Climate change fuels record heat, drought and wildfires in western United States

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The western United States is feeling the effects of climate change this summer as some areas suffer from record high temperatures, drought and wildfires.

Adam Coates, an ecology and forest fire management expert at Virginia Tech, explains that there are many complexities of climate change that lead to these extreme weather conditions, including how temperature and precipitation are altered.

“The high temperatures seen in many places today are also accompanied by a lack of adequate precipitation during periods of high temperatures. When temperatures are high and rainfall is low, vegetation can dry out, ”says Coates, assistant professor in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, College of Natural Resources and the Environment at Virginia Tech. .

Coates maintains an active research program focused primarily on the ecology of fire. This includes elements of fire behavior, fuels, fire effects, forestry and restoration ecology.

Coates says the ingredients that fuel wildfires are heat, oxygen and dry vegetation.

“Whether it’s lightning ignitions or human activities, such as the inability to put out campfires or arson, fires often ignite under these conditions,” says Coates. “As many natural landscapes have gone for years without proper management, fuel loads and structures are often prepared for significant forest fire activity.”

For communities and neighborhoods at risk of wildfires this season, Coates offers the following tips on how to protect your home.

“There are two rules that people can really follow. First, follow local ordinances and common sense – do not burn outdoors when local conditions suggest the risk of a forest fire is high. Make an extra effort to properly extinguish campfires and other open fires when burning is permitted. “

“Second, to promote and defend active management of wild lands. Fuels and other materials accumulate naturally in the absence of active management of forests and wildlands which may include logging, thinning and management of invasive species.

Coates says that if you own a home, especially in a fire-prone area, make sure your community is working to reduce the risk of wildfires by following the guidelines set out by FireWise.


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