Fanning the Flames

New analysis concludes climate change is helping fuel bigger, badder wildfire seasons.

September 02, 2015

Wildfires have torched 8.2 million acres across the United States this year (a record for January through August)—and the season hasn’t burned out yet. Even as summer begins to draw to a close, 56 active large fires continue to rage across six states, with nearly two million acres up in flames.

Wildfires are a natural part of forest ecology, but if this much fire seems unnatural…well, it’s because it is. Poor forestry and fire-management policies definitely play a role, but after analyzing wildfire data from the last 45 years, the nonprofit scientific research group Climate Central concluded that "climate change is one of the key drivers helping set up these dry and hot conditions favorable for wildfires." (Surprise!)

As spring and summer out West have grown warmer by 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit, the average wildfire season has lengthened by 75 days since the 1970s, Climate Central found. And those fires don’t just burn longer; they also burn more forest—a lot more. Fires of more than 1,000 acres are now three and half times more common than they were less than half a century ago and burn seven times as many acres in an average year. All of which strikes us as a bit too hot to handle.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.