Why are wine regions so frequently impacted by wildfires?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why are wine regions so frequently impacted by wildfires?

—Sophia, Medina, Ohio

Dear Sophia,

The fact that some regions have “fire seasons” is tragic, and it's true that in the past few years there have been multiple major wildfire incidents in California and Australia, as well as in Oregon, Washington, Spain and Portugal, among others.

Many wine regions typically only get rainfall in the autumn and winter. That can be great for growing high-quality grapes, but it also means that during the summer, the vegetation dries out—grass turns brown, and just when the temperatures are getting their hottest, the amount of natural kindling lying around is at its highest. Gusting winds feed flames that might not otherwise have been major incidents, and can carry embers. Warm winds can also raise air temperatures and reduce moisture in the air.

On top of that, temperatures are rising, which means that the vegetation is drying out faster and staying drier longer. Multiple years of drought compound the problem.

Amplifying these conditions is development. More and more people (and the power lines that come with them) are moving into these areas that are prone to fires.

But vineyards often work as natural firebreaks. Because of the spacing or the vines, the limited fire fuel that they provide and their deep roots that keep them green, vineyards tend to stop all but the worst fires in their tracks.

—Dr. Vinny

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