Wildfire Exposure More Than Doubled Since 2000

More intense and widespread fires caused by climate change and changing air temperature are threatening more existing communities.

2 minute read

July 6, 2023, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Night view of wildfire burning near residential area in California

Attila Adam / Adobe Stock

In an article for Source NM, Mojtaba Sadegh describes the worsening exposure of Americans to wildfire smoke. In the last two decades, close to 600,000 people were directly exposed to wildfires within 3 miles of their homes.

“Three-quarters of that 125% increase in exposure was due to fires’ increasingly encroaching on existing communities. The total burned area increased only 38%, but the locations of intense fires near towns and cities put lives at risk.” According to Sadegh, “Those statistics reflect how the number of people directly exposed to wildfires more than doubled from 2000 to 2019, my team’s new research shows.”

The analysis found 80 percent of wildfire exposure was, unsurprisingly, in the western states, with 70 percent of Americans exposed to wildfire hazards in California, despite the state only having 15 percent of burned areas.

The team found that, while development in the wildland-urban interface and unchecked growth is part of the problem, it only accounts for a small part of the increase in wildfire exposure. “Instead, three-quarters of this trend was driven by intense fires growing out of control and encroaching on existing communities.”

As the warming trend continues, wildfires will grow more intense and dangerous to existing communities. “Reducing emissions will help slow warming, but the risk is already high. Communities will have to both adapt to more wildfires and take steps to mitigate their impacts.”

Wednesday, July 5, 2023 in Source NM

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