Is the Extended California Wildfire Season the New Normal?

Is the Extended California Wildfire Season the New Normal? Is the Extended California Wildfire Season the New Normal?

November 12, 20182 min read

Historically, the wildfire season in the west begins in summer and ends in early fall, but with five wildfires currently burning in California, it seems that things are changing.

Not only are these fires changing history with their timing, the Camp Fire is now the deadliest in California history, according to BBC. As of today, the fire has burned 113,000 acres, part of a total of almost 200,000 acres burned across the state in the last week.  

Dr. Jacqualine Grant, associate professor of biology at Southern Utah University and expert on conservation biology, suggests that the new patterns are due to a changing climate and increased numbers of people living between wildlands and urban areas.

“Because patterns in climate have changed, places such as California and Utah have less winter snowpack and are warmer for longer than they have been in the past. Although the weather may shift from year to year, the long-term trend is toward warmth and dryness.”

California, like much of the western United States, is part of a natural, fire-based environment. And if it is hot and dry, then wildfires are likely to start.

“Are more fires burning now than in the past? The answer depends on what you define as ‘the past.’ As shown in a recent analysis by ecologists Murphy, Yocom, and Belmont at Utah State University, four to twelve percent of lands in the western U.S. burned each year when you consider fire history before 1980. However, if you start in the 1980’s then yes, we are definitely seeing a rise in the occurrence and size of fires.”

“What this tells us is that fire is a natural part of living in the western USA, and we now have a higher tree and shrub density on the land because we suppressed the natural fire cycle for decades. When you overlay heat, dryness, and fuel with human settlement in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), the problem worsens because humans are responsible for a large proportion of wildfires.”

Homeowners can reduce their risk of loss by using firewise landscaping on their properties and working with the neighbors to minimize risk to all. Dr. Jackie Grant will be teaching a firewise landscaping course through the SUU Community Education Program next spring semester. The course will be open to the public and help people learn how to modify their homes and yards to reduce the risk of a wildfire turning into a house fire.

As a conservation biologist, Dr. Grant’s work focuses on green infrastructure and organismal biology related to insects, mammals, and amphibians. She is familiar with the media and available for an interview. Simply visit her profile.

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  • Jacqualine Grant
    Jacqualine Grant Associate Professor of Biology / Museum Curator

    Conservation biologist whose work focuses on green infrastructure and organismal biology.

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