The wildfire burning near Flagstaff, Ariz., has claimed more than 14,000 acres and is only 20 percent contained three days after it started, the National Interagency Coordination Center has reported.
NICC’s latest Incident Management Situation Report said the Schultz fire, which was started by an abandoned campfire, is characterized by “extreme fire behavior with rapid rates of spread.”
While no structures have yet been lost to fire, many are threatened and evacuations are in effect, NICC said. It estimates $1.8 million in claims to date.
In general, the U.S. Forest Service said, “Vast tracts of the nation’s forested landscapes are in poor or declining health.” Particularly in the West, forests are overstocked and full of hazardous fuels, as many areas are “besieged by drought, insect infestations and disease. These forests are especially vulnerable to large, severe wildfires that pose significant environmental, safety, and health risks.”
Yet recent rainfall in the Northwest is expected to increase chances for wildfires in rangelands and push back the start of fire season in forest areas according to National Interagency Fire Center meteorologist Rick Ochoa. “We still expect an active forest wildfire season, but it is likely to begin in August, rather than July in the northern Rockies and portions of Idaho and Wyoming. We expect the Southwest to remain active until monsoons arrive in July.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said federal capabilities to respond to wildfires are becoming more complex and extreme due to forest and rangeland health conditions, climate change and population growth near wildlands. They said that more than 18,000 firefighters will be available in 2010, including permanent and seasonal federal and state employees, crews from tribal and local governments, contract crews, and emergency/temporary hires.
On average, the USDA Forest Service responds to more than 10,000 wildfires per year, suppressing 98 percent of them on initial attack. To continue to improve its ability to address this threat, the Forest Service recently provided more than $35 million in grants to state forestry agencies for preparedness, suppression, equipment, and training for more than 42,000 personnel. The agency also provided more than $10 million in grants to local volunteer fire departments for equipment and other support, such as training for more than 24,000 firefighters.
From now to October, federal firefighters, aircraft, and ground equipment are strategically assigned to parts of the country as the fire season shifts across the country. Firefighting experts will continuously monitor conditions and move these assets as necessary to be best positioned for when large fires break out.
Particularly throughout the West, local, state and federal personnel are working to restore forest ecosystems, which will include thinning and prescribed burning operations by federal land managers and their partners across jurisdictions.
“Many of our forests have an unnatural accumulation of hazardous fuels, are unable to withstand insect and disease outbreaks, and are facing the impacts of climate change, all of which increase the potential for extreme wildfires,” said Secretary Salazar. That’s why our preparedness efforts — including prescribed burns, community partnerships, additional resources, and thinning of excess vegetation — are so vital to the safety of communities and the health of our lands and waters.”
In the past ten years, wildfires have destroyed nearly 28,000 homes, businesses, and outbuildings, the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted.
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