Critical fire weather forecast across big swath of Southwest

All of Arizona, New Mexico encompassed in weekend warning from National Weather Service

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The National Weather Service is highlighting a large part of the Southwest for critical fire weather conditions. Hot temperatures and winds are expected.

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The Whitewater-Baldy Fire burning in New Mexico in June 2012. Photo courtesy Kari Greer/USFS.

Staff Report

FRISCO — In what may signify an early start to the western wildfire season, the National Weather Service Sunday issued bulletin warning that multiple days of critical fire weather conditions are expected across the Southwest this coming week.

From the NWS website:

“A dry airmass will be in place from the Great Basin to the Plains on Sunday. Temperatures warming into the 60s and 70s with wind gusts near 35 mph and relative humidity values from 10 to 15 percent will lead to elevated to critical fire danger. These conditions will likely remain in place until mid-week. Rapid growth and spread is likely with any fires that are ignited in and around this region.”

The warning for this week is a shift away from a seasonal forecast issued last month that didn’t include any elevated early season fire danger in the region. Parts of the Southwest saw some relief from a multi-year drought this winter, but overall, the region is still dry and fire danger can be significant even during normal precipitation years.

The areas with the highest potential for dangerous fires extends from southeastern California through southern Nevada, southeastern Utah, far western Colorado and covers nearly all of Arizona and much of New Mexico.

Both New Mexico and Arizona saw their largest wildfires on record during the past several years, including the 2011 Wallow Fire in Arizona, which burned across half a million acres (about 841 square miles). In New Mexico, the 2011 Las Conchas Fire burned about 150,000 acres, following by the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire in 2012 in Catron County, New Mexico, which scorched nearly 300,000 acres.

 

 

 

 

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

Feds see $470 million gap in firefighting budget

 firefighters teamed up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire along Montezuma Road, near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Firefighters teamed up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Funding shortfall has ripple effect in other public lands programs

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — With a dangerous fire season forecast for parts of the country, especially the drought-stricken far West and Southern Plains, federal firefighting agencies will likely once again face a huge budget shortfall. That could require the Forest Service to divert funds from other programs, according to top administration officials who presented the report to Congress.

The report projects firefighting costs of about $1.8 billion, with only $1.4 billion budgeted. The Obama administration is advocating for a budget that would close the gap by giving firefighting agencies the ability to use emergency funds separate from their discretionary budgets to fight fires.

Similar legislation is pending in Congress, where the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act is cosponsored by Sen.Michal Bennet (D-CO) and Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). Continue reading

Environment: New model could boost forecasts for predicting behavior of large and complex wildfires

Local firefighters teamed up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire along Montezuma Road, near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Local firefighters team up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire along Montezuma Road, near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Updated satellite instruments help refine predictions

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As the West Fork Fire Complex roared through the spruce and fir forests of the Colorado San Juans last summer, on its way to becoming the state’s second-largest wildfire on record, communities in the region were on edge for days. Slight shifts in wind pushed the fire in new directions every other day, forcing some residents to leave their homes for weeks.

Like many large fires, the West Fork Complex even created its own weather, making it even harder for experts to project its path. But new research by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Maryland may help firefighters and resource managers get a better handle on predicting fire behavior. Continue reading

Colorado: Wildfire task force report suggests crackdown on red zone development

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The cost of property damage caused by wildfires has spiked in recent years.

More disastrous fires ahead with sustained effort to address threat

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Increased development in fire-prone forest lands in Colorado “ensures that the pattern of damaging wildfire will continue,” according to a state task force report released last week.

The report was delivered to Gov. John Hickenlooper and legislative after two consecutive years of deadly and destructive fires along the Front Range.

The report calls for rating the wildfire risks on individual properties, and facilitating mitigation and prevention measures at the local level. Property owners in the red zone should be primarily responsible for adressing wildfire dangers, to the point of paying special fees to help fund mitigation efforts. Continue reading

Siberian wildfires linked with global warming

Researchers say Russian fires reflect global trends of increasing wildfires

Acquired by MODIS on July 25, 2013, the natural-color image shows smoke billowing from fires in the Khanty-Mansiyskiy and Yamal-Nenetskiy districts. Red outlines indicate hot spots where MODIS detected abnormally warm surface temperatures associated with fire.

Acquired by MODIS on July 25, 2013, the natural-color image shows smoke billowing from fires in the Khanty-Mansiyskiy and Yamal-Nenetskiy districts. Red outlines indicate hot spots where MODIS detected abnormally warm surface temperatures associated with fire.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A heat wave caused by a “stuck” weather pattern contributed to the intensity of Siberian wildfires in 2012, according to NASA, which warned that similar conditions could prevail this year after another unusual heat wave brought a surge of fire activity in northern Siberia in July.

The persistent high pressure over the  Russian Arctic—a blocking high — drove temperatures up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the northern city of Norilsk, where summer temperatures generally average about 61 degrees.

Russia since the mid-1970s has been more rapid than most areas — about .51 degrees Celsius per decade compared to about .17 degrees Celsius globally, according to a study by Anatoly Shvidenko of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Continue reading

Excess Air Force planes eyed for firefighting duty

Sen. Mark Udall pressing Defense Department to transfer unneeded cargo planes to U.S. Forest Service as soon as possible

A  C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

A C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service efforts to modernize its firefighting air tanker fleet aren’t moving fast enough for Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado democrat who has been pushing for more wildfire resources on all fronts.

This week, Udall pressed the U.S. Defense Department to quickly transfer excess military aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service. In a bipartisan letter, spearheaded with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), Udall said the Pentagon isn’t using its authority to transfer its excess aircraft at no cost to taxpayers.

According to the letter, the Forest Service was unable to meet about half of the requests for firefighting air support in 2012. The Air Force is nearing completion of a divestiture plan for the C-27J Spartan aircraft, and Udall wants to see at least some of those planes put to work fighting fires. Read the letter here. Continue reading

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