An Arizona wildfirethat has burned 14,000 acres and incurred $1.8 million in claims to date might be the first example of the fire risks the Western United States are facing in 2010. But, the National Interagency Coordination Center expects fire risks to be greater in the northern half of the West.
In that region, drier conditions after a strong El Nino winter weather pattern suggest higher than normal wildfire potential, according to the annual Fire Season Outlook released by the Predictive Services group at the National Interagency Fire Center. NIFC noted it is concerned with the Northern Rockies o Montana and Idaho; parts of eastern Washington; northwestern Wyoming; and a portion of south-central Oregon stretching down into the northeastern corner of California.
“The strong El Nino in the southern Pacific Ocean over the winter flexed its muscle,” said RObyn Heffernan, the deputy fire weather program manager for NIFC. “Consequently, a lot of the northern half of the western United States got significantly less snowfall over the winter, which will mean drier fuels once summer arrives.”
Several other regions of the country are also abnormally dry heading into late spring and early summer: the northern Great Lakes region; central Alaska; southern Arizona; and a section of southern Georgia, Alabama, and northern Florida. These areas, however, will probably benefit from normal seasonal rains by midsummer. Hawaii also was influenced by the winter weather pattern, resulting in the leeward side of the islands being dry. Hawaii’s dry conditions are expected to persist all summer, NIFC said.
Although it too had a dry winter, Nevada should see a below-normal fire season because dry weather will prevent normal desert grass growth — grass that typically fuels summer fires, NIFC said.
While El Nino denied normal snowfalls and winter rains in some parts o the country, it had a dampening effect in other regions heading into fire season. The mountainous areas of Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah and southern Colorado were inundated with heavy snows over the winter, and forested areas will not have enough time to dry to critical levels before summer rains begin to fall, the Center predicted.
“After good moisture last year that inhibited wildfires over most of the country, 2010 might see a spike in fire activity — particularly in the northern half of the West,” Heffernan said.
The Schultz fire burning near Flagstaff, Ariz., began four days ago and was 20 percent contained at press time, the NIFC reported. It has incurred $1.8 million in claims, and burned 14,000 acres — 4,000 acres in the past day.
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