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Climate change: Wildfires in the Western U.S. are burning higher up the mountains

Wildfires are moving further up the hillside. Image: REUTERS/Gene Blevins

Mojtaba Sadegh

Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, Boise State University

John Abatzoglou

Associate Professor of Engineering, University of California, Merced

Mohammad Reza Alizadeh

Ph.D. Student in Engineering, McGill University


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Forest fires advanced to higher elevations as the climate dried from 1984 to 2017. Every 200 meters equals 656 feet. Image: Mojtaba Sadegh, CC BY-ND
One of Colorado’s largest wildfires, 2020’s East Troublesome Fire, crossed the Continental Divide and was burning at elevations around 9,000 feet in October, when snow normally would have been falling. Image: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

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Prior to 1983, federal wildland fire agencies did not track official wildfire data using current reporting processes. Image: The Conversation/CC-BY-ND and National Interagency Coordination Center
On average, fires have spread 826 feet (252 meters) higher into the mountains in recent decades, exposing an additional 31,400 square miles (81,500 square kilometers) of forests to fire. Image: Mojtaba Sadegh, CC BY-ND

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