Wildfires burn record 1.8 million acres in Alaska

Nationally, fires have scorched more than 2.5 million acres

Spot fires show as small puffs of smoke ahead of the main fire front as the fire moves toward the New Town of the village of Nulato on June 22 Credit: Ben Pratt

Smoke from spot fires ahead of the main fire front as a fire in the Galena Zone moves toward New Town Nulato on June 22, Credit: Ben Pratt/Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Staff Report

FRISCO — U.S. Wildfire activity has surged above the 10-year average in the past few weeks, primarily because of what will be a record-breaking fire season in Alaska.

After months of mostly above-average temperatures, Alaska’s vast forests and brushlands were primed, and the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center is reporting that more  600 fires have burned across more than 1.8 million acres in the state.

Fires have caused evacuations, highway closures, and rail and flight disruptions. More than 350 structures have been damaged, including about 70 homes.

Above-average temperatures and a longstanding drought in the western U.S. are big factors in the wildfires burning in parts of Washington, Oregon and California.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there are currently 26 major fires burning in Alaska. Nationally, the NIFC is reporting that about 26,000 fires have burned across more than 2.5 million acres for the year to-date, the highest number since 2011, when fires had already scorched more than 4.8 million acres by this time of year.

Cabinet members push for wildfire budget changes

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Firefighers working at the scene of a wildfire near Keystone Colorado in 2011. 

Wildfire season outlook means the Forest Service may once again have to scrounge for firefighting money from other funds

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Despite plentiful spring moisture in the central U.S., top federal officials warned that parts of the West could still see a potentially disastrous wildfire season, especially in the far West and the northernmost Rockies.

This summer’s wildfire season could be a repeat of last year, when the biggest fires burned in Oregon and Washington, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said during a press briefing in Denver. Continue reading

Alaska, far West face biggest wildfire threats this summer

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The biggest threat of wildfires in early summer is in Alaska and northwestern Canada.

Year-to-date wildfire activity is well below the average of the last 10 years

Staff Report

FRISCO — While the wildfire season is off to a relatively slow start — at least compared to blistering pace of the past 10 years, Forest Service fire experts are still expecting an above-average season, and there is concern once again that the agency might have to use money and personnel from other programs to address the threat.

So far this year, wildfires have burned across about 390,000 acres through the end of May. The average for the pst 10 years is about 1.2 million acres. But the agency won’t let down its guard, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told Congress during a recent budget hearing. Continue reading

Colorado firefighters speak out on climate change

Short documentary film explores links between global warming and growing wildfire danger

Staff Report

FRISCO — Colorado firefighters who have battled some of the state’s biggest blazes are speaking up about the risks of climate change in a new short documentary film that premiers in Denver this week.

The film links the increase in the number and intensity of Colorado wildfires with climate change. The 7 p.m. showing at the Sie FilmCenter (2510 East Colfax Ave.) is open to the public. Free tickets can be reserved at http://www.denverfilm.org/filmcenter/detail.aspx?id=27436

The screening is presented by The Story Group and Working Films.

In the movie, Rod Moraga, a fire behavior analyst with 26 years of experience, recounts directing firefighting efforts at the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire when he realized his own house was threatened. Continue reading

Warming temps not the only factor in beetle outbreaks

Study shows regional variations in forest health equation

Annual aerial survey enable resource managers to map the spread of tree-killing bugs.

Annual aerial survey enable resource managers to map the spread of tree-killing bugs.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Warming winters across the western U.S. have had a nuanced effect on the severity of mountain pine beetle outbreaks, researchers said last week.

The absence of lengthy bug-killing cold snaps in some areas has helped fuel the growth of insect populations,, but milder winters can’t be blamed for the full extent of recent outbreaks in the region, according to a study by Dartmouth College and U.S. Forest Service. Continue reading

One more time: Beetle-killed forests are NOT more likely to burn, according to new CU-Boulder study

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Beetle-killed lodgepole pines in Colorado. bberwyn photo.

New CU-Boulder study has implications for forest managers and Red Zone communities

Staff Report

*More Summit Voice stories on beetle-kill and forests here.

FRISCO — Communities and resource managers looking to address the threat of wildfires should focus less on tree-killing beetles and more on the underlying forces driving the trend toward larger fires.

Warmer temperatures and increased drought are the key factors, said Colorado-based researchers who took a close look at patterns of beetle-kill and wildfires in recent years.

Their study found that western forests killed by mountain pine beetles are no more at risk to burn than healthy forests. Those findings  fly in the face of both public perception and policy, the scientists acknowledged.

“What we are seeing in this study is that at broad scales, fire does not necessarily follow mountain pine beetles,” said CU-Boulder Research Scientist Tania Schoennagel, of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “It’s well known, however, that fire does follow drought.” Continue reading

Wildfire season starts slow for 2d year in a row

Continued Western drought, warmth set stage for significant wildfires later this summer

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After a dry and warm winter, southern Alaska will have a better than average chance of signficant wildfire activity this spring. Map via NIFC.

By Bob Berwyn

Western wildfires have always been shape-shifting beasts, roaring to life wherever there is hot and dry weather, wind and fuel. But last year’s relatively cool and wet summer brought relief to parts of the region — including Colorado — that had been especially hard the previous few years.

The 2015 wildfire season is starting similarly slow to last year, according to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center showing that, since January 1, there have been about 6,200 fires that burned across a 100,000 acre footprint, just 30 percent of the average from the past 10 years. Continue reading

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