15,000 firefighters available for a likely busy wildfire season; Sierra among danger areas

15,000 firefighters available for a likely busy wildfire season; Sierra among danger areas

26 April 2012

published by www.pe.com

USA — Fifteen thousand firefighters are ready to deal with what’s expected to be a busy season for wildfire, with Nevada and the Sierra among areas in the country at high risk this year, two top cabinet officers said Thursday.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar headed up a telephone news briefing on the 2012 wildfire outlook, predicting fire activity similar to last year, when more than 74,000 fires burned some 8.7 million acres nationwide.

“We believe we are prepared,” Salazar said of the coming fire season.

Much of the drought-stricken Southwest is at high risk of fire, as are the western slopes of the Rockies, said Ed Delgado of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

A near record-dry winter also put the interior mountains of California, including the Sierra, and the Western Great Basin of Nevada at high potential for dangerous fire.

Representatives of the Western Great Basin Predictive Services Center recently predicted more than 600,000 acres of Nevada will likely burn during this year’s fire season.

They said fire conditions typically found in mid-summer exist already. The Reno area was hit with two unseasonable fires in November and January, burning more than 5,000 acres and 50 homes.

“Regions across the country face serious risks of extreme wildfires this year because of the mild winter and low precipitation levels in many areas,” Salazar said.

While 98 percent of wildfires are quickly contained, others can grow large and dangerous, Vilsack said. Over the past decade, wildfires have destroyed 28,000 homes, businesses and outbuildings.

“The reality is we’re still faced with serious, threatening fires,” Vilsack said.

Much of the 500 million acres of public land managed by the Department of Interior is in low-elevation rangeland in the West, terrain where grasses and shrubs provide a flashy fuel source for fire – particularly after mild winters.

The Interior Department, which oversees the Bureau of Land Management, has $736 million budgeted for its fire program in 2012.

The Agriculture Department, which oversees the Forest Service, has more than $2.1 billion. The two departments, states, local and tribal governments have 15,000 permanent or season firefighters available to battle wildfires.

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