Wildfires are nothing new to people in parts of South Dakota. However experts say fires are becoming bigger and more intense.
Professor Mark Cochrane is a senior researcher at South Dakota State University. He and researchers from the University of Tasmania in Australia and the University of Idaho have spent the last decade studying wildfires.
They looked at more than 23,000 fires worldwide and tried to figure out what factors lead to the hottest and biggest ones. They found that climate conditions played the biggest role, mainly high temperatures, dry conditions and strong winds. They believe in 20 to 50 years climate change will cause these conditions to become more and more frequent.
Cochrane says state officials are trying to reduce the fire risk, but it’s a tricky situation. He says prescribed burns can sometimes do more harm than good.
“We’ve gotten ourselves into a bind, because in our success in preventing fire we’ve allowed the fuels to build up in say the Black Hills. To the point where we can’t just have a fire to reduce the fuels because if we do we’ll have a fire that’s so intense that it will kill the forest and impact everyone else around it. So we’re stuck in a mode where we have to spend a lot to maintain that forest or try to reduce the fire risk. So it’s not that we’re powerless to do anything, it’s just we have to decide how we are going to manage those fire risks,” says Cochrane.
Cochrane says officials already do a great job reducing fuel around towns and homes but he says if steps aren’t taken to reduce carbon emissions, we could see fire increases by 2040.