Warming weakens the night-time barrier to global fire

Nature. 2022 Feb;602(7897):442-448. doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-04325-1. Epub 2022 Feb 16.


Night-time provides a critical window for slowing or extinguishing fires owing to the lower temperature and the lower vapour pressure deficit (VPD). However, fire danger is most often assessed based on daytime conditions1,2, capturing what promotes fire spread rather than what impedes fire. Although it is well appreciated that changing daytime weather conditions are exacerbating fire, potential changes in night-time conditions-and their associated role as fire reducers-are less understood. Here we show that night-time fire intensity has increased, which is linked to hotter and drier nights. Our findings are based on global satellite observations of daytime and night-time fire detections and corresponding hourly climate data, from which we determine landcover-specific thresholds of VPD (VPDt), below which fire detections are very rare (less than 95 per cent modelled chance). Globally, daily minimum VPD increased by 25 per cent from 1979 to 2020. Across burnable lands, the annual number of flammable night-time hours-when VPD exceeds VPDt-increased by 110 hours, allowing five additional nights when flammability never ceases. Across nearly one-fifth of burnable lands, flammable nights increased by at least one week across this period. Globally, night fires have become 7.2 per cent more intense from 2003 to 2020, measured via a satellite record. These results reinforce the lack of night-time relief that wildfire suppression teams have experienced in recent years. We expect that continued night-time warming owing to anthropogenic climate change will promote more intense, longer-lasting and larger fires.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Darkness*
  • Global Warming* / statistics & numerical data
  • Weather
  • Wildfires* / prevention & control
  • Wildfires* / statistics & numerical data