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Wildfires Becoming More Common in Southern States

This year has seen a significant uptick in wildfires across much of the South, spurred by drought and heat waves. The region's pattern of development increases the potential danger.
December 16, 2016, 7am PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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The fires are spreading to another region of the country. "According to the Forest Service, wildfires have scorched more than 1.4 million acres in the South so far this year — more than double the total in 2015."

Many Western states are accustomed to this reality, but some areas of the South need to adapt. Lyndsey Gilpin writes, "Fueled by possible signals of climate change such as widespread drought and record-setting heat waves, this wildfire season may be a sign of things to come for the Southeast, which is densely populated and, in some areas, less accustomed to dealing with so many vicious fires."

"The dry, hot conditions in the region have been building since early this year. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that 24.2 million people in its Southeast region live in drought-affected areas." In addition, tropical storms, which usually account for much of the region's precipitation, stayed near the coasts this year.

The South's pattern of semi-rural development increases the threat to property. "Wildfires present such danger in the region partly because a significant amount of the population — more than in any other region — lives in wildland-urban interfaces, where development meets natural areas."

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Published on Thursday, December 8, 2016 in FiveThirtyEight
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