USA –-Large, destructive wildfires are burning in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and across the western United States, in part the result of parched conditions and the warmest U.S. spring on record.
In Southern California, firefighters were getting a handle on a 1,000-acre blaze in eastern San Diego County; meanwhile, fire forecasters warn of increasing wildfire danger in the months ahead.
But while lack of rainfall and rising heat are much of the reason for the wave of fire, Bill Patzert, an oceanographer and climate researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, cites the human factor as well.
A lot of this is on us, Patzert said of the western wildfires. You just cant blame Mother Nature and say weve had a warm, dry winter. It is true that grasses and soil moisture is where it should be in July and August. There is already in Southern California, and I think its true across the country, almost no snow pack.
But human choices also are having a profound impact, he said.
The thing that has fundamentally changed is land use and population density over the last half century and forestry practices, Patzert said. Those three things have all gone the wrong way.
More people are living on the dangerous edge between wild and urban landscape. In Orange County, more people make their homes in the traditional Santa Ana wind corridors, placing themselves in the path of potentially explosive wildfire.
And in the forests, suppression of smaller fires has increased though in many cases allowing them to burn out accumulated fuel would be wiser in the long run.
Now we snuff out a lot of small fires, and end up with a lot of mega-fires, he said.
Patzert points to a well-entrenched culture of fire suppression.
Of course the villain on the forestry practice side of it is Smokey the Bear, he said. Smokey shouldnt have put out all those little fires.
Patzert, the Orange County Fire Authority and other experts are urging homeowners to clear brush around their homes and otherwise to prepare for what could be a busy wildfire season.
Among the larger U.S. fires, several that forced evacuations:
-High Park Fire west of Fort Collins, Colo., which has burned 93 square miles and destroyed at least 189 homes. It was 55 percent contained late Tuesday.
-The Whitewater Baldy fire in New Mexico, the largest in state history at 463 square miles, was 80 percent contained by late Tuesday. It is one of three significant wildfires in New Mexico.
-A 10,000-acre in Nevada was 15 percent contained.
-A 3,700-acre wildfire in Arizonas Tonto National Forest was 15 percent contained, with firefighters building containment lines around it to protect power lines.
-Wildfires also were burning in Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska and Hawaii, along with the fire in eastern San Diego County.