Fires in West Getting Larger and More Costly
The western fire season is about two-thirds of the way through and according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho, as of August 22, the U.S. had seen 42,927 wildfires this year, which has burned just over 7 million acres. And while the number of fires is down from the 10-year average of 54,209, the acreage affected is well above the average of 5.4 million acres.
The fires are getting bigger and the cost to fight them continues to rise. Thanks to both climate change and shifting forestry practices, the cause of these "megafires" is human in nature. Since the early 1900's forestry practice has been to suppress all fires, not just large widespread ones, which seems like a logical path to take. However, it turns out that you actually CAN fight fire with fire. Setting small controlled fires to take out underbrush and dead trees can actually prevent the larger megafires that occur when these fires have unlimited fuel to keep them going.
In south-central Idaho, which currently has the highest number of large fires burning of any state, authorities have spent more than $23 million fighting just two fires of its 12 large fires. In Utah officials have spent $16 million in state money as of mid-August to fight more than 1,000 wildfires, large and small, far surpassing the $3 million a year the Legislature budgeted for fighting wildfires. And other states are feeling the fire-fighting budget pinch as well.
Leading the number of wildfires in the states seen in this satellite image is Idaho with 12 large fires that are currently burning over 628,000 acres. This doesn't include the hundreds of other fires in Idaho and the other states that are not considered "large" but are still burning and are still costing millions to contain.
This natural-color satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite on September 5, 2012. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red.
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, GSFC. Caption by Lynn Jenner/NASA. References:
National Interagency Wildfire Center