The Escalating Wildfire Threat: Climate Change’s Role in Intensifying Fire Dangers

by Santiago Fernandez
Climate Change Wildfires

Recent collaborative research by the Desert Research Institute, Argonne National Laboratory, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, published in, highlights an expected rise in wildfire dangers and a prolongation of fire seasons in the United States, attributed to climate change. The study, which scrutinizes historical wildfire occurrences and future climatic projections, aims to offer vital knowledge for the effective management of wildfires.

The team of researchers evaluated various fire hazard indices across the continental U.S. to gauge the influence of climate change on future wildfire threats and season durations.

Wildfires represent some of the most catastrophic natural events in the nation, posing risks to human life, demolishing properties and infrastructure, and causing air pollution. Accurate prediction and efficient management of wildfires are essential for fire managers to comprehend the risks involved and to strategically allocate resources. This new research provides critical scientific insights for these purposes.

Evaluating Future Fire Hazards

Published in the November edition of Earth’s Future, the study involved scientists from DRI, Argonne National Laboratory, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their focus was to determine future fire hazards. They analyzed four North American fire danger indices, correlating them with recorded wildfire sizes from 1984 to 2019. The research also explored how these risks are expected to evolve under future climatic conditions, revealing an increase in both fire potential and fire season length due to climate change.

Thorough Risk Analysis

Lead author Guo Yu, Ph.D., an assistant research professor at DRI, noted the use of multiple fire danger indices to assess fire risk in the U.S. Prior studies mainly examined climate change’s impact on wildfire risk through a single index, rarely linking it to the actual size or characteristics of wildfires. This study aimed to conduct a comprehensive analysis of both aspects.

A significant element of the study, represented in Figure 6, illustrates the anticipated rise in the average number of days with extreme fire danger from the present until the end of the 21st century.

Fire danger indices incorporate data on weather conditions and fuel moisture (dryness of ground vegetation). Key indices in North America include the USGS Fire Potential Index, the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index, and the Energy Release Component and Burning Indices from the National Fire Danger Rating System.

Correlation and Future Climate Projections

The research utilized satellite remote sensing data spanning 1984-2019 to correlate potential fire risk with the actual size of over 13,000 wildfires (excluding controlled burns). It revealed a stronger correlation over larger areas, where higher wildfire risks often led to larger fires.

Future climate projections fed into the fire danger indices predict an average 10-day increase in extreme wildfire risk across the continental U.S. by century’s end, mainly due to rising temperatures. Regions like the southern Great Plains are expected to experience over 40 additional days of extreme fire danger annually. Conversely, areas like the Pacific Northwest and mid-Atlantic coasts might see a reduced wildfire risk season, thanks to increased rainfall and humidity.

Regional Differences and Seasonal Changes

In the Southwest, projections show over 20 additional days of extreme wildfire conditions annually, primarily during spring and summer. Furthermore, extended wildfire seasons into winter months are anticipated, especially in the Texas-Louisiana coastal area.

Yu expressed surprise at the heightened winter fire danger under a warmer climate, noting the counterintuitive nature of this finding but acknowledging the extensive changes climate change brings to the environment.

Implications for Fire Management

The study’s findings are intended to aid fire managers in preparing for potential wildfire sizes and understanding the shifts and extensions in fire seasonality due to climate change.

Reference: “Performance of Fire Danger Indices and Their Utility in Predicting Future Wildfire Danger Over the Conterminous United States” by Guo Yu, Yan Feng, Jiali Wang, and Daniel B. Wright, 20 November 2023, Earth’s Future.
DOI: 10.1029/2023EF003823

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Climate Change Wildfires

What does the study about wildfires and climate change reveal?

The study, involving research from DRI, Argonne National Laboratory, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, indicates a projected increase in wildfire risks and longer fire seasons in the U.S. due to climate change. By analyzing past wildfire data and future climate models, it provides crucial insights for effective wildfire management.

How does climate change affect wildfire risks and seasons?

Climate change is expected to intensify wildfire risks and extend fire seasons in the U.S. The study predicts an average increase of 10 days in extreme wildfire risk across the continental U.S. by the end of the century, mainly driven by rising temperatures.

What are fire danger indices and why are they important?

Fire danger indices are tools that use weather conditions and fuel moisture data to assess wildfire risks. They are crucial for predicting and managing wildfires. The study examined four major indices used in North America to evaluate how they correlate with observed wildfire sizes and how they might change under future climate scenarios.

Which regions in the U.S. are most affected by increased wildfire risks due to climate change?

Regions such as the southern Great Plains, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas, are projected to experience more than 40 additional days per year of extreme wildfire danger. The study also notes that the Southwest U.S. is likely to see over 20 additional days of extreme wildfire conditions annually, mostly in spring and summer.

What are the implications of this study for wildfire management?

The study’s findings are crucial for fire managers to understand potential wildfire sizes and to prepare accordingly. It also helps in comprehending how fire seasonality will shift and extend under changing climatic conditions, enabling better resource allocation and risk mitigation strategies.

More about Climate Change Wildfires

  • Climate Change and Wildfire Risk Study
  • Understanding Fire Danger Indices
  • Wildfire Management Strategies
  • Regional Impact of Climate Change on Wildfires
  • Advances in Wildfire Prediction Tools

You may also like


Samantha T. December 29, 2023 - 6:34 am

Great article! shows how serious climate change is, hope we can find ways to manage these risks better in the future.

Dave_123 December 29, 2023 - 10:19 am

not sure if all these predictions will come true, but it’s important info. climate change is a real thing guys.

Julia K. December 29, 2023 - 3:29 pm

saw this study before, its good that more research is being done on this stuff, we need to be prepared for what’s coming…

Mike Smith December 29, 2023 - 3:46 pm

really interesting read, didn’t know climate change was having such a big impact on wildfires. kinda scary to think about!


Leave a Comment

* By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.

SciTechPost is a web resource dedicated to providing up-to-date information on the fast-paced world of science and technology. Our mission is to make science and technology accessible to everyone through our platform, by bringing together experts, innovators, and academics to share their knowledge and experience.


Subscribe my Newsletter for new blog posts, tips & new photos. Let's stay updated!

© 2023 SciTechPost