The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

July 5, 2013

Experts: Expect bigger, fiercer wildfires in West

(Continued)

Climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona said unless greenhouse gas emissions are curbed, huge, fierce wildfires will become the norm.

"We owe it to the men and women who put themselves in harm's way to do everything we can to make their firefighting jobs safer," Overpeck said in an email.

Governments also need to rethink the way they deal with fires, which could mean just letting some burn rather than sending fire crews into increasingly intense and unpredictable situations, said University of Montana fire scientist and elite firefighter Carl Seielstad.

"I think it's inevitable," he said. "We're going to have to accept defeat when we're defeated."

As residents across the West learn to cope, scientists point to the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which in 2007 predicted that warmer summer temperatures were expected to increase fire risk.

Six years later, "we keep seeing more and more amazing fire dynamics," the University of Montana's Running said. "And there's just no reason to believe overall that this is going to go back ... We better be ready for more of it."

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