MISSOULA – University of Montana researchers led an effort by more than 150 scientists across the country urging people to forego fireworks this Fourth of July.
The urgency stems from the combination of extensive drought, the recent heat wave affecting the northwestern U.S. and Canada, and the upcoming holiday weekend. The Fourth of July is perennially associated with hundreds of human-ignited fires across the country.
Their article, “Over 100 fire scientists urge the U.S. West: Skip the fireworks this record-dry Fourth of July,” was published in the nonprofit media outlet The Conversation on June 30. It was written by researchers Philip Higuera and Alexander Metcalf of UM’s W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, as well as David McWethy from Montana State University and Jennifer Balch from the University of Colorado Boulder.
The authors highlight previous research showing that from 1992 to 2015 human-related ignitions started more than 7,000 wildfires in the U.S. on July 4. In the West, more fires start from human sources on July 4 than any other day of the year. Many of these fires were near homes.
“With this year’s tinder-dry grasslands and parched forests,” the authors write, “sparks from anything – a cigarette, a campfire, a power line, even a mower blade hitting a rock – could ignite a wildfire, with deadly consequences.”
“We are strongly encouraging folks to celebrate the Fourth without fireworks and enjoy all the other ways to celebrate our freedoms with friends and family,” Metcalf said.
The idea for the article and sign-on letter came just this past weekend, as some of the team saw a fireworks stand outside of Missoula.
“It’s nerve wracking to see the key ingredients for human-damaging wildfires to align across much of the West these next few days – record-dry vegetation, plus potential ignitions from fireworks,” Higuera said. “We wanted to raise awareness of this very predictable pattern of human-started fires, particularly this year.”
UM fire experts were joined by signatories from 61 academic or research institutions from 24 U.S. states, as well as Canada, Australia, Italy and Spain. The majority were from the U.S. West, including over 30 from Montana, 15 from Colorado, 11 from Oregon and Idaho, seven from California and six each from Arizona and Washington.
The signatories included 30 faculty and scientists from UM, who study varying aspects of the causes and impacts of wildfires. UM is home to world-renowned wildfire experts, including ecologists and fire scientists, as well as health, policy and human-dimensions researchers. Their recent work on wildfire includes an article on extensive high elevation fires in the Rocky Mountains, an article on social and ecological resilience to wildfire and conducting an educational prescribed burn on UM's Bandy Ranch.
Contact: Philip Higuera, professor of fire ecology and paleoecology, 406-599-8908, firstname.lastname@example.org; Alexander Metcalf, associate professor of human dimension of natural resources, 814-574-6128, email@example.com, W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation at UM.