Wildfire season has come to be a defining experience of living in the Western United States during the 21st century.

SPOKANE, Wash.– Wildfire season has come to be a defining experience of living in the Western United States during the 21st century.

Like hurricanes in the East, the rhythm of summertime life is increasingly intertwined with tracking the movements of smoke and flame. Fire seasons are undoubtedly becoming worse and more impactful.

LARGE FIRES

large wildfires are becoming more common in the last 50 years

SPOKANE SUMMER TEMPS

Spokane Summer Temperatures are increasing

SUMMER RAINFALL

Summer Rainfall is decreasing in Spokane

Climate change puts stress on Northwest forests in fire season

More days in many western states are getting smokier

Wildfire season has come to be a defining experience of living in the Western United States during the 21st century.

Like hurricanes in the East, the rhythm of summertime life is increasingly intertwined with tracking the movements of smoke and flame. Fire seasons are undoubtedly becoming worse and more impactful.

In 1983, a little over 1.3 million acres of land burned in the United States. In 2021, over 1.4 million acres burned in just Oregon and Washington. Three times in the past five years, over 10 million acres have burned nationwide. On average, over 2 million more acres burned each year in the 2010s than during the 1990s.

This doesn't capture the entire picture, however. Jessica Halofsky is a scientist and director of the Western Wildland Threat Assessment Center and the Northwest Climate Hub for the U.S. Forest Service. She says that since fire is a natural, even essential, part of the ecology of the West, more fire is not necessarily a bad thing.

However, simply looking at acres burned doesn't tell the whole story of why fire seasons are getting worse. Most of those acres burn in large fires, ones that blow up to over 10,000 acres. Those types of fires, the ones that burn the fiercest, are seven times more likely than they were 50 years ago.

Wildfires are burning more severely than in previous decades. That severity can overcome the adaptations of forests that are adapted to more frequent but less severe fires.

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