We’ve already seen an over-abundance of area burned by wildland fires in the U.S. As bad as it’s been in the western states, it’s been even worse in Alaska. And Canada has, unfortunately, had to write a new record book.
Here’s the area burned (in millions of acres) for each year from 1960 through 2014, which does not include this year (data from NIFC, the National Interagency Fire Center):
It shows a significant upward trend over time; wildfire in the U.S. is getting worse.
But it doesn’t show this year, because the year isn’t over yet. NIFC does, however, provide data for year-to-date area burned, but only since 2005. Let’s add that to the graph:
It’s been pretty high this year, in fact we’ve already suffered more area burned that the whole-year average from 1960 through 2014.
If we compare the area burned before July 17 to that burned after, there are hints but no obvious relationship:
Linear fits (both parametric using least squares, and non-parametric using Theil-Sen) again show hints, but without a statistically significant relationship. I guess that’s to be expected when one only has data since 2005.
Any way you look at it, we can expect more wildfire this year. Not only California, but much of the west is under the thumb of drought. Probably worst is the fact that the snowpack in the west is tremendously low. Snowpack is a crucial source of water in western states, but it’s simply not there this year.
We can certainly expect this year to be a big wildfire season, possibly a record-setter (but prediction is hard, especially about the future). It will be (already has been) a severe strain on firefighters and resources, and a terrible drain on our economy because fighting so much wildfire costs money. And, even with the best — our firefighters — you can’t stop all wildfires from destroying homes and businesses, and taking lives. What’s the price tag on that?