248 homes destroyed in Colorado, thousands of people evacuated in Utah, as summer heat waves reach new highs and drought conditions sweep through the United States it seems as if every time we turn on the TV another super fire has erupted in some remote forested part of the country. It turns out those fires may not be left so much to chance as a changing environment and man-made conditions.
Inquisitr spoke with Dr. Peter Z. Fulé, Forestry Professor with the College of Engineering, Forestry, and Natural Sciences at Northern Arizona University and he revealed that much of the destruction we are witnessing at the moment is related to very specific conditions:
“Much of what we’re currently seeing with super fires is due in part to climate change and related to this we’re having a very dry year in the West – the drought indices currently show prime conditions for these types of fires. These forests are also filled mainly with Ponderosa Pines, which are a very dry, highly flammable tree. We wanted dense forests a hundred years ago, but now that’s starting to cause problems. A dry season, coupled with dense, dry forests create the perfect conditions for wildfires to start and to spread quickly.”
Dr. Fulé and his team of researchers are determined to figure out why super fires are so prevalent in the United States and to reach that goal they have examined historical and current data alongside comparative data from Mexico.
“At NAU we conduct a lot of different studies on forests in the U.S. and abroad” says Dr. Fulé. “For instance, we’ve done comparative studies on the U.S. and Mexico where both areas have very similar ecosystems but each has been impacted very differently due to human intervention, etc. In Mexico the forests are burning naturally, and healthily, on their own whereas in the U.S. we’re seeing more and larger super fires because forests are no longer naturally thinning themselves out. Another way we conduct research on forest management is by analyzing tree rings. This allows us to look at patterns in the forests dating back 300 to 400 years – beyond the Industrial Revolution – to see how the forests were being naturally maintained before humans intervened.”
The teams ultimate goal is determining how to predict and plan for super fires that may arrive in the future. The researchers currently use a modeling simulation that allows them to examine how future conditions could lend themselves to super fire causing scenarios. The team’s goal is not only to predict future fires but create plans of action to avoid those potentially devastating fires.
“With modeling we can simulate future scenarios with fires / patterns / climate change. Using data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change we can also factor in the earth’s atmosphere, current social scenarios and either decreased or increased carbon emissions. This type of modeling can create a range of scenarios with broad outcomes. It’s an imperfect process but it is helpful for planning ahead and determining how society will need to adapt and adjust for the long-term. If climate trends and forest density issues continue – these suggest a gloomy picture for the future.”
In the meantime the team at Northern Arizona University has taken a common sense approach to limiting the number of super fires we experience, they suggest that the National Forest Service conduct more controlled burns to remove dangerous underbrush and small trees which in turn should help decrease the risk of super fires. Intentionally controlled fires says Dr. Fulé allow for a more preserved ecosystem.