Climate change is setting the stage for wildfires beyond California and Oregon, fueling hotter, drier conditions in places such as Oklahoma and Nebraska not historically prone to large wildfires, according to a new analysis from Climate Central.
“As wildfire weather becomes more prevalent, there are more days when extreme conditions can blow small blazes up into big ones or fuel the continued growth of large wildfires,” the report said. “That’s creating greater risks to public health, property, and local and regional economies from flames and smoke.”
For the report, researchers gauged the change in the number of “fire-prone days” in 17 states across the West from 1973 to 2020. These are days when temperatures of at least 45 to 55 degrees F (depending on the season), low humidity, and wind speeds greater than 15 miles per hour.
In the last half-century, parts of California, Texas, and New Mexico have accrued two additional months of “fire weather.” In some areas in southern Texas, California, Oregon, and Washington, the number of fire-prone days has roughly doubled since 1973.
“Going into Oklahoma and parts of Kansas … even parts of Nebraska — it is changing,” Kaitlyn Weber, a data analyst for Climate Central, told Reuters. “The weather is setting the stage more often for these serious fires.”