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Just a few weeks ago, two large wildfires caused massive destruction and at least 91 deaths in California, the Woolsey fire near Los Angeles and the Camp fire that engulfed the town of Paradise in the north. Residents and firefighters struggled to stop both fires, yet they can expect more like them to come.


“What we found is, across nearly all the definitions in nearly all the regions, there was a significant increase in the level of simultaneity in the second time period,” Podschwit said.


For example, in the Southwest, the satellite record revealed only two incidents of wildfires that burned more than 50,000 acres during the first time period. But then 34 separate fires of that size burned in the area in the following 15 years -- including an instance when five blazed simultaneously, in April and May 2011, Cullen and Podschwit found. They’re submitting their study for peer review in the next few weeks.


Their findings build on those of the federal government's latest National Climate Assessment, released on Nov. 23. The nation’s top climate scientists found that wildfires are growing in frequency, intensity, extent and duration, and we can expect more large wildfires in the next half century, especially in the Western states. Furthermore, the study said that since 1984, climate change caused fires in the West to burn twice the area they would have without it.


To help people prepare for the next fire, scientists have begun developing “fireshed” maps, analogous to watersheds. These locate the places most likely to ignite and where the fires will likely spread. Such maps could inform where people choose to build -- or where to rebuild after a fire.


But while people have begun considering retreating from hurricane flood zones or eroding coastlines threatened by sea level rise, discussions about building in fire-prone wildland areas haven't coalesced in the same way. And by their presence, people inevitably start more fires in the wildlands if they live there, too.


“Accidental fires can happen because your car is overheated on the side of the freeway, or somebody throws a cigarette butt out the window, but they can also happen just because someone has a chain hanging out the back end [of their car], and it causes a spark that lands at the wrong time and place, and boom, you have a fire,” said Natasha Stavros, a fire ecologist and engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

娜塔莎·斯塔夫罗斯(Natasha Stavros)说:“意外起火可能是因为你的汽车在高速公路一侧过热,或者有人把烟头扔出窗外,但也可能是因为有人在(他们的车)的后端挂着一根链子,它会引发火花,落在错误的时间和地点,然后砰的一声,你就会起火。” 她是加州帕萨迪纳美国宇航局喷气推进实验室的一位火灾生态学家和工程师。

We have a different relationship with fire than with other extreme weather, since for example, no one ever talks about trying to stop a hurricane, she pointed out. “The Camp Fire was burning at 80 acres per minute -- that’s 61 football fields per minute. Why do we think we can control that?”