How US wildfires have worsened in recent decades

By Emma Rubin and Emilia Ruzicka
The St. Louis Dispatch
July 5, 2023
Category: Forestry
Region: United States

Wildfires are innate to forest ecosystems, clearing out dead debris and paving the way for new growth, but climate change has elongated dry seasons, increased temperatures, and widened the potential for large-scale wildfires. Beyond weather-related factors, the prevalence of insects like bark beetles damage trees and make them more prone to burning. Invasive vegetation such as cheatgrass also easily burns and contributes to spread. Trees, traditionally a storage vessel for carbon, release carbon immediately when burning and during decomposition. The EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service estimated that global wildfires in 2022 released 1,455 megatonnes of carbon emissions. Black carbon, or soot, can also travel beyond wildfire zones, absorbing sunlight and warming the earth further. Beyond the environmental threats, the widening reach of wildfires threatens the displacement of countless residents. Despite this, people continue moving to wildfire-prone areas, putting a growing population at risk of longer fire seasons and associated health risks.

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