when forests lose their snowpack early in the spring, vegetation has more time to dry out, and the summer “dry down” of the forest begins earlier.

Running is the director of the University of Montana’s Numeral Terradynamic Simulation Group at the College of Forestry and Conservation.  

He adds that the report’s findings don’t mean that extreme fires will burn every summer—just that they’ll happen more often.

To read the report, titled, “The Age of Western Wildfires,” visit: