Wildfires: Acres Burned to Date

Not a record year yet, but still devastating. The upward trend in acres burned is shown below.

Figure 1: Acres burned (blue) and acres burned year-to-date 7 December (red), and log linear regression fit (gray). Source: NIFC1, NIFC2.

The regression equation is:

log(ACRES) = 11.469 + 0.038×TIME

bold denotes significance at 1% msl using HAC robust standard errors. Adj.-R2 = 0.35. DW = 2.18.

I set the 2017 acres burned equal to 2017 YTD burned (so biasing 2017 figure downward).

Note: log(ACRES) rejects unit root ADF test (with constant; with constant and trend) at 1% msl, using SBC to determine lag length. KPSS trend stationary test fails to reject at 10% msl.

Fire suppression costs typically rise with acres burned. See this post.

19 thoughts on “Wildfires: Acres Burned to Date

  1. Bruce Hall

    I seem to remember a similar post not long ago where I and several others pointed out that human activity, including failure to use controlled burns, has resulting in conditions where fires are started unnaturally and then run through forests that have tinder-like underbrush.


    Well-intentioned environmentalists are really the cause of this condition. They demanded that naturally occurring fires be fought which preventing the natural clearing of conditions that would yield larger fires… and then then fought controlled burning. The EPA has been complicit in this regard because their air quality regulations have conflicted with the need for controlled burning.

    1. PeakTrader

      Yes, when I first moved to Colorado, there were only a few houses in the foothills. Then, lots of people moved to Colorado and housing tracts were built in the heavily forested foothills. Areas with sparse populations became more heavily populated. Also, it seemed, there were more tourists. At the same time, a much larger proportion of the National Forests and other areas had burnt out trees, perhaps from more camping, and I suspect groundwater was being depleted.

  2. Erik Poole

    The number of fires — all types of fires, the damage caused by those fires, and fire-caused fatalities have been trending down.

    I would curious to see a time series of wildfire deaths broken out by country. I believe you would find that forest fire/wildfire fatalities in Canada have declined to zero or near zero. Yet, fatalities in the USA remain relatively high.

    US firefighters tend to put themselves in harms way far more often than Canadian firefighters. I also suspect that the American strong preference for low-density suburbs explains in part US mortalities.

      1. noneconomist

        BH: RE controlled burns. In Southern California, much of what traditionally burns in large fires would not necessarily be helped by controlled burns or forest thinning. What’s currently burning is–as far as I can see–lightly treed and heavily brushed. Hill sides in the south tend to be dry brush, made more dangerous when autumn rains materialize late or not at all. Burning such brush denudes hill sides, creating the possibility of huge mudslides when the rainy season does commence.
        In the Sierra and in certain areas of the Coast Range at higher elevations, thinning and controlled burns ARE becoming more the norm and should be more utilized, especially given the large number of dead and dying trees because of prolonged drought. (Contrary to what candidate Trump said, there was a drought, and a rather severe one at that. Any year CAN be a drought year). Brush removal, as well as removal of smaller trees growing under larger trees in these areas will help.

    1. PeakTrader

      Look on the bright side, there’s much less dust in the atmosphere, more available fresh water, and you don’t have to burn a lot more fossil fuels to stay warm. Now, isn’t that worth a few polar bears:

      “During the Last Glacial Maximum, much of the world was cold, dry, and inhospitable, with frequent storms and a dust-laden atmosphere. The dustiness of the atmosphere is a prominent feature in ice cores; dust levels were as much as 20 to 25 times greater than now. This was probably due to a number of factors: reduced vegetation, stronger global winds, and less precipitation to clear dust from the atmosphere. The massive sheets of ice locked away water, lowering the sea level, exposing continental shelves, joining land masses together, and creating extensive coastal plains. During the last glacial maximum, 21,000 years ago, the sea level was about 125 meters (about 410 feet) lower than it is today.”

    2. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Dave: Sorry, do you want a graph of polar bear population lost to fires? Or polar bear population in the wild. Wait a few years, and it’ll be easy to tabulate (i.e., answer will be zero).

        1. PeakTrader

          “The woolly mammoth coexisted with early humans…It disappeared from its mainland range at the end of the Pleistocene 10,000 years ago, most likely through climate change and consequent shrinkage of its habitat, hunting by humans, or a combination of the two. Isolated populations survived on St. Paul Island until 5,600 years ago and Wrangel Island until 4,000 years ago.”

  3. SecondLook

    What could add some additional insight perhaps would be to plot normalized rainfalls over the time period covered – it’s a logical inference that there is a strong correlation in Southern Calfornia, but expanding the data to the whole of the West (where the vast bulk of forest fires occur, obviously) might shed more insight into the issue; a clearly measurable intersection between ecology and economy.

    One other thought, while the cost of natural disasters can be high as a percentage of local economic output, it’s generally very mild on the State level, and trivial on the National.
    Most of us who don’t deal with huge numbers on a regular basis, tend to over-estimate the cost impact of fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc for a major, advanced, country as a whole,

  4. Erik Poole

    Yes, the polar bear population will be zero be soon.

    So sad, so tragic.

    Now, I want to know, will this happen before or after Muslim men rape all American women? Tabloid science also has many other fun questions.

      1. CoRev

        Menzie, yes, it is tabloid science. They started with an unsubstantiated premise: “We evaluated the potential response of polar bears to sea-ice declines…” then proved the dubious premise by models of their own creation “… using statistical models and computer simulation to project changes in the global population under three approaches relating polar bear abundance to sea ice.”

        There has always been a lot of controversy over the Polar Bear ruling, because many actual in situ observations contradicted the modeled premise(s).

        A recent controversy is: https://www.thegwpf.com/14-climate-bullies-attack-susan-crockford-for-telling-the-truth-about-polar-bears/

        Without ACTUAL HISTORICAL population surveys all analysis, especially the likes of which you cited is just unsupported conjecture. Yes, there are such populations surveys.

  5. Erik Poole

    Menzie Chinn: Is anthropogenic climate change upon us or not? Most claim it is.

    Then how are polar bear populations currently fairing despite the loss of sea ice, etc.?

  6. Erik Poole

    Thanks for the spelling lesson Menzie. As an empirical policy oriented economist, I thought you might actually want to know rather than guessing or making shrill doomsday predictions.

    Canadian Canadian polar bears are doing quite well thank you. Despite allowing trade in hides and hair.

    I suppose Americans are so used to open-access style resource allocation policies that most blithely assume that all exploitation of scarce resources should be banned, AND that renewable resources priced at ir near zero are best way to manage those resources.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Erik Poole: You’re very welcome!
      Glad to hear Canadian Canadian polar bears are doing well for now. My understanding was that highest vulnerabilities are for Asia/Europe/Alaska. In any case, the question is tied up with the pace of Arctic ice depletion, isn’t it.

      I would welcome your analysis of time trends in Canadian wildfires; if you don’t want to do it, you can send me link to a continuous time series of acres burned and I will try my hand at it.

      I would think that with a much more concentrated population concentration and lower pop-to-land ratio than the US, it’s not surprising fatalities in Canada from wildfires are much lower even on a per capita basis.

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