A ‘Perfect Recipe for Extreme #Wildfire’: #NewMexico’s Record-Breaking, Early Fire Season — The New York Times

Map credit: National Interagency Fire Center

Click the link to read the article on The New York Times website (Tim Wallace and Nadja Popovich). Here’s an excerpt:

The explosive, early start to this year’s Southwestern fire season reflects the convergence of long-term trends — a forest landscape overgrown after decades of aggressive fire suppression and parched by drought; springtime temperatures warmed by human-caused climate change — and more immediate dangers, like the relentless winds that have fanned the flames. It’s an ominous sign for the rest of the American West, where the fire season tends to start later, but where conditions are similarly primed to burn…

Propelled by strong winds, warm temperatures and low humidity, the combined fire moved quickly through dry, overgrown forests and grasslands. Fire crews fought to slow its advance, but the inferno’s fast pace and extreme behavior often hampered their containment efforts. On the gustiest days, which saw winds reach up to 80 miles per hour, firefighting planes and helicopters had to be grounded and crews were prevented from reaching the front lines.

Similar conditions have fueled wildfires across New Mexico. The Black fire in Gila National Forest exploded in mid-May to become the second largest blaze burning in the state. It has continued to grow, forcing nearby evacuations as recently as this weekend. Another large springtime wildfire near the village of Ruidoso in the south of the state, which has since been contained, destroyed or damaged more than 200 structures and left two people dead…

This spring, the risk factors aligned for an extreme fire season in New Mexico, said Park Williams, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies long-term drought trends and the effects of climate change. Much of the state saw its driest or near-driest April on record. Springtime temperatures were above average, too. Those conditions, typical for the Southwest during a La Niña climate pattern, added to longer-term risks: forests left overcrowded and unhealthy by decades of aggressive fire suppression; a mega-drought that created a tinder-dry landscape; and the background warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity. Add high winds to the mix and you have “the perfect recipe for extreme wildfire,” Dr. Williams said.

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