Wildfire projected to spread like wildfire

Experts predict the severity of wildfires will increase three-fold by the end of the century, which will necessitate a change in wildfire management.
Conventional approaches to wildfire management will have to change and adapt in the coming decades as the severity of wildfires is expected to increase three-fold in the northern hemisphere by the end of the century, a new study suggests.

Globally, more area is expected to burn and there will be increased fire occurrence and greater fire intensity. In turn, that will result in more severe fire seasons and an increase in fire control difficulty, according to ALES researcher Mike Flannigan, the lead author on the study.

Many parts of the world, such as tropical areas and the Mediterranean region already have a full-year fire season, but in northern high latitudes, fire season lengths will, by the end of the century, increase by more than 20 days a year.

The study is a first global review that shows the extent of the increasing length of the fire season and the increasing fire weather severity. It gives a “state of the science” assessment of global fire and climate change and an indication of the strength and trajectory of change in future fire regimes.

The publication provides fire managers from countries around the world with a global picture of expected fire season severity increases.

The results indicate the importance of sharing resources for increased fire protection capacity as well as the importance of early warning as a means of preventing or mitigating disaster fires.

Referring to recent disastrous fires in Australia in ’09, Russia in ’10 and Texas and other U.S. states in ’11 as possible precursors of what is coming, the publication reinforces its underlying message that fire management is going to be greatly challenged in the future and new policy/strategy development is needed.

The study notes four factors that strongly influence fire – fuels, ignition agents, climate/weather and people but adds that we cannot change the weather, nor can we significantly modify lightning activity.

The remaining options are to reduce human-caused ignitions (through education, restricting or excluding the use of fire and by rigorous enforcement of existing policies) and to modify fuels. The authors note that fuels cannot be treated on a global scale but could be treated on a local level near areas of high value.

The study appears in a special issue of Forest Ecology and Management, entitled The Mega-fire reality, published by Elsevier.

The full study can be found at: www.elsevier.com/locate/foreco