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Thank Climate Change and Sprawl for Worsening Wildfires

Along with climate conditions, urban sprawl is intensifying wildfires and increasing the damage they do.
July 8, 2016, 9am PDT | Elana Eden
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Donny Ash

In light of the recent evacuations in Alberta and the seemingly never-ending fire season in California, worsening fires throughout North America have been attributed to the impacts of climate change. But Undark notes that patterns of human development can also make fires more dangerous.

For one, "the population in an area, where people live, and how many roads there are, all affect the behavior of fires and their risk to people."

More development at the edge of urban areas and wildlands could make the consequences of fires there much greater.

“For some of the problems like, home losses, or fatalities, or evacuability of our fire prone communities, or budgets — how many hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year on fire suppression — a lot of that comes back to something that is not a fuels problem, it’s an issue of where and how we built our human developments,” [researcher Max Moritz] said.

The more of these problems the U.S. Forest Service and local fire departments have to deal with, the more resources they have to expend on each fire.

And one theory argues that the long-standing strategy of suppression—which can ultimately lead to bigger, wilder fires—also grew from the shift to fossil fuels and a new power infrastructure during the industrial revolution.

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Published on Thursday, June 2, 2016 in Undark
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