Giving Compass' Take:

• A big-picture study indicates that wildfires in the Pacific Northwest could become more frequent in this area based on historical patterns. 

• How can this research help inform disaster relief planning and mobilize donors and communities to start preparing?

• Learn about the spiraling wildfire costs for forest service. 

Many have questioned what the fires—including the Carlton Complex Fire in 2014, the largest in Washington’s history; the 2017 fire season in Oregon; and the 2018 Maple Fire on the Olympic Peninsula—will mean for the region’s future.

For the study in Fire Ecology, researchers considered wildfires in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and western Montana.

“We can’t predict the exact location of wildfires, because we don’t know where ignitions will occur,” says lead author Jessica Halofsky, a research scientist at the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and with the US Forest Service.

“But based on historical and contemporary fire records, we know some forests are much more likely to burn frequently, and models can help us determine where climate change will likely increase the frequency of fire.”

Researchers did their review in response to a survey of stakeholder needs from the Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, a federal-university partnership. State, federal, and tribal resource managers wanted more information on the available science about fire and climate change.

“We’re on the cusp of some big changes. We expect that droughts will become more common, and the interaction of climate and fire could look very different by the mid-21st century,” says David Peterson, professor at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “Starting the process of adapting to those changes now will give us a better chance of protecting forest resources in the future.”

This ecosystem has the highest fire risk today and also has the highest increase in risk due to climate change. The authors predict with high confidence that wildfires in this region will become larger and more frequent.

Read the full article about wildfires in the pacific northwest by Hannah Hickey at Futurity.