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Wildfire activity surges past 10-year average

Fire risk expected to continue in northern Rockies

Monthly outlook

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Wildfire activity across the U.S. has surged past the 10-year rolling average in the past few weeks, with major fires still burning in the northern Rockies, as well as the potential for big fires in the far West, as California hits the peak of the dry season.

Nationally, wildfires have now burned across about 7.6 million acres, more than last year’s total of 6.9 million acres, when massive fires scorched Texas and part of the Southwest.

This year’s total is the highest since 2006 (7.6 million acres) and nearly 2 million acres more than the 10-year rolling average of 5.9 million acres.

The lowest totals in recent years were in 2010 and 2003, with wildfires on about 2.6 million acres nationwide.

Currently, major wildfires are burning on nearly 1 million acres:

California (5)
Colorado (1)
Idaho (10)
Montana (8)
Nebraska (1)
Oregon (6)
Texas (1)
Wyoming (1)

The highest potential for late summer and autumn fires is in band across the western U.S. stretching from central and northern California through the northern Great Basin and into the Northern Rockies and north central U.S.

The monthly and seasonal outlook from the National Interagency Fire Center suggests that developing El Niño conditions could dampen the potential for big fires in parts of the Southwest, but increase the danger in the northern Rockies, where the  onset of weak to moderate El Niño points to a dry fall and dry early winter. Grass fires east of the divide will continue a possibility until snow covers the ground. Read the full outlook here.

The eastern Great Basin could continue to be a hotspot, with signifcant potential for fires in much of central and southern Idaho and western Wyoming. From the report:

“Fire danger indices are above the 97th percentile across much of central and southern Idaho and western Wyoming going into September. Little relief is expected for at least the first half of September with warm and dry conditions continuing across the north.”

This summer’s wildfire season also triggered a debate about possible links between fires and global warming. While the U.S. Forest Service has acknowledged that climate change is expected to lengthen and intensify the wildfire season, most politicians have ignored that suggestion.

Most recently, environmental activist Gary Wockner, writing in the Huffington Post, charged Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper with missing a “teachable moment” by not mentioning climate change during a summer of deadly fires in the state.

Climate activists also criticized the mainstream media for not reporting more on the links between warmer temperatures and the massive fires that scorched parts of the country.

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