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Summer Scorcher: Wildfire Risk Grows

Althea Chang
Big Data Download
Summer Scorcher: Wildfire Risk Grows

This year's wildfire season could be the worst in 100 years for the state of California, according to fire officials there, and a recent record-setting fire in Colorado could just be a glimpse of what's to come across the country this summer, one weather expert said.

The Black Forest wildfire in Colorado last week registered as the most destructive fire in Colorado history.

"What we're seeing now is a precursor to what we expect to see across the balance of the summer," explained Paul Walsh, vice president of weather analytics at The Weather Channel. "Of course the drought that we saw last year which has been abated really in the Northwest and the Northeast is really holding fast in the west and in the Southwest so those very, very hot temperatures and the continued dry weather is contributing to this trend of increasing wildfire activity in that part of the country and it's having a big impact."

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On average, wildfires burn twice as many acres each year than they did 40 years ago, according to the USDA Forest Service, and wildfire season on the west coast is more than two months longer than it was 40 years ago.

"The reality is that warmer temperatures, especially out west, lead to more and bigger fires. So the trends have been going up every single year in terms of the number of acres that are burned and the severity of forest fires. So the expectation is that we won't see a downtrend in this over the next 10 or 15 years,” Walsh said.

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Homebuilders and property and casualty insurers in particular will feel the impact of these trends, Walsh said. Homebuilders may change where and how they decide to build, avoiding fire-prone areas and building structures that use more resilient and fire resistant materials, while insurance companies could adjust their pricing based on increased risk in wildfire-prone areas, Walsh said.

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