Huge fires burning in New Mexico and Colorado have federal officials assuring people they will have the resources to fight big fires later this season when the blazes move north.
The relatively cool spring and the amount of rain and snow would historically give land managers comfort going into the fire season. Those cool temperatures have kept the rangeland fires down this month.
Fires triggered by sparks from gun fire have kept firefighters running the last week when the wind came up. The season is one to two weeks behind schedule said Ed Delgado, National Interagency Fire Center predictive program manager.
But now it's beginning especially in southwest Idaho, which Delgado predicts could be a trouble spot this year.
"We had a wet spring and there's a lot of grass out there,
With plenty of fuel out there it could get hot in the rangeland once it dries out in July. "We're going to get hotter and drier," he said.
And if July temperatures rise like they have the last few years, wind will be the deciding factor again for the severity of the fire season in the Northern Rockies.
It used to be that fire season ended in late August or early September when a cold front came through bringing rain and sometimes snow in the high country. Now fire season lasts into late September and longer as warmer temperatures last.
"Firefighters talk about a season-ending event," Delgado said. "I'm not convinced that's happening. I've seen fire seasons running well into November."
What we are seeing here is going on world wide a new study said. And its going to get worse.
The study was led by a team led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, in collaboration with an international team of scientists. It was published today in Ecosphere, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal of the Ecological Society of America.
"Most of the previous wildfire projection studies focused on specific regions of the world, or relied upon only a handful of climate models," said Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech and co-author of the study. "Our study is unique in that we build a forecast for fire based upon consistent projections across 16 different climate models combined with satellite data, which gives a global perspective on recent fire patterns and their relationship to climate."
By the end of the century, almost all of North America and most of Europe is projected to see a jump in the frequency of wildfires, primarily because of increasing temperatures. At the same time, fire activity could actually decrease near the equator because of increased rainfall in tropical rainforests.
"In the long run, we found what most fear - increasing fire activity across large parts of the planet," said lead author Max Moritz, a fire specialist in UC Cooperative Extension. "But the speed and extent to which some of these changes may happen is surprising.”
The models have a high level of uncertainty about what will happen in the next few decades in most parts of the planet. But not here in the West.
We have been getting more and larger fires and that's going to continue.
"When many different models paint the same picture, that gives us confidence that the results of our study reflect a robust fire frequency projection for that region," Hayhoe said.
It is the same story as when Heath Druzin and I did an extensive series in 2007. Here is part one . Here is part 2. And here is part 3.
Now five years later how much have we improved? There clearly is more emphasis on people protecting their own homes. Cities like Boise have updated codes to help neighborhoods protect themselves.
And the science continues to improve.
"Our ability to model fire activity is improving," Moritz said. "A more basic challenge now is learning to coexist with fire itself."