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Wildfires are getting worse, CU study finds

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Posted at 2:09 PM, Mar 16, 2022

DENVER — New research from the University of Colorado Boulder has confirmed what many of us may have noticed: Wildfires are getting worse across the U.S.

The CU-led paper published Wednesday in Science Advances shows fires have gotten larger, more frequent, and more widespread across the country since 2000.

CU Boulder researchers looked at more than 28,000 fires that occurred between 1984 and 2018 and found there were more fires across all regions in the U.S. in 2005-2018 compared to the previous two decades, according to a CU press release.

The frequency of fires doubled in the western and eastern regions of the country and quadrupled on the Great Plains during that time period, the release read.

The 20 largest wildfires in Colorado history (by acreage) have all occurred in the past 22 years, according to the Colorado Department of Public Safety. The most destructive of which was the Marshall Fire, occurring in December of last year.

CU Boulder says not only are we seeing an increase in the frequency of fires, but they are also spreading into new areas, impacting land that previously did not burn.

Increased urban growth and human activity in these areas have contributed to the uptick, the research said, noting that during the last 21 years, human ignitions caused 84% of all fires in the U.S.

Although the research did not specifically pinpoint a possible cause for the increase, a combination of factors, including climate change, are already having an impact and will likely continue for years to come.

“Projected changes in climate, fuel and ignitions suggest that we’ll see more and larger fires in the future. Our analyses show that those changes are already happening,” said Virginia Iglesias, lead author of the paper, in the press release.

The study suggests new building methods will need to be developed and implemented in the coming years to be more resilient to wildfires.