Wildfires are down significantly in 2010, reports the National Fire Interagency Center in Boise, Idaho. You can sustain that favorable trend by being careful with any campfires you have planned for the upcoming Labor Day weekend.
Ken Frederick, spokesman for the NIFC, tells The REI Blog that through the end of August the U.S. acreage burned by wildfires in 2010 is well below the totals burned in the past 3 years and stands at about 50% of the 10-year average.
"The key thing is in June we had a lot of rain across a lot of the West," Frederick said. "That kept fuels moist and green longer, and that delayed the onset of fire season. So we've had a shorter fire season -- and when fires did start, the moister conditions kept the brakes on fire spread."
The NIFC monitors and coordinates fire activity involving the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs. In addition to the federal agencies, the National Association of State Foresters, U.S. Fire Administration and the National Weather Service are partners at NIFC.
As of Aug. 31, 43,800 fires had been reported. In 2009, the total on that date was just short of 65,000. The NIFC reported 20 large uncontained fires in progress in the U.S. on Aug. 31; 68 others were being managed at less than "full suppression."
Definition: In timbered areas, a "large" fire involves 100 or more acres. For grass or brush, a fire qualifies as "large" if it exceeds 300 acres.
"We're still having fires," Frederick said. "We're just not having those major fires that are mowing down entire swaths of forest or range." The biggest fire of 2010 so far: A 309,000-acre sagebrush fire (just contained on Aug. 30) in south-central Idaho. Alaska, Frederick says, had a "busy year" with more than 1 million acres burned. A helpful reader points out that monitored fire incidents are tracked on this website.
In late August of 2009, the Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest began and ultimately burned 166,500 acres -- a smaller fire than the Idaho blaze but one that gained much broader attention since the forest is partially located in densely populated Los Angeles County.
Acreage burned so far in 2010: 2.6 million acres. By the end of August in 2009, 5.3 million acres had burned. In 2008, it was 4.7 million acres; in 2007, it was 6.9 million.
"Fire season" primarily occurs in 2 regions of the country during their driest periods of the year: the summer months in the West and the winter months in the South, which Frederick says stretches from the southeast Atlantic coast to Texas and Oklahoma.
If you anticipate building a campfire this (or any) weekend, it's smart to review campfire safety tips. The REI Expert Advice article Campfire Basics offers many helpful guidelines. Frederick reinforced several pointers the article includes:
1. Never leave a campfire unattended. "Never walk away from it," he said.
2. Fully extinguish it:
a) Drown it with lots of water.
b) Stir it.
c) Feel it. "But don't touch it directly," Frederick said. "Use the back of your hand and kind of hover over the surface of the ash. It should actually be more like mud if you used enough water. You'll be able to detect heat without risking burning yourself. If you feel any heat, go back to Step 1 and do it all again."
Frederick adds another tip: "Be really, really careful with campfires in windy conditions because of embers. Clear out at least a 3-foot radius all the way around the outside of your fire ring. And don't store fuel downwind. Common sense stuff."
Here's to common sense. Be careful out there.