This is how a forest fire devoured mansions in California 3:03
Forecasters say the western United States could be facing a particularly bad wildfire year, as several destructive fires have already ignited well before the hottest and driest months.
A fast-moving fire Wednesday night destroyed 20 homes in a wealthy community in Orange County, California.
In New Mexico, more acres have already burned in major fires in the first five months of this year than in any other year in the last decade.
Wildfires are a frequent risk for homeowners in the western part of the country.
But quantifying the risk of wildfires has so far been more difficult than that of floods, for example, due to their nature.
Wildfires spread quickly, the wind can move embers and sparks long distances, trapping trees and buildings along the way.
On Monday, the nonprofit First Street Foundation released a national wildfire risk assessment: a trove of data showing home and business owners how their properties are at risk from wildfires. forestry.
The data will be integrated into Realtor.com, so prospective buyers can see what their fire risk is for any given property.
A volatile combination of wind and drought could spread wildfires today in the southwestern US.
Fire alert in the southern and central US 0:45
“Unfortunately, [until] this point there has never been a way for people to understand what their wildfire risk is at a property level,” said Matt Eby, founder and CEO of First Street.
First Street found that nearly 80 million properties have some wildfire risk, ranging from minor (less than 1% chance of wildfire damage over 30 years) to extreme (more than 26% chance of wildfire damage for 30 years).
While the vast majority of them, 49 million properties, are at minor risk, more than 4 million properties are at severe or extreme risk.
Many of the properties most at risk from wildfires are in the west of the country, where scientists say hot, dry conditions are being exacerbated by man-made climate change.
But First Street also found that the risk will increase both in the West and in other parts of the country over the next 30 years.
"Today, for homes that are at risk of wildfire, your risk roughly doubles over a 30-year period because the climate is getting warmer; the fuels are drying up," Eby told CNN.
California sky turns orange from Laguna Niguel fires 0:53
Wildfire risk is growing
Outside experts who reviewed First Street's nationwide risk assessment told CNN that the assessment stays with what they're seeing: Western states, as well as those in the Plains, are experiencing drier, warmer weather, which dries out the vegetation and creates more fuel for the fire.
"The danger is increasing because the chances of burning are increasing," said Dave Sapsis, a wildfire scientist at Cal Fire.
"There is more fuel, the fuels are highly desiccated because we are in prolonged droughts.
"There are also more [properties] that are on the way to be affected."
In addition to western states, which already face high risk: The risk will increase in southern states like Texas and Florida, as well as states in the Appalachian region of the country, such as West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
"The risk is going to increase both in Appalachia and areas of the Southeast," said Ed Kearns, chief data officer for First Street. "When you're in these areas, you see green forests and green trees. In Florida and other parts of the Southeast, this kind of climate change looks different than in the west, but the fire is just as dangerous.
Six counties in New Mexico, including areas where the Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak Fire has burned more than 113,314 acres, are among the counties with the highest percentage of properties at risk of wildfire in the country, according to First Street models. .
In Texas, at least 90% of properties in 45 counties are at risk, a sign that wildfire danger isn't just relegated to the West.
Dry grass is a key fuel for wildfires in Texas, according to Brad Smith, a wildfire behavior analyst at the Texas A&M Forest Service.
More than 30 percent of the state was in extreme drought conditions as of mid-May, a month that is typically the state's wettest.
Smith was driving to a fire in San Saba County when he spoke to CNN.
"I've been working fires for 40 years," Smith said.
"Houses are not saved on the day of the fire, they are saved days, weeks, years ahead of time. When buying a house, you must be aware, like a flood zone, that there are also fire zones, where houses run more risk."