Widespread and worsening drought in much of the West prompted the wildfire season’s high-risk period to arrive at least a month early.
“We have active large fires in all Western regions,” National Interagency Fire Center meteorologist Nick Nauslar said in a multi-agency news conference July 1.
Prolonged extreme heat continues to bake built-up grasses and other fine fuels that dried early during an unusually warm spring. Some timber also dried early.
Nauslar, who wrote much of the National Significant Wildfire Potential Outlook for July through October, said the last few days of June brought a surge of monsoonal moisture to the Southwest, Colorado and southern Great Basin.
“We expect that shift (of risk) west to north due to the monsoon starting to ramp up,” he said.
Meanwhile, more than 90% of the West is in drought, including extreme or exceptional classifications in over half the region, Nauslar said. “And it has intensified in the last handful of months.”
He said in the NIFC report that drought continues to intensify in California and parts of the Pacific Northwest, as well as in the Northern Rockies. It persists in the Great Basin and much of the Southwest.
The report assesses the risk of large fires. These typically are at least 300 acres in rangeland, 100 acres in timber, or require an incident-management team.
Nearly all of the Northwest faces above-average risk of large fires into September before that likelihood drops in October, NIFC reported.
But October risk likely will stay above normal in much of California, in the south from the mountains westward and in the north except in the northeastern area. In Southern California, drought continued to worsen in June, and live fuels continued to dry — they are about a month and a half ahead of schedule.
Climate outlooks call for above-normal temperatures through summer in much of the West, the report said. Weather that’s hotter and drier than usual is expected through September in the Northwest and Northern Rockies.
“We are currently facing the most challenging wildfire conditions we’ve seen in Idaho in a long time,” U.S. Bureau of Land Management State Fire Management Officer Dennis Strange said.
NIFC on July 1 said California reported eight large fires, Oregon two and Idaho one. Nationally, acres burned to date are just over 1% ahead of a year ago.
Big wildfires July 1 included California’s Lava and Salt fires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and the Tennant fire in the Klamath National Forest. Burned acres totaled 19,680 for Lava, 9,439 for Tennant and 3,800 for Lava.
Oregon fires included Wrentham Market near Dufur at 7,222 acres, and the new Sunset Valley fire initially reported at 650 acres southeast of The Dalles.
The Fritzer Fire west of Salmon, Idaho, stood at 139 acres.
Inciweb, which reports wildfires of all sizes, said un-contained fires as of early July 2 totaled 11 in California, seven in Oregon excluding Sunset Valley, one in Idaho and none in Washington.