Officials Worry About Wildfires as More People Enjoy Nature After Coronavirus Lockdowns

30 May 2020

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USA – Parts of the West are already in extreme drought ahead of wildfire season, and officials in some areas are worried about an uptick in fire action as more people emerge from coronavirus-related lockdowns and resume outdoor activities like hiking and camping.

Mike Melton, head of the Color Country Interagency Fire Management Agency that spans southwest Utah and northwest Arizona, said in a recent news release that the region was “seeing a significant increase in public outdoor recreation” that could contribute to more wildfire ignitions.

“Please be especially careful where you build campfires, completely extinguish campfires with water and be cognizant of where you park your car,” Melton said. “A hot exhaust system or embers from a campfire can result in a very dangerous situation for firefighters and the public.”

Utah is experiencing drier weather that has led to more early-season fires.

“Already this year in the state, all land statewide, we’ve had 237 wildfires,” State Forester Brian Cottam told the Salt Lake Tribune. “That’s compared to 67 last year at this time. That’s a four-time increase in the number of fires.”

Above normal significant large fire potential is predicted in the coming months for parts of Utah and much of the West, including sections of Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Northern California. The U.S. Drought Monitor is already showing moderate to extreme drought in portions of nearly every state west of the Rockies.

Florida has seen a number of high profile fires recently, but overall is expected to have a normal to below average fire season, as is much of the South and the East.

While a few parts of the U.S. have seen a fast start to wildfire season, others are experiencing below-normal fire activity so far for this time of year.

Overall, 12,736 wildfires had burned in the U.S this year as of May 5, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. That’s fewer than the 10-year average of 17,931. The fires also burned significantly less acreage.

Some agencies have chosen to reduce or eliminate prescribed burns this year in order to avoid causing respiratory issues that could exacerbate coronavirus. Prescribed burns, also known as controlled burns, help prevent wildfires by clearing brush and other fuel.

“We have not done prescribed burning this spring, and we’ve probably missed that window,” David Whittekiend, supervisor for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, told the Tribune. “We will be reevaluating in the fall if we do get conditions that allow us to do prescribed burning.”

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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