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Nighttime's not quieting wildfires like it used to, study shows

A long exposure photograph of the night sky and the Pedro Mountain Fire.
Kyle Miller
The Pedro Mountain Fire

News brief

Wildfire activity generally slows at night as winds die down, temperatures drop and humidity rises. But a new study suggests that's changing.

U.S. Forest Service researchers examined data from heat-sensing satellites dating back to 2003, and found that increases in nighttime fire activity outpaced daytime increases.

The study's lead author, Patrick Freeborn, based at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Mont., says his team's findings raise safety concerns for firefighters.

"Nighttime fire activity limits the opportunities for firefighters to rest and recover," Freeborn said. "And then if and when they are conducting nighttime operations, they're exposed to the additional risk of working in the dark."

That additional risk was made plain last month when a rare nighttime firefighting mission near Estes Park, Colo., resulted in the death of an air tanker pilot.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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