Wildfire experts are forecasting that there will be above normal wildfire activity across portions of the western U.S. during the summer of 2013. Areas where higher than normal wildfire activity is expected include the West Coast states, the Southwest, and portions of Idaho and Montana. The Predictive Services Unit at the National Interagency Fire issued the forecast (pdf) on May 1, 2013.
Many of the at-risk areas for wildfires are experiencing continuing drought-like conditions. In some regions, snow packs were lower than normal this winter. Additionally, warmer and drier weather is expected to occur across portions of the US this summer. All of these factors can act to increase the potential for dangerous wildfires.
The remaining areas of the country are expected to have normal or below normal wildfire activity during the summer of 2013.
Top federal officials including the Agriculture Sectary Tom Vilsack, the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Ernest Mitchell, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s Fire Administration, participated in a meeting at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho on Monday, May 13, 2013 to discuss wildfires. They are urging the public in fire prone areas to practice fire prevention and fire preparedness techniques.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, one of the best things property owners in fire prone areas can do to help minimize the damage from wildfires is to use fire resistant building materials and maintain fire resistant landscapes.
Property owners should also keep roof surfaces and gutters clean of leaves and debris, install wire screens on roof vents, and remove low hanging branches from trees near homes. This lessens the chances that a building will catch fire from falling embers. Additional important fire safety tips can be found at the websites of FireWise and the Fire Adapted Communities Coalition.
Wildfires are a growing problem in the US. According to data from the National Interagency Fire Center, from 1960 to 1999 the annual amount of land burned by wildfires in the US averaged 3,518,167 acres, and annual burns of more than 8 million acres of land were non-existent. Since 2000, annual burns of more than 8 million acres have become common. Wildfires burned more than 8 million acres during 6 of the most recent years including 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2012. During the three worst years for wildfires—2006, 2007 and 2012—over 9 million acres of land were burned.
The increasing long-term trend in wildfire activity is likely being driven by a variety of factors including forest insect infestations, past fire exclusion practices that allowed for the buildup of flammable debris, climate change and the growth of the urban-wilderness interface.
The National Interagency Fire Center will issue an updated fire season forecast on June 1, 2013.
Bottom line: Wildfire experts at the National Interagency Fire Center are forecasting that there will be above normal wildfire activity across portions of the western US during the summer of 2013. Areas where higher than normal wildfire activity is expected include the West Coast states, the Southwest and portions of Idaho and Montana. The remaining areas of the country are expected to have normal or below normal wildfire activity during the summer of 2013.
Deanna Conners is an Environmental Scientist who holds a Ph.D. in Toxicology and an M.S. in Environmental Studies. Her interest in toxicology stems from having grown up near the Love Canal Superfund Site in New York. Her current work is to provide high-quality scientific information to the public and decision-makers and to help build cross-disciplinary partnerships that help solve environmental problems. She writes about Earth science and nature conservation for EarthSky.