US Northwest towns ‘woefully unprepared’ as fire risk grows

Associated Press

With historically short summers, the swath of densely forested coastal territory stretching from British Columbia into northwestern Oregon has long been cloaked in a protective veil of moisture, making even medium-sized fires relatively rare. So-called “megafires” — enveloping hundreds of thousands of acres and even generating their own weather — have occurred only at century-plus intervals.

But global warming is changing the region’s seasons. A national climate assessment prepared by 13 federal agencies and released in 2018 said the Pacific Northwest had warmed nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900 and that trend would continue into the century, leading to warmer winters and less mountain snowpack.

Experts say these long-term changes create a special risk in Pacific Northwest forests, where past wet weather has created ample fuel for fires: Even a modest increase in contributing factors, like days without rain, could make them much more prone to burning.

“It’s a couple of degrees difference. It’s a couple of weeks’ difference,” said Michael Medler, a fire scientist and chair of the environmental studies department at Western Washington University. “Those are the kinds of changes that amount to taking a forest and pushing it over the edge.”

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Monday, August 5, 2019 - 9:10am

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