United States Braces for Another Bad Fire Year

Despite the slowest start to a wildfire season in a decade, the head of the U.S. Forest Service said his agency is preparing for another busy year, but with fewer firefighters, reports the Associated Press.

Late winter storms have helped bring more snow and rain to some parts of the country, but Chief Tom Tidwell told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that much of the South and Southwest are expected to dry out by May and June as drought conditions persist.

That will give way to a season much like last year, when more than 14,500 square miles — an area bigger than the state of Maryland — were charred. A dozen lives were also lost last year and more than 2,200 homes and businesses were destroyed.

Tidwell pointed to Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California as the predicted hot spots.

“The areas I’m talking about now are influenced by these severe and ongoing droughts, and that doesn’t get changed with any few storms. So the potential is there,” he said.

The most recent forecast from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, show normal fire conditions through March, but things begin to change in April. In the Upper Midwest, for example, deficits in soil moisture are expected to lead to an increase in significant fire potential.

NIFC meteorologist Ed Delgado cautioned that much will depend on the spring storm track as well as how fast or slow snowpack in the higher elevations melts this year.

“Drought, it’s one of the factors in determining fire season, but it’s not the only one. There are a lot of other things we’re looking at to gauge what’s going to happen.”

The predictions are key as the Forest Service ramps up for the season. The agency, which is trying to absorb a 5 percent cut in its preparedness funding due to sequestration, plans to preposition firefighters and other resources in areas where fire activity is expected to be above normal.

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