Watch Out: This Year’s Fire Season Will Be Another Bad One for the West | Smart News | Smithsonian

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Watch Out: This Year’s Fire Season Will Be Another Bad One for the West

A warm, dry winter has set the stage for another bad year of forest fires in the western U.S.

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The Waldo Canyon fire was the most destructive in Colorado’s history. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory

Last year was one of the worst wildfire seasons in Colorado’s recent history. A series of destructive blazes drove tends of thousands of people from their homes and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage.

Last year’s awful fire season was spurred by a dry winter and higher-than-average temperatures. Those same conditions are back, says Climate Central, and the western U.S. is at risk once more.

Drought conditions have encompassed nearly the entire Western half of the country, with the worst of it centered in the Southwest and into California, which received only about 25 percent of its average precipitation during the year-to-date. “We’re confident we’re going to see above-normal significant fire potential,” Sullens said.

From California to Colorado, he says, the early-summer fire risk is high. Indeed, California has already seen a big blaze.

Forecasters are also concerned about a high risk of large wildfires along the Pacific Coast from California northward to Washington, and inland into Idaho and Southwest Montana, where very dry conditions exist in areas that have an abundance of vegetation, or fuel, to support potential fires.

… Vilsack said the combination of the drought, an abundance of dead or weakened trees from an epidemic of mountain bark beetles, and a likelihood of another unusually hot and dry summer is “a combination that doesn’t bode well.”

In many places the spring fire season has been off to a slow start, says Andrew Freedman, but according to the federal government this “has no bearing on where we think this fire season is going to go.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

Here’s What $110 Million in Fire Damage Looks Like
Australia is Burning, And It’s Only Going to Get Worse as the World Warms
Devastating Colorado Wildfires Most Recent in Decades-Long Surge
Fires Are Escaping Our Ability to Predict Their Behavior

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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