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Study: Climate Change Responsible For Surge In Wildfires

Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

A firefighter battles a wildfire near Placerita Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, Calif., Sunday, July 24, 2016. The Sand Fire forced evacuations as it raged in tinder-dry California hills and canyons.

Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

A new study finds that human caused climate change is behind a surge in western forest fires. Scientists say the area burned by wildfire has more than doubled in the last three decades.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds increased temperatures and drier conditions have caused fire to spread an additional 16,000 square miles than they otherwise would have. That's larger than the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.

The study does not cover western grasslands. While they have also seen an increase in fires, scientists say there is little evidence climate plays a role. 

Fires in western forests began increasing abruptly in the 1980s, as measured by area burned, the number of large fires, and length of the fire season. Public officials have blamed human-influenced climate change, but the new study may be the first to quantify that assertion.

The new analysis showed temperature increases caused by rising levels of greenhouse gas pollution have had a drying effect on Western forests that caused 10.4 million acres to char in large fires between 1984-2015.