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Ecology, climate and human activities conspire to set the world on fire

Earth is a fire planet. Ever since the first plants appeared — and provided fuel — more than 420 million years ago, fire has flourished in Earth’s oxygenated atmosphere. Some scientists even think that long before humans, fire carved out entire landscapes, clearing dense forests to make way for grasslands.

In recent years, the fingers of flame have extended their reach over more of the Earth’s surface. Wildfires are occurring more often and becoming more severe, a perplexing change in fire patterns that threatens to transform ecosystems, reduce biodiversity and even alter climate. To stamp out the flames, researchers have to understand why fire is spreading and figure out how to fight fire with science.

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