Yosemite’s Costly, Climate Stoked Flames

July 29, 2014

Hat tip to D. R. Tucker. Above, NBC finally shows its possible to mention climate change when talking about the effects of climate change.


The costs of fighting wildfires are rising dramatically, and could keep climbing in the face of climate change that’s contributing to longer fire seasons out West and the spread of housing developments near forests, a science group warned Wednesday.

“The annual suppression cost has exceeded $1 billion in each year since 2000,” said Rachel Cleetus, senior climate economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) during a phone conference with reporters Wednesday.

But the actual damage costs — when including lost tourism revenue, the harm caused to public health and expenses related to watershed damage — can dwarf firefighting costs, she added.

The report comes as the largest wildfire in Washington-state history continues to blaze, and a total of 26 fires are burning almost a million acres in the western U.S. Nationally, wildfires have burned less than half the 10-year average so far this summer.

The report noted that since 1985, fire-suppression costs have increased nearly fourfold from $440 million (in 2012 dollars) to more than $1.7 billion in 2013.

Brian Kahn for Climate Central:

For the past few weeks, dry and warm weather have fueled large forest fires across Canada’s remote Northwest Territories. The extent of those fires is well above average for the year to-date, and is in line with climate trends of more fires burning in the northern reaches of the globe.

Of the 186 wildfires in the Northwest Territories to-date this year, 156 of them are currently burning. That includes the Birch Creek Fire complex, which stretches over 250,000 acres.

The amount of acres burned in the Northwest Territories is six times greater than the 25-year average to-date according to data from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.

Boreal forests like those in the Northwest Territories are burning at rates “unprecedented” in the past 10,000 years according to the authors of a study put out last year. The northern reaches of the globe are warming at twice the rate as areas closer to the equator, and those hotter conditions are contributing to more widespread burns.

The combined boreal forests of Canada, Europe, Russia and Alaska, account for 30 percent of the world’s carbon stored in land, carbon that’s taken up to centuries to store. Forest fires like those currently raging in the Northwest Territories, as well as ones in 2012 and 2013 in Russia, can release that stored carbon into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Warmer temperatures can in turn create a feedback loop, priming forests for wildfires that release more carbon into the atmosphere and cause more warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark climate report released earlier this year indicates that for every 1.8°F rise in temperatures, wildfire activity is expected to double.

In addition, soot from forest fires can also darken ice in the Arctic and melt it faster. The 2012 fires in Siberia released so much soot that they helped create a shocking melt of Greenland’s ice sheet. Over the course of a few weeks in July that year, 95 percent of the surface melted. That could become a yearly occurrence by 2100 if temperatures continue to rise along with wildfire activity.

Forest in other parts of the globe are also feeling the effects of climate change. In the western U.S., wildfire season has lengthened by 75 days compared to 40 years ago. Additionally, rising temperatures and shrinking snowpack have helped drive an increase in the number of large forest fires. In Australia, fire danger is also increasing, if not the total number of fires, due to a similar trend of hotter, dryer weather.





12 Responses to “Yosemite’s Costly, Climate Stoked Flames”

  1. rayduray Says:

    The Motherboard website says things are just getting started, as far as Western fires are concerned.


    They may be right, we just had nearly 800 lightning strikes in Deschutes County (Central Oregon) this afternoon. And the real action comes on Thursday this week.


  2. redskylite Says:

    Much the same story on the other side of the world in Siberia, apart from new (methane escape?) holes being discovered and global weirding.


  3. dumboldguy Says:

    Son lives in CO, most of which is not feeling the drought as badly as states further south and west. He works for a travel adventure company and leads groups all over the country from Acadia to the Olympics to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite, among others. He took a couple of groups to Yosemite earlier in the season and says he has never seen it drier—-streams are drying up and the falls are much reduced. If this keeps up a few more years it will be game over.

    PS Another strange phenomenon in CA—-did anyone see the news about a lot of lightning in the south? Lightning apparently is rather rare out there and they had some fatalities on the beaches. How about it, you CA folks? Is this more climate change craziness?

    • andrewfez Says:

      I’ve lived in So. Cal for 9 years and I can only recall 1 or 2 storms where I heard thunder. It never rains but maybe 5 to 10 times a year in the winter, and the last few years I only recall it raining 3 to 5 times or so.

      I saw some kid got struck and killed by lightning at the beach on my facebook feed yesterday.

      Hope they haven’t closed of the state park where i hike as i’m headed out the door tomorrow for such. Sometimes they close parts of the park down when it gets too dry, as on a lot of trails, there ain’t no where to run if a fire would come through, the bush being so thick and the terrain so jagged. Last year some park ranger in a helicopter hovered above me and shouted something via a bull horn apparatus attached to the thing. I couldn’t tell what he was saying, but i assume he saw a fire, as moments later a set of emergency vehicles were headed up the mountain as i was coming down.

  4. I guess we can add wildfire to our list of GW positive feedbacks. Releasing the carbon in boreal forests. Not theoretical anymore.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Throw in more tornadoes in Massachusetts and Maine, and a killer tornado that hit the eastern shore—-all within days of each other.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        PS—-meant “eastern shore of Virginia”, which doesn’t see many tornadoes except when hurricanes are passing over

  5. rayduray Says:

    NPR’s Here and Now interviews a California farmer about the drought.



    On how water allocations and expensive additional water is impacting the farm

    “Citrus, especially the mandarins that we grow, need a certain amount of water. You can’t say, ‘I’m gonna cut the water, say, 30 percent.’ If you cut the water, the fruit is going to be tiny fruit and the packers are not gonna pack that and it’s all gonna be thrown away. So I had to decide which acreage is gonna get water and which acreage is not gonna get water. And, to make long story short, I decided to take out about 85 acres of really well-producing citrus out of production… The reason that I took those acres out — they were in their prime, they were producing good fruit and good production — but when I plugged into my Excel sheets the cost of my water, it came out that I would lose about $1,500 dollars an acre if I farmed them this year, even if I found the water.”

  6. […] Hat tip to D. R. Tucker. Above, NBC finally shows its possible to mention climate change when talking about the effects of climate change. USAToday: The costs of fighting wildfires are rising dramatically, …  […]

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