USA — Federal officials report there have already been almost twice as many wildfires this year than during the same period last year, and the outlook through the middle of the year for more fires in Texas, Florida and California is not good.
The National Interagency Fire Center, the national support center that coordinates responses to wild land fires, said that as of Friday, there had been 24,126 open forest and grassland blazes this year, involving more than 668,000 acres.
From January 1 through April 10, 2008, there were 13,554 fires, consuming more than 1.1 million acres, with several large Southwest fires and some early season blazes in southern California and Colorado contributing to the extensive damage.
The latest seasonal outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that despite some heavy storms in February and March, both western Texas and Oklahoma and much of California, along with central and south Florida are likely to see drought conditions continue or get worse into June.
Texas had it’s driest winter since records were started in 1895, and rainfall is still a foot below normal in many parts of the state, including those in the northwest hit hard by wildfires this week. More than 90 percent of the state is under some degree of drought condition.
And drought has been increasing across much of Florida, where some cities had their driest winter on record.
The fire center’s seasonal outlook for April through July notes that the potential for major fires will remain high for west Texas and Oklahoma through this month, then begin to decrease going into the summer.
The threat for major fires across the southeast from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains is expected to be below normal the rest of this month.
But the fire threat will continue and expand northward for Arizona and New Mexico through mid-summer.
And the center warns that “fire activity is expected to increase across Florida and southeast Georgia ” all this month, with much of the region experiencing fire danger levels more typically seen in May.
In California, which has already recorded more than 400 small wildfires this year, drought conditions from Santa Barbara north to the San Francisco Bay area are expected to persist or worsen through June, with fire risk starting to increase at lower elevations late this month, and over a wider area beginning in May.
However, even though Southern California has already had more than 270 fires over 1,500 acres this year, forecasts suggest that at least through mid-summer the region will be spared conditions that drove massive wildfires around San Diego and Los Angeles last year.
Even with more than 80,000 wildfires nationwide, 2008 recorded just 2 percent more fires than the 10-year average. And the 5.2 million acres burned last year was 28 percent below the decade average.