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South Coast Researcher Looks At Relationship Between Climate Change, Fire Suppression In Wildfires

(KCLU photo)
The 2018 Woolsey wildfire burned nearly 100,000 acres of land in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.

2020 was the worst wildfire year on record for the Western United States, with 10 million acres burned, 10,000 structures destroyed, and an estimated 20 billion dollars in damage.

A team of scientists and a lab on the South Coast are looking at some of the key factors behind wildfires.

They’re focusing on the relationship between climate change and more than a hundred years of fire suppression.

Dr. Naomi Tague is a professor of ecohydrology and ecoinformatics at UC Santa Barbara.  She says we’ve been incredible successful in preventing wildfires over the years, which has disrupted the natural cycle, and created huge fuel buildups in some areas.

The research show that climate change can be a big factor, as can be fire suppression.  We know in many cases it can increase the fire danger, because of things like hotter weather, and increased drought.  But, it shows in some cases, climate change may actually reduce the fire threat, because over time the changes reduce vegetation, which can decrease the fuel available for a blaze.

This computer modeling is considered to be a cutting-edge window into the interplay of climate change and fire suppression.  Tague’s UCSB lab is at the center of the national research study.

The researcher says this is the first stage in developing tools which can give us a window into these different factors, and may eventually be used to assess fire danger in specific areas.  Tague says what they’re developing isn’t ready yet to help guide wildfire policy.

But, the researcher hopes they will be able to develop something which can be used as a tool to not only help us better understand the environment, but to improve wildfire safety.

The study’s findings were just published in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters.

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