Due To Extended Drought, This Year’s Fire Season Could Be Worse Than Last

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

Last year’s wildfire season was exceptionally bad — more than 4.2 million acres burned in California alone in 2020. Experts suspect that this year could also bring severe wildfires, given that 40% of the West is being classified as being in “extreme” to “exceptional” drought. Though it’s only April, parts of the West are already at mid-July levels of dryness. This may herald the beginning of a multi-decade “megadrought,” which would make conditions even worse.  

Why this Matters:  The West has had seasons of drought throughout its history, but with climate change and a boom in population growth, an increase in water demand could make the West even drier as we confront the reality of climate change. Scientists believe that the last  22 years have been the second-driest period for a multi-state region in the West going back 1,200 years. In addition, climate change has pushed the rainy season later into the fall, so fire season starts sooner and lasts longer. These dry seasons can be deadly: between 1980 and 2020, drought cost nearly $250 billion in damages and killed nearly 3,000 people.

Burned Out

This current drought could affect 74 million Americans and is expected to grow increasingly severe.  Daniel Swain told Axios: “On the wildfire front: I am very concerned about what might transpire this year, especially from mid-summer into autumn. I fully expect another very severe fire season across the West in 2021.”

There’s a small chance that this year’s wildfire season is less intense since the climate is so arid that plants aren’t growing as plentifully as they would normally, leaving less fuel for fires in the heat of summer and fall. But it’s looking increasingly dire for the West, given that California has had two winters in a row that were drier than average.  Another bad sign — the Colorado River Basin’s snowpack is already melting. The amount of soil moisture in March was at its lowest level across the West in at least 120 years.

To mitigate the effects of this dry season, agriculture producers are anticipating that their water allocations could be cut down to protect ecosystems in rivers and drinking water supplies. As Lake Meade and other reservoirs drop, the expected cuts next year will reduce the Central Arizona Project’s water supply by nearly a third, according to AzCentral.  Lake Meade near Las Vegas is so low that it is near the level that it could trigger the first-ever shortage declaration by the federal government next year, leading to substantial cuts in water deliveries to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico.   Moreover, California has enacted rolling blackouts to prevent electrical equipment from sparking a fire. 

Up Next

Indigenous Communities File Suit Against Ecuadorian Government to Protect Amazon

Indigenous Communities File Suit Against Ecuadorian Government to Protect Amazon

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer Earlier this year, Ecuador’s new President Guillermo Lasso issued decrees to expand oil and mining projects in the Amazon. Indigenous communities from the country’s rainforest are now suing the government in an effort to stop these projects, calling them a “policy of death,” according to reporting by Reuters. Community […]

Continue Reading 320 words
Giant Sequoias Threatened by California Fires 

Giant Sequoias Threatened by California Fires 

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer The giant sequoia trees in California’s Sequoia National Park are over 1,000 years old and could live another 2,000 years, but climate change-fueled fires are killing them. The trees can usually withstand the flames, but the intensity of recent fires has been overpowering. Last year’s Castle Fire killed up […]

Continue Reading 385 words
Amazonian Communities Urge International Action & Amazon.com Invests in Restoration

Amazonian Communities Urge International Action & Amazon.com Invests in Restoration

By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor As wildfires and deforestation grip the Amazon rainforest, Indigenous communities are urging world governments to pledge to protect 80% of the forest by 2025. The groups launched their campaign at a biodiversity conference in France, where experts from around the world are laying the groundwork for the UN’s delayed […]

Continue Reading 441 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.