Federal Crystal Ball Predicts Numerous Wildfire Hotspots

May 13, 2009

Wildfires are already kicking up coast to coast, even though drought conditions are only moderate at worst in the great majority of the country. Fires get ignited for complex reasons, including current drought, current weather, last year's plant growth, and the vagaries of ignition sources (such as lightning, careless people, or arson). That makes longer-term wildfire predictions somewhat tenuous. Nonetheless, they can provide a heads-up for the coming season.

The National Interagency Fire Center maintains an ongoing set of wildfire forecasts, covering time periods ranging from daily to the full wildfire season. Its May 1, 2009, forecast calls for normal to above-normal wildfire risk in many parts of the country during the course of the year. The greatest risk is expected in interior AK, north-central WA, CA, western UT, southern ID, NV, AZ, western NM, southeastern GA, northeastern FL, and the southern reach of the Appalachians.

It's already been a very active fire season, with 32,063 fires and 1,064,711 acres burned. That's a 60% increase in number of fires compared to this time in 2008, though it's a 20% decrease in acreage burned. Both 2009 numbers are far higher than the latest 7-year average for this time of year (24,550 fires and 768,966 acres burned). Since 2000 only one other year, 2006, has had a greater number of fires by May 1.

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