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Report: Longer, more intense fire weather seasons, especially across West

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Alex Gonzalez

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(Utah News Connection) A new report finds that climate change is affecting weather conditions in ways that increase wildfire risk, with the West seeing the greatest jump in fire weather days in spring and summer.

Climate Central found that parts of Utah are experiencing around three more weeks of fire weather days during the summer.

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Kaitlyn Trudeau, senior research associate in climate science with Climate Central, said fire weather refers to the meteorological conditions that kick start the spread of fire. And with Utah being one of the states seeing more days with persistent hotter temperatures, lower relative humidity and stronger winds, it's something that Trudeau says is worrisome.

"When we look at which variables, what's really changing this, we're seeing that it is really relative to humidity. We're seeing a huge increase in the number of these really dry days. One of the main reasons for that is climate change. It is getting warmer, it is quite warmer, especially in the Southwest," she said.

Trudeau added that warmer air can hold more water, and that as the temperature increases, the atmosphere gets thirstier, which can then pull more moisture out of the landscape. As increasing influence of human-caused climate change increases, Trudeau contends humans need to rethink their impact on the environment, and wants the report to serve as a wake-up call and help people understand risks where they live.

The U.S. Fire Administration has a list of seven steps communities can enact in an effort to be more prepared. Trudeau added that other fire-adaptation strategies include increased use of land-management techniques such as prescribed burns that eliminate excessive fuels, but even those have become more of a challenge.

"And in order to do prescribed burning, you have to have a very specific set of weather conditions, and they're basically the opposite of fire weather conditions, because it is really dangerous to burn anything when you have really hot, dry, windy days," she added.

Trudeau said as the number of fire weather days increases, it also decreases the ability to do things like prescribed burning. She encourages people around the country to create defensible space around their homes, as well as creating toolkits and an evacuation plan in case of an emergency.