Severe wildfire season forecasted for Florida

 Severe wildfire season forecasted for Florida

1 May 2008

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USA — A severe wildfire season is forecast for Florida, as well as areas including southern California and the Southwest, which are already contending with fires, according to a fire outlook released Thursday.

Florida, Arizona and New Mexico are entering the peak of their fire seasons — May through June — and the potential for significant wildfires has been heightened by recent dry weather in Florida and abundant fine fuels, such as grass, across much of the Southwest, the National Interagency Fire Center reported.

It’s already been a busy year, with about 1.3 million acres burned nationally — nearly double the 700,000 that’s considered normal for this time of year, said Rick Ochoa, a meteorologist with the agency’s Predictive Services branch.

The frequency of rains in Florida could play a big part in how bad its season gets, he said.

“I have high confidence in Florida having more acres than normal,” Ochoa said. But, “I’d be surprised if they had a record-breaking season in Florida.”

He said he’d also be surprised if a record number of acres burned nationally.

An estimated 9.3 million acres burned nationwide last year, down from nearly 9.9 million in 2006, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. To reach those kind of levels, Alaska and the West would have to have bad years, Ochoa said.

Places like the Northern Rockies will bear some watching, he said. Cooler spring conditions have kept the snowpack in the mountains longer, which is a good thing. But if conditions in June turn very hot and dry, “that will trump the wet, cool spring” and could lead to more severe conditions than are forecast, Ochoa said.

According to the report, the threat of large fires is expected to decrease between June and August across eastern stretches of New Mexico and Colorado and western reaches of Texas, Kansas and Nebraska.

Meanwhile, the potential for significant fires is expected to persist or grow during that period in areas including parts of southern California, southern Arizona and New Mexico and parts of the Northern Rockies and High Plains.

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