By October 1, a total of 46,279 wildfires had burned more than 5.9 million acres across the U.S. in 2021 according to the National Interagency Fire Center’s (NIFC) situation report. Of the 20 largest Californian wildfires known, 17 have occurred this century—most of them in the last two years and three of them in 2021. Such elevated activity is by no means exclusive to the U.S. In the current year, record-breaking wildfires have been experienced on three continents.
Climate change is being blamed for increased wildfire severity. As we explored in a previous wildfire blog post, changes to our climate lead to stronger seasonal extremes, such as wet growing seasons and hotter, drier summers. Without question, inter-seasonal patterns in precipitation and drought affect burnable fuels and, combined with record-setting temperatures, allow fires to spread with greater ease.
If climate change is increasing wildfire severity, how much larger are the resultant losses likely to get in coming years? To answer this question, AIR researchers conducted a study for the Society of Actuaries Research Institute in 2021 using the AIR Wildfire Model for the United States and available climate and climate change information to estimate how climate change may influence wildfire losses to U.S. property by mid-century.