2.6 Extremes in climate, extremes in fire

Monday, 20 June 2005: 2:45 PM
North & Center Ballroom (Hilton DeSoto)
Timothy J. Brown, DRI, Reno, Nevada

A predicted consequence of climate change is a change in the frequency of observed extreme events. That is, more extreme weather and climate events may be expected as a result of climate change. These changes will impact fire. For example, numerous global climate model predictions indicate an increase in wildfire severity, area burned and length of the fire season resulting from a change in one or more climate elements (e.g., temperature, precipitation). There is evidence of change in climate extremes as reported by IPCC. From the fire perspective, there may also be a change of extremes underway. It is interesting to note during the past few years the extent that fire suppression crews and fire specialists are reporting never before seen extremes. For example, the permafrost layer in Alaska burned in 2004, and in 2003 plywood was reported burning by support aircraft at 1500 feet altitude due to extreme fire behavior during the southern California fire siege. Some of the reported extremes can be attributed in part to climate, but societal decisions can account for others. Fire suppression, fire exclusion and the wildland/urban interface are societal inputs that have helped shape a landscape of potential new extremes in fire. Thus, the new paradigm for fire management is the merging of three shaping factors leading to extremes in fire – climate, historical management practices, and current land use activities. This paper will provide examples of extremes in fire, discuss the roles of climate and humans as shaping factors for extremes, and discuss management implications given climate and fire extremes in the 21st century.
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