As of Friday morning, a 300-acre wildfire that sparked in Ocean County on Thursday is 50 percent contained, though it has forced evacuation of more than 600 homes neighboring the fire. The larger 1,500-acre forest fire in Cumberland County started Wednesday is in the rural Edward G. Bevan Fish and Wildlife Management Area, and less likely to affect homes.
The blazes are part of the beginning of wildfire season in the United States, which generally starts in April and continues through July, with different areas of the country experiencing different levels of risk during different months. Southwest states like Arizona and New Mexico, for example, are expected to see their most significant risks in May and June, while wildfires are most likely to show their faces in states like Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas in April, according to Climate Central. Michigan and eastern Wisconsin won’t see their elevated wildfire risk until June or July, the forecast said.
As of Friday, there are 29 active wildfires classified by the federal government as “large” happening across the United States.
Though meterologists have indicated that most of the country will experience a nearly-normal or below normal fire season this year, the West coast is a different story. California’s long and widespread drought is expected to fuel the flames there, and the small bit of rain the state got back in March will only make it worse, U.S. meteorologists say. A small amount of rain during a drought causes grasses to sprout and slightly grow, providing easier fuel for a major wildfire once the grasses dry.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center’s nationwide wildfire forecast update, California is expected to experience larger-than-average forest fire risks throughout the entire season. Colorado, Alaska, Iowa and northern Missouri will see increased risks in April, while the Great Lakes region, Oregon and Nevada are expected to see more fires in July.
It is widely agreed in the scientific community that wildfires can be intensified by human-caused climate change. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which tends to be conservative in its estimates, recently cited medium-to-high confidence that human-caused climate change is causing longer and more intense heatwaves, and says it is “more likely than not” that it is causing longer and more intense droughts in many regions. Drought, coupled with extreme heat and low humidity, can increase the risk of wildfires, the IPCC says.
In addition, the U.S Global Change Research Program — headed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and backed by the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, NASA, and the Smithsonian Institute among others — says there will be “more frequent heat waves, extreme precipitation, wildfires, and water scarcity” due to climate change.