Kristine Lofgren

Officials in Western U.S. Brace for Fire Season After Drought and a Hot Winter

by , 03/20/14

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It may seem like just yesterday that the wildfires in California finally died down, but experts in the state are already worried about the coming fire season after a long, hot winter comes to a close. If recent weather is any indicator, the state – and the entire Western U.S. – could be in for an even hotter summer. Almost 95 percent of the state is currently in a drought even after recent rain, and after last year the budget for fighting fires has been spread thin.

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Last year some of the most destructive fires in California started as early as May and ended later than normal as well. Some experts expect this year to be similar in terms of length. Recent fire maps show only a small portion of the state at risk right now, but over the next few months that risk will spread to cover two-thirds of the state. What’s particularly concerning is that trends are moving in the wrong direction for fires in the west. With the wood getting drier and the weather getting hotter, fires are more likely to start and spread quickly, but there is an added danger as people continue to build more homes in forested areas.

Related: New NASA Satellite Image Shows California Drought from Space

Although fire fighters have learned to expect these sort of extreme fire seasons, their budgets haven’t kept up. Last year’s suppression budget was exceeded by about a half a billion dollars for the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. That means little money is left over for prevention efforts, which adds another risk factor to the mix. This year lawmakers in the west are hoping to pay for fires out of the federal emergency fund, which is used for other natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes. Regardless of how it is paid for, the area is likely in for a difficult fire season.

Via NPR

Images from USFWS and US Army

Related: How Climate Change Fuels Wildfires Explained in 90 Seconds

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