As the West has warmed and dried over the past 30 years, fire seasons have grown ever more apocalyptic with new records for damage and devastation, as the recent Colorado Waldo Canyon wildfire showed, reports Tom Yulsman at the Daily Climate. But this could just be the beginning. Climate stressors are putting increasing pressure on a “fire deficit” the West has accumulated over the past 100 years, say scientists who have compared today’s burn rates with fire activity over thousands of years, when climate determined burning. As the West warms, that debt will come due – possibly with interest – triggering fiercer fires that are harder to contain, warn climate scientists. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, notes that there should be much more burning under the current climate than what occurred in the 20th century. Among other fire suppressing factors, introduced cattle reduced fuel loads by eating and trampling grasses, while humans fragmented the landscape and vigorously suppressed fires even as the climate warmed. Suppressing fire in the face of warming climate is unsustainable, says co-author Patrick Bartlein; eventually, nature will catch up.
Western fires: Payback time? As the American West’s fire season races off to a ferocious start, researchers suggest that the increasingly hotter, drier region is just beginning to pay off a “fire deficit.” Daily Climate http://wwwp.dailyclimate.org/tdc-newsroom/2012/06/wildfire-deficit