Climate change is making it harder to set controlled burns

Fewer days will have the right conditions for prescribed fires

One way that natural resource managers deal with catastrophic wildfires associated with climate change is by using more prescribed fires. But climate change is making it harder for managers to carry out these controlled burns.

Prescribed fires can clear out dry vegetation that could easily ignite into an inferno. But to light them, firefighters need ideal conditions—not too damp, not too hot, not too windy.

Researchers found that rising temperatures will cut the number of days for controlled burns by 17% across the West, where wildfires can be particularly devastating. Implementing controlled burns in the region, they found, will require new policies and more firefighters available in the winter, when the weather may be more cooperative. Many wildlife firefighters are seasonal employees, working only in the summer.

“This paper is giving us advanced warning,” said Kristen Shive, a University of California Berkeley expert on wildfires and a co-author on the study published in Nature Communications Earth and Environment. “Hopefully, we can change policies to either extend those folks or create winter-specific crews.”


Header Image: A firefighter monitors a controlled burn on the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona. Credit: Kaibab National Forest