2012 U.S. Wildfire Activity Moves Past Ten-Year Average

A new report from the National Interagency Fire Center shows that America’s wildfire activity in 2012 has surged beyond the 10-year average for number of acres burned. According to NIFC, 7.7 million acres have burned so far this year, passing the 10-year average of 5.8 million acres.

The surge in wildfire activity was partly driven by a hot, dry weather that spread drought conditions to 78 percent of the contiguous U.S.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the period between July 2011 and June 2012 was the hottest 12-month period ever recorded for the U.S. NOAA also reported that July was the hottest month ever recorded in the country.

In July, Harris Sherman, Agriculture Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment tied the shift in wildfire activity to climate change: “We’ve had record fires in 10 states in the last decade, most of them in the West…. The climate is changing, and these fires are a very strong indicator of that,” he said.

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4 Responses to 2012 U.S. Wildfire Activity Moves Past Ten-Year Average

  1. SqueakyRat says:

    What does the “See Text” on the map refer to? It’s got an arrow pointing at Oklahoma.

  2. Joan Savage says:

    What strikes me as far more relevant to climate change is that 2012 to date has actually had a smaller number of fires than the average, yet the FEWER fires were so large.

    What this suggests is that regional climate factors may be making larger contiguous areas vulnerable to fire, even while fire control measures can limit the “little” fires. Larger patches of insect infestations, larger patches of dry trees and ground cover, warmer nights, and higher winds that can move fire from spot to spot are factors that can inter-relate. Of these, insects, dry trees and warmer nights have been studied as part of climate change.

    For added perspective, although this years’ acreage was 133% over average as of August 31, there were actually more total acres burned in 2006 by the end of September than are expected to burn by the end of September this year. So 2012 is a bad year so far, but not the worst of ten.

  3. Joan Savage says:

    In a moment’s reflection – What could have changed is that a region that formerly had several small fires is now only counting a few big ones. Researchers with good GIS data might be able to comment more.

    My emotions had got the better of me, wanting to credit the hotshots and other firefighters with as much success as possible, despite miserable odds.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The exacerbation of the hydrological cycle will fuel mega-fires. Increasingly wet periods will lead to lush growth, which, when dessicated by the following more extremely dry, hot and windy periods, will not be entirely to our benefit.