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2020 Wildfire Season Could Be Taste of Future

U.S. Forest Service/Flickr
More than 4,000 homes were destroyed by wildfires in Idaho's neighboring state of Oregon this year.

The West's intense wildfire season this year could be a taste of what the future holds, scientists say.

States like Oregon and California saw some of the biggest and most destructive fires in their history in 2020. Boise State assistant professor Moji Sadegh said Idaho dodged a bullet this year, but as the number of dry and hot years increases, it's only a matter of time before the Gem State is impacted. And he notes the season was foreseen by some.

"It has been exceptional on all aspects, but the scientific community really has been warning about this type of fire behavior for decades now," said Sadegh.

Sadegh and other researchers say intense wildfire seasons are caused by dryness, heat and wind. Because of global warming, the kind of dry and hot conditions scientists would have expected once every 25 years have occurred five to ten times over the past quarter century.

Sadegh said a worrying new effect researchers have observed is that the conditions that favor wildfires can travel downwind.

"Hot air will go from one region to another and it will trigger that cycle of dryness and heat in a downwind region. That will cause a much larger area being impacted," said Sadegh.

Sadegh said this compounding effect can overextend emergency response resources.

He adds that the bottom line is if fuels are not dry, they won't burn, but because of climate change, our forests are becoming warmer.

"We've got to tackle this at the root cause and that's cut the emissions, make sure that we don't go beyond the tipping point that we cannot control. And we are very close to that, so we want to make sure that we address this issue as soon as possible," said Sadegh.

Sadegh also advises people to be careful because humans often provide the spark, literally, for wildfires.