Wildfire smoke hangs over the Minneapolis on May 13, as...

Wildfire smoke hangs over the Minneapolis on May 13, as winds pushed a band of heavy smoke south from fires burning in British Columbia, Canada, prompting an air quality alert in Minnesota. Credit: AP/Mark Vancleave

Mark Gongloff is a Bloomberg Opinion editor and columnist covering climate change. He previously worked for Fortune.com, the Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal. (With assistance from Elaine He.)

The toxic smoke choking swathes of the Midwestern U.S. this week is a helpful reminder to Americans that Canada exists, and its wildfire season has come early. But Americans shouldn’t forget their own season starts much earlier these days, too. In fact, it’s getting to the point that wildfire season is all year long.

A new study by the non-profit group Climate Central finds the flame-conducive combination of hot, dry air and strong winds has become more common as the planet gets warmer. In some parts of the Southwestern U.S., wildfire season is now two months longer than in 1973, with about half of that increase coming in the spring.

The Texas panhandle, which now experiences 34 extra days of wildfire weather per year, suffered through the worst fires in the state’s history earlier this year after a freak winter heat wave, putting the nation’s biggest nuclear-weapons facility at risk. One apocalypse at a time, please!

It’s not exactly breaking news that the Southwest is bursting into flames earlier and more often. But no region of the contiguous U.S. is immune. Northern New Jersey has 10 more wildfire-friendly days each year than it did 50 years ago, according to the study. Massachusetts has 9 more days, as does southern Alabama. Not coincidentally, the number of U.S. acres burned annually has doubled since the turn of the century.

And this has happened after just 2.6 degrees Fahrenheit of warming in the Lower 48 since 1970, by Climate Central’s measure. Without more effort to stop spewing greenhouse gases, we are on track to possibly double that amount of warming by 2050. The research firm First Street Foundation has estimated that nearly 80 million properties across the U.S. will be under some wildfire threat by 2052, with pretty much everyone west of the Mississippi River at particular risk.

Climate change made 2023’s wildfires in eastern Canada twice as likely, according to the group World Weather Attribution, contributing to a record-smashing year for the whole country. Continuing heat and drought have kicked off what will likely be a sequel, with the assistance of “zombie fires” that kept burning under the snow all winter. I wrote last month about how the U.S. wasn’t ready for another summer of smoke from these wildfires. It’s also clear we’re not ready for our own future of longer and more-intense wildfire seasons.

The most obvious first step in preventing them is probably the hardest: We have to admit we have a fossil-fuel problem and stop abusing the climate in ways that will make today’s fire-sparking heat and drought seem mild in comparison. While we wait for that miracle to happen, we can take other steps to make the fires that do occur less destructive.

Better forest management, including controlled burns, can limit the fuel available to runaway wildfires. Smarter development and more affordable housing can make people less likely to live in the wildland-urban interface, where fires are more likely to take lives and destroy property. Insurance companies are abandoning fire-prone places, leaving only the wealthy to rebuild on risky but scenic lots, a sort of “gentrification by fire,” as the Washington Post once put it. Instead of subsidizing that trend with disaster relief, our federal tax dollars would be better spent on a managed retreat from such places.

And people who think they’re not in harm’s way should heed the lesson of longer, further-reaching and more-intense fire seasons: Climate change will find us all eventually.

Mark Gongloff is a Bloomberg Opinion editor and columnist covering climate change. He previously worked for Fortune.com, the Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal. (With assistance from Elaine He.)

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