Drought and Heat Driven Wildfires Punish Much of the Western U.S.

While a wet May and an off-and-on opening of the monsoonal spigot have so far held the Colorado wildfire season largely in check, much of the rest of the West hasn’t been nearly so fortunate.

California wildfire.

Western Governors' Association

California wildfire.

Wildfires have burned 5.5 million acres across the region so far in 2015, an area equal in size to the state of New Jersey, according to data compiled by the Western Governors’ Association. The current fire season is on track to reach or surpass record levels, according to USA Today.

Alaska alone has 300 separate fires burning, and most of the charred acreage – 4.7 million acres, or 85 percent of the total has occurred there, according to the release from the governors. Significant damage has been done, with 2015 setting up as the worst wildfire season in Alaska history.

Numerous fires were burning in California, including a massive blaze that blew up during the weekend to more than 93 square miles in the Lower Lake area about 100 miles north of San Francisco, according to the Associated Press. Some 12,000 residents were forced to evacuate.

One firefighter perished in a California fire and four others were injured in recent days. David Ruhl of Rapid City, S.D., a U.S. Forest Service firefighter, died while battling the Frog Fire near Alturas in the Modoc National Forest.

The West Coast states, as well as northern Idaho and Montana, continue in one stage or another of ongoing drought, with most of California still being mired in D4, or exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s readings on July 28.  (Note: Only a couple of counties in far northwest Colorado show any stage of drought – a rarity in recent years).

Drought and summertime heat have only made the wildfire season worse.

Among the ongoing fires of note this week:

– The Reynolds Creek Fire in Montana’s Glacier National Park grew from a two-acre burn to a 2,000-acre inferno in a matter of hours. The blaze has scoured more than 3,100 ares and cost $4.3 million so far. Reynolds Creek is one of top priority fires in the nation.

– CALFIRE last week proclaimed the Lowell Fire as one of the most dangerous of the  many California fires that are currently being fought. The Lowell Fire has consumed more than 2,200 acres and still threatens 1,800 homes.

– Crews have made significant progress on the Blue Creek Fire in Washington, which has burned more than 6,000 acres and has cost $6.25 million to fight.



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