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  • Writer's pictureDr. Hansi Singh

Our Warming World and the Growing Threat of Wildfires

Understanding the evolving risks and taking proactive measures to safeguard your operations.

California wildfires near residential house

Our planet is getting hotter, and as a consequence, wildfires are becoming more frequent, intense, and destructive across the globe. This phenomenon is well-documented in the American West, but it's also playing out in other regions with similar climates, like the Mediterranean, parts of Australia, and even Chile, where deadly fires recently ripped through woodlands and into urban areas, causing significant losses.

It's important to understand that not all large-scale fires are wildfires. While wildfires are driven by a complex interplay of local environmental conditions, atmospheric factors, and human activity, other types of fires are intentionally set for purposes like clearing land for agriculture or deforestation, as seen in the Amazon. In many developing regions, agricultural burning is the primary source of fire activity, often leading to poor air quality due to trapped smoke particles, especially when weather patterns like blocking highs prevent proper ventilation of the lower atmosphere.

Smoke from forest fire on hill

So, what makes an area susceptible to wildfires? Two key factors play a major role: fuel availability and flammability. Fuel availability means vegetation that can burn, while flammability means vegetation is sufficiently dry so that it will burn. The amount of fuel depends on adequate rainfall during the wet season to support the growth of brush. Flammability, though, thrives on long, hot, dry seasons with low humidity and soil moisture, turning brush into tinder as the season progresses. Low-level winds during these dry periods further exacerbate the issue by drawing moisture out of the soil and vegetation. The unusual wildfires raging across the Texas panhandle are fueled by strong winds like this.

Climate change significantly impacts both of these factors. 

Firstly, it raises temperatures, leading to increased evaporation (assuming relative humidity maintains stability, which is generally the case). Evaporation dries out soil and brush more effectively, increasing their flammability. Secondly, it amplifies aridity in regions already experiencing dry conditions. This often extends the dry season, allowing more time for soil and brush to dry out and become even more flammable.

But how can regions facing increased aridity still produce enough fuel for wildfires? After all, vegetation needs water to grow. In some areas, warming can lead to more precipitation during the (shorter) wet season, allowing enough vegetation growth to fuel fires. However, other regions, particularly those bordering subtropics, experience decreased precipitation and may even undergo a complete biome shift, like transitioning from forests to grasslands, as water scarcity and frequent fires take hold.

Smoke from hillside wildfire blows towards houses on peak

The risk of wildfires isn't constant throughout the year. Traditionally, each region has a "fire season" when conditions are most conducive to fires – high temperatures, low humidity, abundant dry brush, and potentially, windy weather. In California, for example, fire season starts in late summer and stretches into fall and even winter until major rain events douse the state and put an end to it.

However, wildfire susceptibility also fluctuates year to year. Some seasons see dozens of major fires, while others see none. This variability partly stems from chance – a specific combination of factors, like a spark from a pyrotechnic device landing on dry grass during a gender reveal party near a forest in late summer, can ignite a major blaze. Yet, the factors driving fuel availability and flammability are highly predictable, even several years in advance. High temperatures, low humidity, strong winds, and sufficient wet season precipitation for vegetation growth all contribute to a higher risk of an active fire season.

Smoke from Chile wildfires

Planette's wildfire risk forecasts leverage the predictability of the ocean to forecast fire risk a season, year, or even up to five years in advance. We achieve this by considering a range of predictable factors influencing fire weather susceptibility: temperature, precipitation, humidity and meteorological factors that impact near-surface wind patterns. Our patent-pending technology incorporates the latest advancements in climate science and the power of AI to forecast wildfire weather risks globally. Planette forecasts can empower regional governments, residents and vulnerable industries like forestry, agriculture, logistics, and tourism in fire-prone regions to prepare for the inevitable increase in wildfire risks as our world warms.



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