Fire Outlook: 2007 Wildfire Season Looks Wicked

May 15, 2007

Fire scientists are predicting an above-average wildfire season from May through August 2007, according to the National Interagency Fire Center Predictive Services Group based in Boise, Idaho. In its “National Wildland Fire Outlook,” released May 1, the group said “significant fire potential is expected to be higher than normal across much of the Southwest and California, portions of the Great Basin, Northern Rockies, Northwest, Alaska and the Southeast.”
With seemingly most of the country susceptible to significant wildfires, just a small portion of the Southwest faced predictions of below normal fire potential.

The report indicated that drought, early fire season onset and an active grassland fire season sparked the high wildfire predictions.
“Drought conditions have been expanding and intensifying over much of the West since last autumn,” the report indicated. “Many areas, including Alaska, have exhibited much below average snowpack through the winter and early spring months.” While the group said drought relief was not expected to arrive this summer, it added that grassy areas across much of the west are expected to green and cure early, leading to an “active and prolonged grassland fire season.”

Already in southern Georgia, “a three-week-old fire has become that state’s biggest in five decades after charring 167 square miles (433 sq. kilometers) of forest and swamp,” according to the Associated Press. “Smoke from a mammoth wildfire in the Southeast closed sections of two major highways.” At press time, crews were still battling a wildfire in Georgia and northern Florida that had burned 212,000 acres — or more than 330 square miles — since lightning ignited it. And in California, a 4,200-acre fire on Santa Catalina Island, while 69 percent contained as of press time, still managed to force the evacuation of 4,000 residents and cause an estimated $2.1 million in damages.

The report indicated that heat, dead or dying forests caused by insect infestations, and “carry-over” grass from the previous seasons are ready to burn.

While the Northwest experienced a generally wet winter in some areas, rain and snowfall totals were near normal or below normal in Washington and Oregon.

California has been facing below-normal precipitation levels since Oct. 2006, except for the extreme Northwest corner of the Golden State, the report indicated. Additionally, “below normal precipitation and slightly above normal temperatures are leading to earlier than normal curing of grasses at lower elevations, especially in the north,” the report said. Furthermore, the January freeze that occurred in California and caused native and non-native vegetation to die prematurely, and insect-killed timber areas of some forests further fueled the scientists’ concerns.

In the Southwest, weather patterns of progressive storms are predicted to bring progressive storm systems, which the report indicated would bring unusually windy conditions. Those weather conditions are likely to lower the probability of lightening storms.

To view the full outlook, visit

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