Friday, July 31, 2020

U.S. Wildfire Season Running Far Below Average

And if you go back, say 100 - 150 years the death toll and acres burned numbers are tiny (except for those who have lost a home, or a life)
Call it the "media center effect".
Every hurricane approaching New York City gets 24/7 coverage, every fire in the hills above Los Angeles is the hottest ever.

The classic example is Wisconsin's Great Peshtigo fire which started on the same day, October 8, 1871, as the Great Chicago Fire.

The Peshtigo fire, 250 miles north of the Chicago conflagration killed at least 1500, and more likely 2500, people while burning 1.2 million acres versus the Chicago toll of 2000 acres and 250 - 300 lives.

Unfortunately the fire season has months to run.
What follows are some historical comparisons* with a couple caveats:
1) the further back in time you go the less precise/reliable the size of the burn area. Death statistics tend to be more accurate.
2) Because of dramatic land use changes the dynamics of number of fires and extent have changed.As people move into formerly wild areas they cause a higher percentage of fires versus lightning. On the other hand fires that formerly burned until they ran out of fuel or until the rains came are now battled aggressively.
From the National Interagency Fire Center:
July 31, 2020
Nationally, 38 large fires have burned more than 196,000 acres across the country. Firefighters continue to make progress toward containment goals on many large fires in the West. Seven large fires were contained yesterday.

On July 30, two Single Engine Air Tankers on contract with the Department of the Interior crashed while assigned to the Bishop fire near Caliente, NV. Both pilots were fatally injured. The firefighting community extends condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.

Two MAFFS C-130 airtankers and support personnel from the 146th Airlift Wing (California Air National Guard) have been deployed to McClellan Airfield, CA, in support of wildland fire operations.

During this unprecedented time, the safety of the public and all wildland fire responders is always the number one priority for all wildland fire agencies. For more information and links to the Geographic Area Plans, visit the NIFC COVID-19 page.

The Four Corners High will remain strongly amplified over the West. The near-record heat will continue across the Great Basin and the Pacific Northwest. Breezy conditions will develop along the Sierra Front in Nevada, creating critical fire weather conditions as it interacts with the usual low afternoon humidity. Widely scattered storms will be possible across the Okanogan and the western half of the Northern Rockies. Scattered convection will be possible across the northern Great Plains. The southwestern monsoon will remain suppressed due to the positioning and strength of the high pressure ridge that will remain anchored over Arizona. A stationary front will linger across the Carolinas, Tennessee River Valley and Texas, allowing for the redevelopment of scattered afternoon storms. Below normal temperatures are expected to continue across the Great Lakes region and New England, as a trough of low pressure remains over the region.....

Year-to-date statistics
2020 (1/1/20 - 7/30/20) Fires: 31,632 Acres: 2,052,246
2019 (1/1/19 - 7/31/19) Fires: 25,501 Acres: 3,323,173
2018 (1/1/18 - 7/31/18) Fires: 37,718 ,Acres: 4,810,195
2017 (1/1/17 - 7/31/17) Fires: 39,000 Acres: 5,490,878
2016 (1/1/16 - 7/31/16) Fires: 33,852 Acres: 3,478,169
2015 (1/1/15 - 7/31/15) Fires: 35,931 Acres: 5,650,307
2014 (1/1/14 - 7/31/14) Fires: 33,437 Acres: 1,642,994
2013 (1/1/13 - 7/31/13) Fires: 27,841 Acres: 2,330,318
2012 (1/1/12 - 7/31/12) Fires: 37,355 Acres: 4,141,481
2011 (1/1/11 - 7/31/11) Fires: 45,632 Acres: 6,091,572
2010 (1/1/10 - 7/31/10) Fires: 37,267 Acres: 2,001,617
10-year average Year-to-Date
2010-2019 Fires: 35,247 Acres: 3,849,351

*Total Wildland Fires and Acres (1926-2017) The National Interagency Coordination Center at NIFC compiles annual wildland fire statistics for federal and state agencies. This information is provided through Situation Reports, which have been in use for several decades. Prior to 1983, sources of these figures are not known, or cannot be confirmed, and were not derived from the current situation reporting process. As a result the figures prior to 1983 should not be compared to later data.
                       Year                      Fires                                                       .....Acres

1941 199,702 26,405,000
1940 195,427 25,848,000
1939 212,671 30,449,000
1938 232,229 33,815,000
1937 185,209 21,981,000
1936 226,285 43,207,000
1935 140,297 30,335,000
1934 162,663 41,821,000
1933 140,722 43,890,000
1932 166,399 42,063,000
1931 187,214 51,607,000
1930 190,980 52,266,000
1929 134,895 46,230,000
1928 175,934 43,542,000
1927 158,438 38,531,000
1926 91,793 24,316,000

Historically Significant Wildland Fires

Date Name Location Acres Significance
October 1871 Peshtigo Wisconsin and Michigan 3,780,000 1,500 lives lost in Wisconsin
1871 Great Chicago Illinois undetermined 250 lives lost
17,400 structures destroyed
September 1881 Lower Michigan Michigan 2,500,000 169 lives lost
3,000 structures destroyed
September 1894 Hinckley Minnesota 160,000 418 lives lost
September 1894 Wisconsin Wisconsin Several Million Undetermined, some lives lost
February 1898 Series of South Carolina fires South Carolina 3,000,000 Unconfirmed reports indicate 14 lives lost and numerous structures and sawmills destroyed
September 1902 Yacoult Washington and Oregon 1,000,000 + 38 lives lost
April 1903 Adirondack New York 637,000 Large amount of acreage burned
August 1910 Great Idaho Idaho and Montana 3,000,000 85 lives lost
October 1918 Cloquet-Moose Lake Minnesota 1,200,000 450 lives lost
38 communities destroyed
September 1923Giant Berkley Californiaundetermined624 structures destroyed and 50 city blocks were leveled