As devastating wildfires continue to burn in Chile, new research suggests that such incidences could be on the rise. A new study conducted by an international team of researchers shows that many highly populated suburban areas across the world will face an increased risk of extreme wildfires in the coming years.
The study was led by University of Tasmania Professor of Environmental Change Biology David Bowman in collaboration with researchers from South Dakota State University and the University of Idaho. The team studied the intensity of 23 million fires that took place between 2002 and 2013 and reported their results in a paper published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
The researchers found that the worldwide fire weather season has increased by nearly a fifth over the last 30 years, and that the number of days of “high fire danger” could increase by another 35% in the next 40 years. The areas most at risk span the entire globe, including the southwestern United States, Mexico, the coast of Brazil, Mediterranean countries, southern Africa, and eastern Australia.
Furthermore, cities with low-density housing where trees and greenery line the streets are especially vulnerable. According to Professor Bowman, the growing number of extreme wildfires is “a global and natural phenomenon.”
“The research found that extremely intense fires are associated with anomalous weather – such as droughts, winds, or in desert regions, following particularly wet seasons,” Bowman said.
When vegetation grows quickly in a wet year, a subsequent dry year turns all of that growth into burnable material waiting to ignite. Climate change projections show an increasing occurrence of such extreme weather, which, in turn, cranks up the risk of extreme wildfires.
“We’ve got to understand that just plonking a cities in front of a highly flammable vegetation type is a recipe for disaster,” Bowman said. “The concern is that with climate change we are going to see more of these fires. In other words we are seeing a bad problem, that we are not getting to a grip of, about to get much worse. We have really got to step up globally.”
By Rory Arnold, Earth.com Staff Writer