Are the number of Wildfires increasing?

The original idea for this project was was spurred by the NPR All Thing Considered edition "Wildfire Season So Far: Tragic, Destructive and Below Average". Between the extensive fires in Colorado causing numerous evacuation orders and tragic accidents in Arizona, Wildfires seemed to be dominating the headlines this summer. I wondered if the seemingly increase in media attention on wildfires was really due to an increase in wildfires, or whether a growing population had pushed development into areas that used to be wilderness and allowed to burn free.

"Wildfire Season So Far: Tragic, Destructive and Below Average" Arizona Prescott Fire

Based off of this idea, a project was designed to look at the occurrences of forest fires over time. Colorado was chosen as a study area due to their frequency in the news this summer and their population growth, 2,889,735 people in 1980 to 5,187,582 in 2012. While originally polygons of each forest fire were going to be used, it quickly became apparent that polygons for every fire would make the map much to cluttered to look for long term trends. Thus, points for every reported fire were used, color coded whether they were started by humans, natural causes, or unknown. The following map shows a time scale of wildfires from 1980 to 2012 in Colorado. I found it quite interesting that there was a noticeable increase over the years, with the exception of the last few years.

So what does this mean exactly? It definitely looks to be an increase in fires, yet that could also partly be due to improved reporting. Another study looked at the shifting ranges of organisms due to Climate Change, and determined that an increasing amount of land would prove to be areas with a high consideration of wildfire danger.

Climate Change May Spark More Wildfires in Future