Climatic Change

, Volume 62, Issue 1, pp 365–388

The Impact of Twenty-First Century Climate Change on Wildland Fire Danger in the Western United States: An Applications Perspective


  • Timothy J. Brown
    • Desert Research Institute
  • Beth L. Hall
    • Desert Research Institute
  • Anthony L. Westerling
    • Scripps Institution of Oceanography

DOI: 10.1023/

Cite this article as:
Brown, T.J., Hall, B.L. & Westerling, A.L. Climatic Change (2004) 62: 365. doi:10.1023/


High-temporal resolution meteorological output from the Parallel Climate Model (PCM) is used to assess changes in wildland fire danger across the western United States due to climatic changes projected in the 21st century. A business-as-usual scenario incorporating changing greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations until the year 2089 is compared to a 1975–1996 base period. Changes in relative humidity, especially dryingover much of the West, are projected to increase the number of days of high fire danger (based on the energy release component (ERC) index) at least through the year 2089 in comparison to the base period. The regions most affected are the northern Rockies, Great Basin and the Southwest –regions that have already experienced significant fire activity early this century. In these regions starting around the year 2070, when the model climate CO2 has doubled from present-day, the increase in the number ofdays that ERC (fuel model G) exceeds a value of 60 is as much as two to three weeks. The Front Range of the Rockies and the High Plains regions do not show a similar change. For regions where change is predicted, new fire and fuels management strategies and policies may be needed to address added climatic risks while also accommodating complex and changing ecosystems subject to human stresses on the region. These results, and their potential impact on fire and land management policy development, demonstrate the value of climate models for important management applications, as encouraged under the Department of Energy Accelerated Climate Prediction Initiative (ACPI), under whose auspices this work was performed.

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004