The increase in wildfires across the USA has become a serious concern in recent years.
From 2018 to 2022, fires caused by human activities or natural happenings have been more frequent, intense, and severe. As a result, many communities have suffered the consequences of damaged ecosystems and a crippled economy.
For this research, we evaluated recent data studying wildfire behavior to determine the common causes leading to this increase. Surprisingly, our research revealed that wildfires have increased significantly in the last five years.
Wildfire Data Overview and Research Methodology
Studying the recent surge in wildfire intensity and frequency across the United States involved reviewing dozens of studies focused on this matter.
The methodology used for this informative piece included analyzing data shared by certified agencies, like the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC), National Centers for Environmental Information, and the Congressional Research Service.
Wildfires are serious threats and we should not take it lightly.
Therefore, accurate data detailing the causes and reach of these disasters are necessary to paint a bigger picture and reveal what measures to take to reduce wildfire risks.
This was our main concern during the creation of this research.
Examining the Key Findings
A comprehensive study of the wildfire data shared by agencies in the United States reveals a concerning increase in wildfire incidents across the United States.
The quoted sources estimate that the country experienced around 58,083 fires in 2018 and approximately 68,988 fires by 2022.
These numbers represent a staggering 18.77% of the increase in wildfires just over the past five years alone.
Source: National Centers for Environmental Information, National Interagency Fire Center
Wildfire Distribution and Notable Trends Observed
The information shared here shows that wildfires are more common in western states, particularly California and Oregon.
These states share the Mediterranean climate, which is popular for having hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. During the summer, dry conditions, high wind speeds, and lightning strikes make these regions more vulnerable to wildfires.
Additionally, studies prove wildfires have been more intense and frequent in the last few years.
This trend is the result of many factors, including climate change. Another notable trend increasing the wildfire risk is the increase of homes and structures in high-risk areas. Besides making it easier to result in human-caused fires, this expansion also puts people in more danger.
Factors Behind the Increase in Wildfires Across the USA
From climate change to irresponsible behaviors, many factors contribute to the increase of wildfires in the country. Let’s start by discussing climate change and its consequences.
Warmer temperatures increase the likelihood of wildfire ignition and spread. In areas like California, elevated temperatures result in dryer conditions, which make vegetation more flammable.
Likewise, this climate condition makes the region more prone to thunderstorms, leading to more lighting strikes and wildfires.
Higher temperatures create drought conditions and exacerbate wildfire risks by producing dried vegetation with more flammability.
Many regions across the United States suffer intense droughts caused by climate change, a situation that can increase wildfire destructiveness.
Altered Precipitation Patterns
Varying precipitation patterns related to climate change often produce longer dry spells, leading to dried and more flammable vegetation.
On the other hand, intense rainfall promotes more vegetation growth, which inevitably turns into wildfire fuel during drought periods.
Poor Forest Management
Unattended forests deal with accumulated fuel like dead trees, leaves, and branches. These factors contribute to fire ignition, exacerbating the intensity of the flames.
Likewise, lack of thinning is another issue agencies must address to manage forests efficiently.
People moving into undeveloped areas are another matter of concern when it comes to wildfire risks. These movements introduce potential ignition sources like outdoor grills, fireworks, and other recreational fires.
As a result, the likelihood of human-caused wildfires is much higher.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the risk of suffering grill-related fires is higher during May, June, July, and August. Weldon Dent, from the Texas A&M Forest Service, agrees with this statement.
“Each summer, we see an increase in the number of grilling and outdoor cooking fires across the state,” he said. Dent comments that most of these fires are manageable by firefighters, but some others are not easy to put out.
“The Dyer Mill Fire in Grimes County in June 2011 burned 5,280 acres and destroyed 30 homes, and the Double Diamond Fire in Hutchinson County in May 2014 burned 2,202 acres and destroyed 228 homes and 143 outbuildings. Both of these fires were attributed as a result of someone grilling or cooking outdoors.”
According to a report by Science.org, human-sparked wildfires can be more destructive than fires ignited naturally. Typically, these fires ignite due to irresponsible behavior.
A clear example is when a couple decided to use a pyrotechnic device at a gender-reveal party, leading to approximately 23,000 acres burned, twenty structures destroyed, and one firefighter dead.
Fireworks are another usual cause of wildfires.
Recently, celebrations for the 4th of July almost turned catastrophic for Treasure Valley in Idaho. In this region, fireworks ignited a brush fire, which burned an acre. Fortunately, the Fire Department acted quickly and managed to put out the threat.
Operating power tools and discarding cigarettes can also become the cause of uncontrolled wildfires. All these and more are only a few examples of irresponsible behavior individuals must avoid.
Implications and Consequences of Wildfire
Besides the obvious threat to human life, wildfires pose a severe risk to a healthy economy in the United States. Let’s review the extension of wildfire damage and how it can affect productivity.
Implications of the Increasing Wildfire Trend on the Environment, Wildlife, and Ecosystem
Wildfires affect life and natural harmony in many ways. For instance:
Wildfires severely damage natural habitats, causing a temporary or permanent impact on plant and animal communities.
By disrupting food and water supplies or their shelters, animals move away to other areas where these factors are available.
Large clouds of smoke produce air pollution, significantly affecting human health and the ecosystem. Animals also suffer from this problem, like birds unable to migrate as they navigate through wildfire smoke.
The high amounts of carbon dioxide from the blazes and other greenhouse gases contribute to climate change. Therefore, these elements exacerbate the risk of wildfires and make them more frequent.
Economic Consequences of Wildfires
A wildfire can produce catastrophic consequences, including loss of livelihoods, property damage, and increased firefighting costs. Here’s how the blazes lead to these outcomes with real-life examples.
Uncontrolled flames burn everything, including homes, businesses, and infrastructure. From 2022 to 2023, the total cost of property damage exceeded $3.2 billion.
Loss of Livelihood
Individuals and communities face significant economic challenges following a chaotic wildfire.
For example, this incident can alter the productivity of businesses that rely on natural resources, like farmers, ranchers, and landowners.
Tourism and Recreation
Similarly, the long-lasting damage of wildfires affects industries that depend on outdoor activities, like tourism and recreation.
Camping, fishing, and hiking are popular entertaining activities dealing with considerable revenue loss due to the closure of recreational areas over wildfire concerns.
The Urgent Need for Action
The moment to act against the wildfire threat is now. In this regard, there are a few considerations that federal agencies and communities must prioritize.
The Importance of Proactive Measures to Mitigate the Increasing Wildfire Risk
Taking proactive measures is crucial to mitigate the risk of the wildfire threat across the country. Here’s why these actions are of significant importance.
Implementing Proactive Land Management Practices
This action includes scheduling prescribed burns, which reduce fuel loads and result in healthier ecosystems.
Susie Kocher, from the El Dorado Amador Prescribed Burn Association, says the following –
“People have an innate fear of fire because it’s only been an enemy that’s been wiping out communities and it’s still doing that. But if you do it at the right time, under your own conditions, it can be your friend and it can treat the forest as opposed to destroying it.”
Kocher believes prescribed burns help reduce wildfire risks by removing dry timber and other materials that help expand fires.
Investments in Fire Prevention and Resources
The United States and firefighting agencies have struggled to keep up with wildfires and are often unable to control them in time.
This issue occurs due to a lack of investment, which forces agencies to burn through funds to manage the damage. Such is the case of the Department of the Interior and Forest Service, which had to double their combined spending.
Similarly, low pay and lack of equipment affect the morale of firefighters, leading to fewer human resources to help contain fire threats.
Without workers and minimal resources, mitigating the damage caused by the blazes is even more challenging.
Fortunately, these are all problems that the government intends to address in future budgets.
In 2024, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior will receive over $4.2 billion to implement better payments, enhanced firefighting capacity, and more mental and physical support for firefighters.
This is a step in the right direction, as agencies will have more resources to invest in early detection and response systems.
Educating Communities and Individuals About Wildfire Risks
The alarming percentage of wildfires caused by human activity should be a serious concern.
Most of these are accidental, and people trigger the blazes without knowing their actions can lead to that consequence. As such, educating people about these risks can help mitigate the threat.
Programs designed to educate communities and individuals are essential in wildfire preparedness. Raising awareness can help communities to use campfires, fireworks, and outdoor activities more safely.
Furthermore, effective organization will allow families to follow evacuation instructions and prevent human loss.
Successful Initiatives that Reduced the Impact of Wildfires
Proactive measures are effective, and there’s evidence backing up this claim. One clear example is the Bootleg Fire.
This fire started in Oregon back in 2021. The destruction caused by this incident left over 400,000 acres burned, but the blaze slowed when it neared a wetland thick of 30,000 acres that belonged to the Nature Conservancy.
Unsurprisingly, this miracle occurred because the Nature Conservancy worked with local tribes on projects like prescribed fires. With weakened flames, firefighters had the perfect opportunity to direct the fire away.
Data reviewed throughout this article shows the alarming increase in wildfire activity over the last five years.
This increase in wildfires across the USA calls for immediate and collective actions. Communities and state agencies must address the issue by its roots, discussing and raising awareness about problems like climate change.
Coordinated efforts are the only way to control human activities that often result in fire breakouts, a responsibility shared by the government, society, and every individual.