Severe drought conditions, high temperatures and dry conditions are increasing wildfire risk in a majority of the U.S. – putting buildings and property in danger of damage and loss.
Much of the West and South U.S. are experiencing varying drought intensities, from severe to exceptional levels. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the high drought levels can have short- and long-term impacts on:
The record heat in 2021 was damaging, particularly in the West and Pacific Northwest.
The increase in drought severity, coupled with what appears to be a longer wildfire season, is worrisome. But there are wildfire safety measures property owners can take to help protect their assets.
What Is a Wildfire?
Wildfires are unplanned fires that burn in:1
Wildfires are dangerous because they spread quickly and can burn large amounts of land. Homes, buildings and property damaged from wildfires are typically total losses.
A Look at Wildfires Through the Years
As of June 2022, there have been over 32,200 wildfires and more than 3.3 million acres burned in the U.S.2
In 2021, there were 58,985 wildfires, which burned over 7.1 million acres in the U.S.3 There were nearly 40 “significant incidents” that burned over 40,000 acres of land in 2021, with losses ranging from $1.4 million to over $637 million.4 One source estimates wildfires caused nearly $1.5 billion in property damage.5
What’s causing these wildfire incidents? One factor is drought. In fact, drought levels in the western U.S., paired with heat waves during the summer months, brings the threat of wildfires earlier than expected.
How Do Droughts Impact Wildfires?
With severe drought levels, it creates an environment that can easily ignite and burn. Dry landscapes and climates fuel wildfires and help them spread and burn.6
Over the past two decades, drought conditions in the western U.S. have gradually gotten more severe. When you consider that only 2% of the western U.S. was in extreme or exceptional drought before the 2020 wildfire season, it causes concern for 2021.
The lack of rain in 2021 with a dry spring, dry summer and dry fall meant wildfires were a constant hazard with an extended fire season. Rain could also turn the wildfire burn scars into mudslides, putting property at risk.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, parts of the western, southern and central U.S. are still in severe or extreme drought as of June 2022. This includes:
- Nuevo México