A plant that’s everywhere is fueling a growing risk of wildfire disaster

A plant that’s everywhere is fueling a growing risk of wildfire disaster - Environment - News

The Unassuming Grass: Fueling Large, Destructive Wildfires in the United States Amidst Changing Climate Conditions

A seemingly harmless and ubiquitous plant, grass, plays a significant role in the surge of large, fast-moving, and destructive wildfires across the United States. Grass is abundant and thrives under specific weather conditions, acting as a potent fuel source for these fires when ignited. This article explores the link between grass, climate change, and the increasing wildfire threat in the US.

The Role of Grass in Wildfires:
Grass is as prevalent as sunshine, and under favorable weather conditions, it acts like a volatile fuel for wildfires. All it takes is a spark to ignite the grass, leading to explosive fires. Climate change-induced alterations in temperature and precipitation patterns contribute to larger and more frequent fires, which in turn fuel the cycle of ecological destruction that makes grass an ever-growing dominator.

The Spread of Grass Fires:
Grass fires are typically less intense and shorter-lived compared to forest fires, but they can spread exponentially faster. They outrun firefighting resources and threaten the growing number of homes situated near wildlands, according to fire experts. Over the past three decades, the US has experienced a significant increase in homes destroyed by wildfire, with most of these losses attributable to grass and shrub fires rather than forest fires.

The Impact on the Western States:
The western states are at the highest risk of wildfires, where more than two-thirds of the homes burned during the last 30 years were located. Nearly 80% of those destroyed homes were lost to grass and shrub fires. This trend is largely driven by the expansion of housing development near wildfire-prone areas, which has grown exponentially since the 1990s.

Living on the Edge:
Building in fire-prone wildlands comes with inherent risks, but humans are also responsible for starting most fires. This increases the likelihood of a fire igniting in these areas. Firefighters and property owners must work together to prevent destruction in these high-risk zones, as climate change-induced wildfires threaten the western half of the US on all fronts.

The Perfect Firestorm:
Climate change is creating ideal conditions for grass fires in various regions, particularly in America’s grassy heartland where perennial grasses are more abundant. These areas experience a series of compounding extremes across seasons that create ideal wildfire fuel conditions. The combination of drought, warmer winters, invasive shrubs, and extreme winds sets the stage for grass fire disasters.

The Vicious Cycle:
As more vegetation in the western regions burns, it is being replaced by both native and nonnative grasses. In some areas, this results in fire where it was previously absent, such as deserts. Annually propagating grasses take advantage of rare Rain events to grow and die, creating a carpet of fire fuel on the desert floor. This grass proliferation suppresses native plant recovery, perpetuating the cycle of wildfires and further increasing risk in the future.

The seemingly innocent grass is becoming a formidable force, fueling larger and more destructive wildfires across the United States. Climate change-induced alterations in temperature, precipitation, and other environmental factors contribute to this trend. The vicious cycle of grass proliferation and wildfires requires a comprehensive approach from both scientists and policymakers to mitigate the risks and protect homes, ecosystems, and wildlife.