Extreme Weather Toolkit: Wildfire

Fire weather infographic - Western Fire Weather Days Increasing

More frequent hot, dry, windy conditions contribute to more wildfires that put people and ecosystems at risk. 

Wildfires can be an ecologically important disturbance. But human-caused climate change, poor land management practices, and sprawling development have increased both the availability of fuel and the frequency of weather conditions that spark and spread dangerous fires.

Wildfires can injure people, disrupt livelihoods, displace communities, lead to power outages, and take lives. Wildfire smoke is a serious concern for human health, crops and livestock.

In the U.S., both burned area and wildfire suppression costs increased about fourfold from 1985 to 2015. 

Both lightning-caused and human-caused fires have long occurred. But humans started 84% of wildfires from 1992 to 2012, tripling the fire season length and accounting for nearly half of all area burned over that period. 

Regardless of how fires start, more frequent hot, dry, windy fire weather conditions affect fuel availability, fire behavior (ignition, duration, and spreading), and can compromise suppression efforts. 

Human-caused climate change accounts for at least two-thirds of the rapid increase in fire weather in the western U.S. in recent decades. And the latest IPCC reports project more frequent fire weather conditions with increased warming.

According to Climate Central analysis, parts of New Mexico, Texas, and southern California have experienced some of the largest recent increases in fire weather days.

Wildfires are worsening in the western U.S., including the two largest in California history: the 2020 August Complex fire and 2021 Dixie fire, each burning nearly or more than 1 million acres.

Resources

These resources explore the science, trends, and local impacts of wildfire in the U.S.

Search our resource library