Despite going into the fire season on the heels of continuing drought and dry fuel conditions, 2004 looks like it will be a below-average year for wildfires across most of the United States. Alaska, the lone exception, experienced its worst fire season on record.
According to the National Interagency Fire Centers 2004 season summary (as of Oct. 22), Alaska had 703 fires and 6,517,200 acres burned. The lower 48 states had 61,873 fires burning 1,394,144 acres.
NIFC attributed the better than expected wildland fire season across the lower 48 states to fewer dry lightning storms and high initial-attack success rates.
Alaska held the fire season records this year. The states summer was the warmest and third driest on record and set the record for the most lightning strikes (9,022 ) in a 24-hour period on July 15. It used the highest number of Incident Management Teams and hot shot crews from the lower 48 states. Wildland Fire Use Management Teams were used for the first time and more IMTs and hot shot crews were mobilized from the lower 48 states than in any previous season, according to NIFC. Also for the first time ever, engines were shipped from the lower 48 states to Alaska. More water-scooping aircraft (CL-215s and 415s) and single-engine airtankers (SEATS) were used than ever before in a single season and there were more evacuations and threatened communities than ever before during a fire season in Alaska.
Wildland resources were tapped to assist in the response and recovery efforts for the hurricanes in the southeastern states. A total of 1,900 people from the wildland fire community assisted with hurricane recovery from Charles, Frances and Ivan. Fourteen of the nations 17 Type 1 Incident Management Teams, all four Area Command teams, and 12 national buying teams were assigned to hurricane support over a two-month period in late summer and fall. At one point, the Southern Area had mobilized two Area Command teams and eight Type 1 IMTs.
This hurricane response represents the broadest application of the Incident Command System to a natural disaster. The assignments from FEMA included base camp management, logistics, staging areas, and receiving and distribution centers, said the NIFC season wrapup. In late October, Wildland fire activity was coming to a close throughout all of the states, although the outlook for southern California remained at normal to above normal. Santa Ana winds are anticipated for part of the month of October before any significant amount of precipitation is received. Other regions in the United States were experiencing normal fire potential.
Nationwide, as of Oct. 22, 7,912,571 acres were burned, more than $500 million was spent in suppression costs, and 1,084 structures weredestroyed.