By David E. Hubler
Each year, it seems the wildfire season increases in length, number and severity. As a precaution, state fire officials are warning people and communities across the continent to “prepare for a challenging summer.”
Colorado, multiple jurisdictions across California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington State and western Canada have all issued warnings about potentially catastrophic fire conditions that may exceed last year’s horrific wildfire season, according to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP).
In the 2020 Calendar Year, Wildfires Burned over 10 Million Acres
For the 2020 calendar year, 58,258 fires burned 10.27 million acres in the U.S, the most on record, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Much of the risk comes from major drought across the continent including Western Canada, most of the Western U.S. from the Pacific through the Midwest and almost all of Mexico,” the CDP added.
As of July 8, 50 Wildfires Have Burned Over a Half-Million Acres
Already this year as of July 8, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) has tallied some 50 wildfires that have “burned 566,525 acres throughout the United States. New large fires were reported in Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington. More than 9,300 wildland firefighters and 14 Incident Management Teams are assigned to incidents.”
Last year, the NIFC reported 32,798 wildfires burned 1.72 million acres. More than 30,700 of these were human-caused wildfires that burned more than one million acres.
Wildfires in the California and the Pacific Northwest
So while most Americans were celebrating the Fourth of July with outdoor barbecues and fireworks, firefighters in northern California and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest were battling several lightning-sparked wildfires.
Reporting the fires, ABC Channel 10 in Sacramento warned, “Fires can start easily with one strike and spread rapidly with gusty winds around thunderstorms.”
As of July 4, the fires included:
- Lava Fire – This fire started on June 25, three and a half miles northeast of Weed, California. It has burned 24,757 acres and is 52% contained.
- Tennant Fire – This blaze started June 28, three miles northwest of Bray, California. It has burned 10,407 acres and is 33% contained.
- Beckwourth Complex Fire – This fire became a complex fire on July 4 and is burning three miles northeast of Beckwourth, California. This blaze started as two separate fires, both sparked by lightning. The Dotta Fire started June 30, and the Sugar Fire started July 2. The two are burning close enough together to become one complex. Together, they are burning 1,141 acres and with 24% containment.
- East Fork Fire – It started July 1, 15 miles south of Gardnerville, Nevada. It has burned 1,100 acres and is 30% contained.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) estimated 31,869 acres were burning during the holiday weekend. So far, there have been no fatalities among the 4,152 reported incidents and the 91 structures damaged or destroyed.
Cal Fire noted that “while wildfires are a natural part of California’s landscape, the fire season in California and across the West is starting earlier and ending later each year.”
The state agency said the length of the fire season has increased by an estimated 75 days across the Sierras and appears to correspond with an increase in the extent of forest fires across the state.
Warmer springs and hotter summers combined with a reduced snow pack and earlier spring snowmelt in the mountains “create longer and more intense dry seasons that increase moisture stress on vegetation and make forests more susceptible to severe wildfire,” according to Cal Fire.
The agency labeled climate change as “a key driver of this trend.”
In neighboring Oregon, a wildfire in central Klamath County had grown to 11,000 acres, fire officials said Wednesday evening. The Bootleg fire, burning northeast of the town of Sprague River, was first identified on the afternoon of July 4 . “It was reported to be burning about 100 acres at that point,” The Oregonian newspaper reported. “Residents of two properties northeast of the fire are under Level 2 (be set) evacuation orders, and people who live near the town of Beatty are under Level 1 (be ready) orders.”
Meanwhile, the Jack Fire in Douglas County was burning close to 2,400 acres as of the evening of July 5, the Oregonian added. “The fire, first reported Monday, prompted Gov. Kate Brown to invoke the Emergency Conflagration Act, which allows local fire departments to seek help from statewide resources.”
Both wildfires are completely uncontained.