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Grim western fire season starts much drier than record 2020 – Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs, Colorado 2021-05-25 01:21:35 –

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

It was as bad as last year’s record fire season, but the western United States begins this year even worse.

Western soil is record dry during this time. In many parts of the region, fire-burning plants are also the driest scientists have ever seen.Vegetation is prepared to ignite, especially in the southwest Withered juniper tree It is full of flammable needles.

Brian Steinhart, Forest Fire Zone Manager for Prescott National Forest and Coconino National Forest in Arizona, said:

More than 20 years of climate change droughts have made the situation leading to fire even more dangerous, scientists say.The Rocky Mountains and further west rainfall Second lowest Recorded in April, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“This means that dice will be loaded for many wildfires this year,” said Park Williams, a climate and fire scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Calculated that soil The western half of the country is the driest since 1895. “This summer will enter the fire season with drier fuel than this time last year.”

Also, the drought in the west is deepening weekly.

In late March, less than one-third of California suffered from extreme or exceptional droughts.Currently, over 73% National drought monitor, It is based on measurements of precipitation, temperature, soil moisture and river flow. A year ago, towards the record-breaking 2020 fire year More than 4% of California burned, Only 3% of the states have been hit by extreme or exceptional droughts.

But the outlook is worse elsewhere.

“I think the Southwest is preparing for a really bad fire season,” said Phil Denison, a fire scientist at the University of Utah. This is because the normal monsoon season with heavy rainfall last year never appeared.

A year ago, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah were not extreme or exceptional droughts, according to drought monitors, but now more than 90% of Utah, 86% of Arizona, and 75% of Nevada. It belongs to these highest drought categories. New Mexico has now surged to over 77% from the extreme or exceptional drought of 4% a year ago.

Daniel Swain, a meteorologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, also works at the US Atmospheric Research Center and Nature Reserve, saying that soil and plant wetness are the main factors entering the fire season.

“So is the soil moisture very low? Is the vegetation very dry? Of course. Obviously, yes. In almost everywhere in California and the southwest,” Swain said. “Therefore, the box is heavily checked in a way that significantly increases the flammability of the potential background … sparks are given and extreme weather conditions are given.”

This does not necessarily guarantee that the 2021 fire season will be worse than in 2020. Last year, more than 15,800 square miles (40,960 square kilometers) of the United States burned. Some scientists said last year’s fire was caused not only by the hot and dry conditions, but also by the unusual conditions that made the bad years scary.

Two intense heat waves—one almost set the record for the hottest temperatures on earth Death valley — When the stage was set, California’s extraordinary lightning barrage fired a lot of sparks.

According to Swain, lightning has only occurred a few times in history and is unlikely to occur for the second consecutive year.

“Maybe it’s not the hottest summer,” he added. “I really know the straws here. All we do for us is bad luck.”

They are even more worried when scientists see extremely dry or dying trees.

In Arizona, Juniper has succumbed to a 20-year drought and its two-year intensification, said Joel McMillin, leader of the US Forest Department’s Forest Health Zone. Authorities do not count accurately, but anecdotally, die-offs range from 5% to 30%, with some patches up to 60%.

The risk of fire increases until the dead needle falls to the ground (it takes a year or so), said Fire Chief Steinhardt. “So you have something very flammable, and it’s … 20, 30, 40 feet high, and all of those needles there are now embers that can be fired.”

“This is probably one of the driest and potentially most difficult situations I’ve ever experienced,” said a veteran of the 32 fire seasons.

Scott Stevens, a professor of fire science at the University of California, Berkeley, said drought-resistant blue oaks are dying around the San Francisco Bay Area in California. “They don’t have access to water. The soil moisture is very low. When you start seeing the blue oak dying, it catches your attention.”

According to scientists, anthropogenic climate change and decades of fire control that increase fuel loads are exacerbating fire conditions throughout the west.

Global warming contributes to megadrought, making plants more flammable.

Normally, most of the sun’s energy removes water from plants and soil, but if they are already dry, that energy instead heats the air and creates a feedback loop, Swain said. It was.

According to Denison of the University of Utah, the dry condition leads to the spread of beetles, further weakening and killing trees.

For decades, US fire departments tried to put out the fire as soon as possible, and that usually worked, said Williams of UCLA. However, that practice has accumulated dense wood, brushes, and other potential fire fuels.

“Fires are more and more often out of our control,” he said. “And some of the reasons may be due to the increasing density of fuel, but we also find that these fires are out of our control during the record heat wave. And it’s the warmest and driest years that we struggle to control the fire. “

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