Get ready for another summer of destructive wildfires across much of the country. Forecasters at the National Interagency Fire Center are predicting that warmer and drier-than-normal conditions have put large portions of the Western United States at above-average risk for significant wildfires between now and September.
This year’s wildfire season could rival last year’s, which was one of the most devastating on record, said Vicki Christiansen, interim chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Last year’s fires killed 53 people, including 14 firefighters, and burned more than 10 million acres, an area larger than Maryland. More than 12,300 homes and other structures were destroyed.
The government spent a record $2.9 billion to suppress last year’s fires, Christiansen told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday. “Early predictions indicate that 2018 will likely be another challenging wildfire year,” she said.
Already this year, nearly 24,000 wildfires have burned 1.7 million acres across the country, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the committee. Massive wildfires that started last week in New Mexico and Colorado are burning through thousands of acres. Other states that are likely to experience forest fires this year include Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
The Forest Service and its partners have more than 10,000 firefighters, 900 engines and hundreds of aircraft available to manage the fires, Christiansen told Senators.