UNM professor predicts wildfire behavior

Wildfire season is right around the corner, and a University of New Mexico professor is researching how the state can better predict wildfire behavior. 

“The fire season has increased by, depending on where you are in the western U.S. as much as 110 days,'” Said Matthew Hurteau an Associate Professor in UNM’s Biology Department. 

Hurteau has been studying the relationship between climate change and wildfires for the better part of a decade. 

“The basic fact of the matter is as temperature goes up and it gets dryer, more of these forested areas are available to burn,” said Hurteau. 

He and a group of other scientists used a computer simulation to determine how vegetation will respond to change in climate and how the response may fuel future fires. 

He says the results don’t look good. 

“We can expect to see more of these large wildfires to burn – that we’ve been seeing in the last few years,” said Hurteau. 

While the research was focused in the Sierra Nevada, he says a lot of the same shrubbery exists here in New Mexico. 

“If you go through and have a fire that kills all the overstory trees it’s not too many years before you’ve got the shrubs resprouting and you’ve got enough vegetation for an additional fire. So these ecosystems are just going to become that much more flammable,” said Hurteau. 

Hurteau says they’re working on understanding the same concepts, but in the Rockies and Southwest so they can try to prevent future fire devastation. 

He says controlled burns are among the best ways to help prevent wildfires in our state. 

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