As fires continue to rage in the western United States, the National Interagency Fire Center reports that nearly 7 million acres have been consumed so far this year, making this the worst January through mid-August on record.
As of yesterday, 39 large fires covering 1.4 million acres were burning across 10 states, with 12 in California alone.
Already this year, New Mexico has experienced its largest wildfire ever, Oregon its worst in more than 150 years, and damages in Colorado have reached a record half-billion dollars.
With little relief expected from drought conditions that cover nearly 2/3 of the contiguous U.S., 2012 appears on track to break the previous record of 9.8 million acres that burned in 2006.
The extent to which extremely hot, dry conditions have fueled this year’s fires is evidenced by the fact such record-setting damage has been caused by relatively fewer fires. To date, 42,745 large wildfires have been recorded in 2012 — well below the 2003-2011 ten-year average of 54,236 for the same period. By contrast, 6,971,729 acres have burned this year compared to the 10-year average of 5,385,441 acres.
NBC Nightly News yesterday reported on northern California’s Ponderosa fire, where 2,000 firefighters were battling a 3-day old blaze that had consumed 30 square miles of wooded terrain and threatens three towns.