The American West is burning faster than it has been in a decade. New Mexico has been battling for more than a month among its biggest ever wildfires. About 3 million acres of US land – roughly the size of Connecticut – have been burned this year. With summer starting tomorrow and a widespread heat wave already in place, the burning is likely to get worse.
Environmentalists and foresters said climate change has created a troubling reality: Wildfire seasons have turned into wildfire years, starting as early as spring and sometimes into the following winter.
Consider the number of wildfires that occurred between January and mid-June over the past 10 years:
The intensity of these fires also intensified. California has had two of its biggest cases in the past two years: the Dixie Fire in 2021 of nearly one million acres, and the August compound fire in 2020 that exceeded one million acres.
The most frequent and severe fires are dangerous. They emit smoke that can damage the lungs of people who live hundreds or even thousands of miles away. They burn homes, crops and even centuries-old cultures, causing economic damage estimated in the tens of billions of dollars.
Today’s newsletter will explain why these large fires are spreading and what experts believe it will take to reverse the trend.
How did we get here
Wildfires have burned the West for thousands of years, but they are becoming more and more dangerous due to human activity.
People cause the vast majority of wildfires (about 96 percent so far this year), and people have gone to great lengths to fight them, just to set the table for more fires. Paul Heisberg, an ecologist with the US Forest Service, explained that the country’s well-intentioned strategy of fire suppression over the past century has created an abnormal accumulation of substances that serve as igniters for wildfires: twigs, grasses, shrubs, trees, even homes.
Humans have also spent decades releasing the planet’s warm gases into the atmosphere, rapidly warming the climate and helping wildfires get hotter, bigger, and faster.
Fires early in the year are becoming increasingly common as the American West dries up and temperatures rise. Winters are much warmer, which provides less comfort from the heat.
On mountaintops, winter snow, which can slow forest fires by adding moisture to forest wood, is beginning to melt earlier in the spring and more quickly. High winds dried up the fires and accelerated the movement of wildfires.
Years of global warming, drought, and high winds in the West worked hand in hand with the buildup of forest fuels, Heisburg said, to “prepare the dining-room table for the situation we are in now.”
What is being done
Experts said removing the bushfire fuel source early is the main way to prevent or reduce its impact. One option is to manually thin the woods with saws, rakes and buckets. There is another described type of fire, which is deliberately set to consume dead trees and young trees at a much lower intensity.
These two methods can also be combined, but both require planning and technical expertise. Manual loosening can be slow and laborious. Described burns should occur under appropriate weather and fuel conditions (which are becoming more scarce due to climate change) to reduce the risk of uncontrolled burning.
There are challenges with public confidence. Locals who feared the smoky air fought more of the prescribed burn. And sometimes, as happened in New Mexico this spring, erratic winds can push a specific fire out of firefighters’ control.
Experts agree that bushfire management must be more proactive. They offer a number of ideas: loosening prescribed burning restrictions, increasing prescribed burning or even letting wildfires burn for a while when they are not threatening lives or livelihoods.
Experts acknowledge that their proposals must overcome residents’ fears and political challenges. But they warn that if nothing is done and if a landscape full of trees, leaves, and twigs is not addressed, the wildfires will only get worse.
war in ukraine
If you think you don’t like roses, explore different types, especially if you only have very pale roses that are trendy or tasteless and that seemed tasteless or too sweet. “You may find, in fact, that you’ve been missing something all these years that is very tasty,” Eric says.
Head to a serious independently owned wine store, and ask for help, he says. “What is necessary is to talk to the people in the store, who really tend to care about what they are selling and who want to make people happy.”
Here are Eric’s picks of 12 exceptional roses, priced from $13 to $35. – Natasha Frost, Briefing Writer