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Western Wildfire Trends

Trends since the 1970s show more large fires and more acres burned by these large wildfires as the West dries out and heats up according to an updated Climate Central analysis. Climate change is one of the key drivers helping set up these dry and hot conditions favorable for wildfires.

Spring and summer — two key seasons for wildfires — have warmed 2.1°F across the West, on average. Some states, particularly those in the Southwest, have warmed even faster. Add in shrinking snowpack that’s also disappearing earlier, and you have a recipe for a wildfire season that’s now 75 days longer and more devastating than it was in the 1970s.

There’s been a notable increase in the large wildfires — defined as those 1,000 acres or bigger. A Climate Central analysis of U.S. Forest Service data through 2014 shows that large fires are three-and-a-half times more common now than they were in the ‘70s. They also burn seven times more acreage in an average year.

The biggest changes are in the Northern Rockies. Large wildfires are now 10 times more common than they used to be and the area burned is up to 45 times greater in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.