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Wildfires in US West Match Climate Projections ‘Eerily’ Well

As the worst fires on record burn in New Mexico, the extent of future damage depends greatly on human policies and decisions, an expert says. 

A New Mexico National Guard Aviation UH-60 Black Hawk flies as part of firefighting efforts, dropping thousands of gallons of water from the air on the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire in northern New Mexico on May, 1.

A New Mexico National Guard Aviation UH-60 Black Hawk flies as part of firefighting efforts, dropping thousands of gallons of water from the air on the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire in northern New Mexico on May, 1.

Photographer: AP Photo/New Mexico National Guard

The largest wildfires in New Mexico’s history belong to the same troubling increase in conflagrations, exacerbated by drought and rising temperatures, that have burned vast areas of the western United States in recent years.

William Anderegg, an associate professor at the University of Utah who studies forests and climate, has spent years tracking and projecting these changes. In research published last month in the journal Ecology Letters, he and colleagues assembled the history of three climate threats — fire, drought and insects — across 112 types of forest and outlined three scenarios for how they may rise through the century.