USA — Wildfires in Idaho, including the Charlotte Fire in the Pocatello area that destroyed 66 homes, contributed to a season that saw nearly 77,000 acres burn in the Gem State during 2012, well above the 56,500 acres that burned in 2011.
What seemed like persistent blazes that refused to die in Idaho during the early summer months made for a heavy season. But it wasnt one that approached some of the more widespread seasons in recent history, such as the 156,000 acres burned in 2010 or the 308,000 acres burned in 2006.
The story seems to be the same across much of the country. Though there were some especially large wildfires that set records in New Mexico and a 10-year event in Colorado was among the states most costly and is still smoldering months later.
Two massive wildfires raced across tinder dry forests in southern New Mexico in 2012, setting records for the largest and most destructive fires in the states recorded history.
In Colorado, the worst wildfire season in a decade has yet to be fully extinguished. Densely forested pockets within Rocky Mountain National Park continued to smolder just days before the new year.
Were used to seeing fires in August and September, but definitely not late December, said Richard Gilliland, who works at the park. Its been a very, very dry fall and the summer was pretty dry too and that is what led to that fire and made it so difficult to get out.
Burning since October in an area of the park that hadnt seen flames in centuries, the Fern Lake Fire is indicative of the kind of wildfire season that was experienced across the West this year.
Officials described it as severe, active and challenging. In all, more than a dozen lives were lost, an estimated 2,700 homes were destroyed and resources were stretched thin at times as the nation saw more than 9.2 million acres go up in flames. Rather than being an anomaly, the National Interagency Fire Center said this year was more consistent with the kind of fire seasons seen over the past decade.
Since 2002, with only a couple of exceptions, fire seasons have tended to be more active, with larger acreages burned and more severe conditions than any other decade since accurate records were first kept in 1960, fire center spokesman Randy Eardley explained in a review.
The 8 million-acre mark has been surpassed six times over the past decade. Between 1992 and 2001, there was only one year in which more than 7 million acres burned.
Experts say the measure of burned acreage mostly reflects long-term conditions and trends on the landscape.
Statistics from the national fire center show Colorado, California, Idaho and several other Western states saw more land burned this year than in 2011.
But despite the significant events in a handful of Western states, its been an average season nationally.
The good news: Substantially fewer acres burned in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas than the previous year despite continued dry weather and above-normal temperatures. All three states had record-setting seasons the year before.
If the dry trend continues over parts of the central U.S. and into Colorado and New Mexico, forecasters at the National Interagency Fire Center said theres a possibility of seeing an early start to the next fire season.
The other concern is that snowpack in some of the regions mountain ranges is far below normal. The failure was in the forest areas.Advertisement
Following a 10-year strategy, ACT fire managers have created a mosaic across the landscape of different fuel levels, burning at every opportunity.
But forests have been too wet to burn this spring and the past two summers.
A network of 500 fire trails and strategic burns along the north-west urban edge, heavy grazing and extra grass slashing will create a fortress for the territory which forecasters say faces a higher than average risk this summer.
After a fire-fuelled tornado in January 2003 killed four Canberrans and frightened thousands more, CSIRO fire expert Phil Cheney told the subsequent inquiry the fire’s penetration into urban areas under extreme conditions did not reflect a failure of fuel management on the urban interface.