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Fire Science

Wildfires are unwanted, unplanned fires that burn in forests and other wildlands, such as shrub or grass communities. Preventing and fighting them begins with understanding the science of how they start, and why they continue to be such a big problem. Why has the number of acres burned remained so high over the last few years?

Many factors are involved in the increase in the number and size of wildfires:

  1. Increased complexity of implementing fire suppression, especially with the increased residential development in the wildland urban interface (WUI).
  2. Increased complexity of implementing fuels treatment programs has resulted in hazardous accumulations of forest and rangeland debris, and fuels such as fallen leaves, branches, excessive plant overgrowth, ladder fuels, and dead vegetation. “Ladder fuels” are positioned so that fire can spread from low to medium to high vegetation (for example from grass to bushes to trees). On a single tree, the fire can spread from ground level branches to mid branches and eventually to the crowns (tops) of the trees.
  3. Climate change is producing drier and hotter weather patterns and longer “fire seasons.”
  4. Overcrowded stands and drought patterns result in cyclical insect and disease outbreaks, which create large areas of dead and dying wood.