Summer is wildfire season in the American West, and it is off to a raging start.
So far this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, wildfires have burned 5.5 million acres across the US. That is an area roughly the size of the state of New Jersey. It is also the second highest total (as of this date) in the last 25 years.
As of Monday, 22 large wildfires – defined as greater than 100 acres – are burning in 5 states. In California’s Napa Valley region, the Wragg Fire has scorched 7,000 acres and forced many residents to evacuate. In Montana, a massive blaze has burned approximately 5 square miles of Glacier National Park since it began last week. The majority of the acres burned, however, have been in Alaska. They have seen nearly 4.7 million acres charred, which is about 85% of the national total to date.
High temperatures and prolonged drought in the West have turned forests and brush areas into tinderboxes that are susceptible to any type of spark. While summer is usually hot and dry in California, the state is enduring its fourth year of drought. Alaska has also been unusually warm and dry. In fact, according to NOAA, they are in the middle of their second warmest year on record, year to date. These warm temperatures helped produce a dearth of winter snowfall, which has lead to drier than normal conditions across a large area of the state.
Overall, wildfires in the US seem to be getting worse. In Alaska, 3 of the worst wildfires have occurred in the last 12 years. In California, 12 of their 20 largest fires have taken place since 2000. In both states, wildfire records date back to the 1930s.
Nationally, summer 2015 is on track to be one of the worst wildfires seasons on record.