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There's a dangerous but basic equation behind the killer Yarnell Hill, Arizona wildfire and other blazes raging across the West this summer: More heat, more drought, more fuel and more people in the way are adding up to increasingly ferocious fires.
Scientists say a hotter planet will only increase the risk.
Ferocious is an apt term for these fires, as anyone who has had to flee their homes from one knows all too well. They are terrifying.
While no single wildfire can be pinned solely on climate change, researchers say there are signs that fires are becoming bigger and more common in an increasingly hot and bone-dry West.
Drought is increasingly the new normal across the West.
"Twenty years ago, I would have said this was a highly unusual, fast-moving, dangerous fire," said fire history expert Don Falk at the University of Arizona at Tucson, referring to the Yarnell Hill fire. "Now unfortunately, it's not unusual at all."
Wildfires are chewing through twice as many acres per year on average in the United States compared with 40 years ago, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told a Senate hearing last month. Since Jan. 1, 2000, about 145,000 square miles have burned, roughly the size of New York, New England, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland combined, according to federal records.
The risks and costs of our inaction on climate are escalating rapidly. With an area the size of New York, New England turned to charred wreckage we can't ignore the risks of inaction any longer. We should now see that continued inaction is the more costly path.
A draft federal report released earlier this year said climate change is stressing Western forests, making them more vulnerable to fires.
We've made our planet a hotter and more perilous place to live, but how much hotter is still a decision we must now make as a species.
Originally posted to Lefty Coaster on Fri Jul 05, 2013 at 01:46 PM PDT.