Area burned by wildfires could increase by as much as 92% by 2040s in Sierra Nevada, study finds

Smoke plumes from the Dixie Fire on August 18, 2021, near Susanville, California.

(CNN)Rising summer temperatures could lead to an exponential increase in the number of wildfires and acres burned in the Sierra Nevada in California, researchers have found.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, found that there's a 19% to 26% jump in wildfire risk for each degree of summer temperature increase in the Sierra Nevada. Given that connection, the number of wildfires in the region could rise by as much as 83% by the 2040s, and the area burned could climb by 92%, according to the study.
Aurora Gutierrez, an environment and climate researcher at the University of California, Irvine, said that as planet-warming fossil fuel emissions rise, the number of fires and charred areas will only worsen.
      "Fires are very sensitive to small changes in temperature," Gutierrez, the lead author on the report, told CNN. "And so there could be a lot of potential risks with that, when we're talking about climate change and future scenarios in that region."
        The researchers analyzed 441 fires that burned at least 100 acres in the mountain range between 2001 and 2020 to quantify the relationship between fire occurrence and daily temperatures. During that time, most of the fires were sparked from June to September, and a total area of more than 2.5 million acres burned.
          The Sierra Nevada is home to the giant sequoias, the largest trees in the world. The past two years of wildfires in California have taken a massive toll on the trees, which can live for thousands of years. The National Park Service estimated 10% to 14% of the world's giant sequoias -- 7,500 to 10,600 trees -- were destroyed the Castle Fire in 2020.
          The 2021 fire season was similarly devastating: the Caldor and Dixie fires alone torched nearly 1.2 million acres of the Sierra Nevada, according to Cal Fire. Those fires destroyed more than 2,300 structures.