Climate change is partly to blame for the growing number of major wildfires, but human beings are the real culprit.
That’s one conclusion of a recently released study by researchers with the University of Colorado-Boulder who analyzed U.S. wildfire records from 1992 to 2012. They found that the early arrival of warmer and drier conditions each year is causing more fires across the West, but humans are behind the fact that the fire season now lasts nearly year-round. The report says most lightning-started fires occur in summer, while three-quarters of human-ignited fires are in spring, fall, and winter. One indicator of people’s role in starting fires is that in America, the peak day for fires is the Fourth of July, with twice as many as any other summer day. The study also found that people are now triggering wildfires in areas where lightning would be unlikely to start them, thus increasing the amount of terrain prone to blazes. The report states, “Human-started wildfires accounted for 84% of all wildfires, tripled the length of the fire season, dominated an area seven times greater than that affected by lightning fires, and were responsible for nearly half of all area burned.” The researchers say these facts make national and regional policy interventions and increased public awareness critical for reducing wildfire risk.