International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Climate change presents increased potential for very large fires in the contiguous United States

R. Barbero A D , J. T. Abatzoglou A , N. K. Larkin B , C. A. Kolden A and B. Stocks C

A Department of Geography, University of Idaho, 875 Perimeter Drive MS3021, Moscow, ID 83844-3021, USA.

B Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory, US Forest Service, 400 North 34th Street, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98103, USA.

C Canadian Forest Service, Great Lakes Forestry Centre, 1219 Queen Street East, Sault Ste. Marie, ON P6A 2E5, Canada.

D Corresponding author. Email: renaudb@uidaho.edu

International Journal of Wildland Fire 24(7) 892-899 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF15083
Submitted: 9 January 2015  Accepted: 4 June 2015   Published: 16 July 2015

Abstract

Very large fires (VLFs) have important implications for communities, ecosystems, air quality and fire suppression expenditures. VLFs over the contiguous US have been strongly linked with meteorological and climatological variability. Building on prior modelling of VLFs (>5000 ha), an ensemble of 17 global climate models were statistically downscaled over the US for climate experiments covering the historic and mid-21st-century periods to estimate potential changes in VLF occurrence arising from anthropogenic climate change. Increased VLF potential was projected across most historically fire-prone regions, with the largest absolute increase in the intermountain West and Northern California. Complementary to modelled increases in VLF potential were changes in the seasonality of atmospheric conditions conducive to VLFs, including an earlier onset across the southern US and more symmetric seasonal extension in the northern regions. These projections provide insights into regional and seasonal distribution of VLF potential under a changing climate, and serve as a basis for future strategic and tactical fire management options.

Additional keywords: climate-fire models, climate variability, fire risks, megafires.


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