Forest Fires in the United States: 12 May 2000

Forest Fires in the United States

12 May 2000

Wildland Fire Update (11 May 2000) for the United States of America (National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC))
Six large wildland fires are currently burning in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Florida. Dispatchers at the National Interagency Coordination Center mobilized aircraft, equipment, and personnel to areas of increased wildland fire activity. An area command team and additional incident management teams have been ordered to New Mexico to manage the large wildland fires.

  • The Cerro Grande fire near Los Alamos, New Mexico has burned 18,000 acres (7,284 hectares [ha]) near the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph yesterday afternoon pushed the blaze over firelines into a subdivision. Current estimates indicate 100 homes have been destroyed. Mandatory evacuations are in effect for Los Alamos and White Rock, New Mexico. In addition, a voluntary evacuation was issued for Espanola, New Mexico due to smoky conditions.

  • The Outlet fire has burned about 1,500 acres near North Rim Village, Arizona. Strong winds caused the fire to jump across Highway 67. Residents and visitors at the North Rim Village were evacuated yesterday.

  • The Cree fire near Ruidoso, New Mexico has consumed about 8,650 acres (607 ha). Windy conditions pushed the fire over the firelines. Four subdivision in the area were evacuated, but some residents have been allowed to return to their homes.

  • The Coon Creek fire in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness near Globe, Arizona has burned about 9,259 acres (3,746 ha). Firefighters patrolled the fire’s perimeter yesterday.

  • The Cook Ranch fire near Ft. Stockton, Texas has burned about 43,500 acres (17,603 ha). Fire managers are concerned about oil fields, power lines, and structures in the vicinity.

  • The Palm Swamp fire has burned 135 acres (54 ha) near Lake City, Florida. Resources assigned to the fire have made good progress and containment is expected today.

Fire conditions are also very high to extreme in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, California, Oklahoma, and Texas. More than 140 wildland fires were reported to the National Interagency Coordination Center yesterday for a total of 17,072 acres (6,908 ha) burned. So far this year, 32,529 wildland fires have burned 812,424 acres (328,776 ha) throughout the United States.

The GOES and NOAA/AVHRR satellite images of 11 May 2000 reflect the fire situation in New Mexico/Los Alamos as it was highlighted in the GFMC reports during the last days. An active fire signal with a huge smoke plume was recorded by NOAA/OSEI with the NOAA-14 AVHRR HRPT satellite on 11 May 2000 in New Mexico.

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Fig.1. NESDIS/OSEI GOES-8 satellite image of New Mexico, 11 May 2000.
Large smoke plume is visible from the fire burning near and in Los Alamos. A smaller plume is visible from a second fire burning to the east of Los Alamos. Smoke from a fire in northern Mexico extends to western Texas.
(Source: NOAA/OSEI).

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Fig.2. Heat signature (red) and large smoke plume (light blue) are visible from the large fires burning near and in Los Alamos. The fire has burned over 18,000 acres (7,284 ha) and the media has reported 400 homes burned in Los Alamos. The heat signature from a smaller fire located to the east of Los Alamos is also visible.
(Source: NOAA/OSEI)

The current weather conditions for Los Alamos: clear with temperature about 13°C (57 F) (Source: CNN)

Four Day Weather Forecast
(12-15 May 2000)


61 F
16 C

28 F
-2 C

66 F
18 C

37 F
2 C

78 F
25 C

41 F
5 C

80 F
26 C

44 F
6 C

For further publications regarding to the Los Alamos incident the GFMC would like to refer to the Recent Media Highlights on Fire, Policies, and Politics or

The Wildland Fire Assessment System (WFAS) is a contribution of “The Fire Behavior Research Work Unit”, Missoula (Montana USA). The broad area component of the Wildland Fire Assessment System (WFAS) generates maps of selected fire weather and fire danger components. Fire Danger (Potential) is a normalized adjective rating class across different fuel models and station locations. It is based on information provided by local station managers about the primary fuel model, fire danger index selected to reflect staffing level, and climatological class breakpoints. Low danger (class 1) is green and extreme potential (class 5) is red.

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Fig. 3. & 4. Fire Danger Forecast Maps of the United States and Alaska for 11 May (observation time) and 12 May (forecast) 2000.
(Source: Fire Behavior Research Work Unit, Missoula)

The Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) is a soil/duff drought index that ranges from 0 (no drought) to 800 (extreme drought) and is based on a soil capacity of 8 inches of water. Factors in the index are maximum daily temperature, daily precipitation, antecedent precipitation, and annual precipitation. KBDI = 0 – 200: Soil moisture and large class fuel moistures are high and do not contribute much to fire intensity. Typical of spring dormant season following winter precipitation. KBDI = 200 – 400: Typical of late spring, early growing season. Lower litter and duff layers are drying and beginning to contribute to fire intensity. KBDI = 400 – 600: Typical of late summer, early fall. Lower litter and duff layers actively contribute to fire intensity and will burn actively. KBDI = 600 – 800: Often associated with more severe drought with increased wildfire occurrence. Intense, deep burning fires with significant downwind spotting can be expected. Live fuels can also be expected to burn actively at these levels.

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Fig. 5. Keetch-Byram Drought Index Map of the United States, 11 May 2000
(Source: Fire Behavior Research Work Unit, Missoula)

For further information on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) by Florida’s Division of Forestry / Forest Protection Bureau please refer to Keetch-Byram Drought Index Revisited: Prescribed Fire Applications.

Incident Management Situation Report (11 May 2000)
Current Situation:
New large fires were reported in the Southwest and Southern Areas. The Cerro Grande fire near Los Alamos, NM moved into town yesterday and numerous homes were reported burned. The town of Espanola, NM was evacuated Wednesday night as a precautionary measure. High winds are forecast for Arizona and New Mexico again today. The Southwest Area ordered an Area Command Team and a Type I Incident Management Team. The National Interagency Coordination Center processed orders for helicopters, airtankers, meteorological equipment, radio equipment, a caterer, a shower, engines, crews, and miscellaneous overhead. Very high to extreme fire indices were reported in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, Oklahoma, and Texas.
A red flag warning is posted in all of New Mexico for strong, gusty winds
A fire weather watch is posted in all of Arizona for strong, gusty winds and low afternoon relative humidities
A fire weather watch is posted in the davis mountains in West Texas for low relative humidities and strong winds
A fire weather watch is posted in east Central Florida and the panhandle for low relative humidities
New Mexico will be partly cloudy and very windy. Winds will be southwest at 25 to 40 mph with stronger gusts. High temperatures will be in the 70’s in the mountains and into the 90’s at lower elevations. Arizona will be mostly sunny and windy. Winds will be west to southwest at 20 to 30 mph with higher gusts in the northern part of the state. Minimum afternoon humidities will be 10 to 25 percent. High temperatures will be in the 60’s and 70’s in the mountains and in the mid 90’s in the deserts. West Texas will be mostly sunny and hot. High temperatures will be between 90 and 108. Winds will be southwest at 10 to 20 mph. Afternoon humidities will range from 10 to 20 percent. Florida will be partly cloudy with isolated showers and thunderstorms. High temperatures will be in the 80’s. Winds will be south to southwest at 10 to 15 mph. Minimum humidities will be 30 to 40 percent.Long-range, 30-day weather forecasts are predicting above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for the southern tier of states from southern California to Florida and throughout the Midwest (see 30 and 90-day forecast maps).

Tab.1. Five-Year Wildland Fire Comparison Statistics Year-to-Date for the United States (8 May 2000)
(Source: National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC)

As of 05/08/00 Number of Wildland Fires Area burnt Acres Hectars 2000 31,415 791,236 320,201 1999 33,677 619,869 250,852 1998 16,938 283,138 114,581 1997 22,705 358,174 144,947 1996 50,837 1,325,783 536,525

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Fig. 6. 30 and 90-day temperature and precipitation forecast maps (May and May to July 2000)
(Source: National Weather Service, Boise, Idaho)

Remarks on Prescribed Burning
At this time of the year prescribed burning operations are conducted routinely.
Fire is an important natural tool for ecosystem management. It can reduce dense vegetation improving wildlife habitat and lessening the potential for large, wildfire disasters. Land managers are directed to prepare a prescribed fire/burn plan for every area of public land that can burn. Some areas require total suppression while others will benefit from a wildland fire. Those areas that will benefit from a fire can be treated by a prescribed fire.
Especially, for the moment, in the southern and southeastern regions of the United States prescribed fire activities will be carried out in the following weeks and months. In this case, fire signals on satellite images can be traced back to this kind of land management activities.

In the Prescribed Fire Position Paper of the Forest Protection Bureau by the Division of Forestry in Florida, prescribed fire activity is described as a land management application that is essential to the practice of forestry, management of wildlife, preservation of endangered plant and animal species, improvement of range conditions and reduction of wildfire damage in the wildland/urban interface areas. While there is general public and landowner concern with increased smoke, reduced air quality, and liability; the general public and landowners benefit significantly from the reduction of devastating wildfire, improved wildlife habitat and forage, preservation of endangered and threatened plant and animal species, and improved management of forest resources. The prospect of severe reductions in the utilization of this management tool is of major concern to Florida’s natural resource managers and conservationists due to the subsequent loss of derived public and private benefits. They suggest the need for legislative attention.

Another report on nation-wide prescribed burning in the U.S.A. was published in  International Forest Fire News No.19 (September 1998).

A set of photographic documents on prescribed burning techniques and objectives in the Southeast can be visited in our photo archive.

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