Just Explain It: Wildfires On The Rise

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  And scientists predict we’ll be seeing a lot of both in the coming decades.
 
Already, wildfires have torched around 40,000 acres of land in California alone.  The average for this time of year is 1,200 acres.  Officials say the peak fire season has started weeks in advance and will last into the fall. 

Because federal, state and local agencies are involved in wildfire suppression, it’s hard to come up with an accurate damage estimate.  However the National Interagency Fire Center says almost $2 billion were spent putting them out in 2012.

In today’s Just Explain It, we’ll take a look at why scientists believe wildfire activity is on the rise and what areas of the United States will be affected.
 
Each year wildfires burn an average of four to five million acres of land across the country. In 2012, 9.3 million acres of land and more than 4,400 structures were destroyed.  That’s the third highest number of acres burned since 1960.

And scientists estimate that number’s gonna go up. Why? Well they say greenhouse gas emissions will cause drier conditions and then more fires – extreme fires - in the next 30 to 50 years. And higher temps and lower rainfall have increased the probability of a dangerous fire season.
 
Will 2013 top last year? It might.  The U-S Forest Service expects a busy season. That’s because drought conditions will continue through the fall in much of the South and Southwest. The predicted hot spots are Southern California, New Mexico, Arizona and Florida.

It was previously thought that Americans would only see one year of excessive fire activity per decade.  But now -- according to new climate models -- we could see up to four high-fire years per decade by 2050.
 
So, how are wildfires started in the first place?  In the U-S, humans are the main cause.  In fact, we’re six times more likely than a natural event – like lightning – to start a wildfire.  And that adds up. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, humans caused over 58,000 of these fires in 2012. Things like fireworks, cigarette butts, campfires and arson may have sparked them.  That same year lightning strikes were to blame for starting about 9,000 wildfires.
 
Firefighters work around the clock to try to stop the destruction of life and property.  But there’s nothing like knowing how to prevent a fire to save lives and money.  Here are some tips.
 
Building a campfire can be very fun.  But just avoid starting one in very dry campsite conditions.
 
If you have to burn debris, check with the weather conditions and with your local fire department to find out if it’s even allowed. Wind can cause small fires to quickly spread out of control.
 
Also, maintain your outdoor equipment properly.  Things like lawn mowers, chain saws and motorcycles should be fitted with spark arrestors to reduce their risk of starting a fire.
 
And as Smokey Bear has famously been saying for years - Only you can prevent wildfires, but are you really prepared?
 
Let us know. Give us your feedback in the comments below or on Twitter using #JustExplainItNews.
 

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