Flames from the Las Conchas fire burn in Los Alamos, NM. AP Photo
Climate change is creating the ideal conditions for wildfires — drought and heat. And while only a secondary effect, it is ruining July 4 celebrations around the country, since in many places the risk posed by fireworks is simply too great.
Grant Meyer, a University of New Mexico geologist who studies “what relationships exist between fire, climate and erosion over Holocene timescales” tells the Christian Science Monitor that while severe wildfires have always occurred:
… recent experience down here suggests that what we’re looking at in the last few decades is at least as severe and maybe more so than anything we’ve seen since the last Ice Age,” he adds.
A build-up of fuels from forestry practices that emphasized fire suppression is partly responsible, he says.
“But part of it as well – and the data are very good on this – it’s climatic warming” as human industrial activity and land-use changes have pumped increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, he says.
[For more on the relative contribution of forest management practices and climate change to the recent soaring wildfire trend, see Wildfires in a Globally-Warmed World.]
A long-term average decline in annual snow pack, which provides the bulk of the region’s water, along with rising average temperatures have lengthened the fire season and dried out the fuel.
New Mexico, along with much of Texas (which has had a record fire season), and the southeastern US is in the throes of extreme to exceptional drought conditions
Jerome McDonald of the Southwest Area Incident Management Team said, “As firefighters we’re seeing extreme fire behavior and the kind of growth we haven’t seen in our careers.” Los Alamos fire chief Donald Tucker, “We have seen fire behavior we’ve never seen down here, and it’s really aggressive.”