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Study Shows Climate Change Makes Forest Fires Worse


FILE - Firefighters battle the so-called Sand Fire in the Angeles National Forest near Los Angeles, California, July 25, 2016.

New research shows that climate change has significantly increased the intensity and scope of wildfires in the western United States.

A study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that in the last three decades climate change has had an impact for nearly doubling the area hit by forest fires since 1984.

It said the effects of climate change have added more than 16,000 square miles (41,440 sq km) of forest fire area to the western United States since 1984.

The study mainly focused on calculating the dryness of the climate of forests, which is a main predictor of forest fires. It said that the dryness, or "fuel aridity" has a direct relationship with the size of the fires, and said that climate change accounts for 55 percent of the increased aridity in the last few decades.

The research, carried out by scientists from the University of Idaho and Columbia University, showed that natural climate variation would have also dried out the landscape, but said human-caused climate change caused the drying process of forests to double in rate.

The study did not include the effects of other factors that can effect the severity of fires, including the frequency of lightning strikes, the amount of snowpack in western mountains, and human fire-management practices.Some experts say that fire-suppressing policies can lead to more severe fires in the long run because it allows for an overabundance of dry vegetation to grow.

The authors of the study predict forest fires will continue to grow in severity over the next few decades, becoming unrecognizable to previous generations.