Wildfires

The annual average wildfire season in the Western U.S. is 105 days longer, burns six times as many acres, and has three times as many large fires (more than 1,000 acres) than it did in the 1970s. Climate change is expected to continue increasing temperatures and reduce moisture across the West, in part by causing a smaller and faster melting snowpack. These changes will further pre-condition Western landscapes for more, and more intense, wildfires.

Wildfires are dangerous to life, property, and ecosystems. Smoke inhalation and the intake of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from wildfires have been linked to a wide variety of health problems, including respiratory and cardiovascular problems, especially in vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and asthmatics. Wildfires also threaten to turn forests — natural carbon sinks — into sources of emissions by releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. Wildfires can cause billions of dollars of damages, and the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior often spend billions of dollars on resources to combat them.

Resources for covering wildfires:

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Interactives

WXshift Wildfire Tracker

This is where large wildfires are currently burning in the U.S.

Learn more

Reports

Air Pollution Progress Still Undermined by Western Wildfires (8/15/18)

Smoke pollution is leading to serious public health impacts as large wildfires across the American West become more frequent and destructive.

Full Report

Western Wildfires Undermining Progress on Air Pollution (11/7/17)

Wildfires in California’s Central Valley are undermining progress made in cutting air pollution; air is getting dirtier during lengthening fire season.

Full Report

Western Wildfires: A Fiery Future (June 2016)

The number of days with high potential for wildfires is projected to increase in many Western states due to climate change’s effects on the conditions that enable wildfires.

Full Report

Alaska Entering New Era for Wildfires (6/24/2015)

With Alaska warming twice as fast as the rest of the country, rising temperatures could bring increased wildfire risks to the northern state.

Full Report

Wildfires and Air Pollution: The Hidden Health Hazards of Climate Change (10/25/2013)

Wildfires can cause dangerously high levels of air pollution, with some days seeing air pollution levels as hazardous as Beijing, China.

Full Report

The Age of Western Wildfires (September 2012)

Forest service records indicate that the number of large and very large fires have increased dramatically since the 1970s in the American West.

Full Report

Videos

Wildfires Explained in 66 Seconds

As if it weren’t bad enough already, wildfire season is getting worse across the western United States. Meteorologist Bernadette Woods Placky explains the hows and the whys of this ongoing and deadly change.

Watch on WXshift