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    Author(s): Jonathan Thompson
    Date: 2005
    Source: Science Findings 74. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 5 p
    Publication Series: Science Findings
    Station: Pacific Northwest Research Station
    PDF: Download Publication  (645.0 KB)


    There is little question that global warming would increase the risk of wildfires by drying out vegetation and stirring the winds that spread fire. Until recently, however, land managers were unable to formulate appropriate responses because the spatial scales of predictions were far too coarse. Current research being done at the PNW Research Station in Portland, Oregon, has offered the first geographically specific estimate of the potential effect of climate change on wildfires in the United States.

    Simulations for three multicounty areas in northern California under a climate change scenario found that the number of fast-spreading fires will increase, mostly in grass and brush fuels. There will be little change in forested areas. The biggest increases in fire size and escape frequency will occur in low-population-density zones, where fire suppression is currently less intense. When these results are interpolated to cover all of the State Responsibility Areas in northern California, an additional 114 escapes per year can be anticipated, on top of the 110 expected under the current climate.

    Simulated climate change affected the predicted fire spread rate and intensity, resulting in a surprisingly large impact on fire outcomes. This issue is of keen interest to natural resource managers, fire protection planners, policymakers, and insurance companies.

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    Thompson, Jonathan. 2005. Fanning the flames: climate change stacks odds against fire suppression. Science Findings 74. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 5 p

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