Wildfire outlook: Worst yet to come in the West | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Wildfire outlook: Worst yet to come in the West

Scott Sonner

RENO (AP) — With federal firefighting preparedness at its highest level and wildfires burning nearly 2,000 square miles across the West, fire managers say they are most concerned about the weeks ahead given the extremely dry conditions and forecasts for more lightning.

“We think the most difficult challenge is yet ahead,” said Henri Bosson, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s deputy director for operations.

“We are seeing dry conditions and we’re worried about what is going to happen over the next few weeks,” he told reporters at the BLM’s state headquarters in Reno before beginning an aerial tour that took him over some of the region’s largest fires in north-central Nevada late Friday. He planned to continue the tour Saturday.

As of late Friday, more than 20,000 firefighters were fighting fires burning an estimated 1.25 million acres (1,950 square miles) in 11 different states, Bosson said.

About one-fourth of the acreage — an estimated 450 square miles — was burning in Nevada, where 2,400 firefighters were staffing fire lines.

“In terms of a normal fire season, 2007 is busy but frankly it’s not as busy as it was last summer,” Bosson said.

For the year so far, 53,000 fires have burned approximately 3.4 million acres nationally — one Utah fire alone more than 300,000 acres — compared to 4.4 million acres that had burned at this time a year ago, he said.

“So it is not unusual in that respect, but the conditions we are seeing on the ground are (unusual). We are seeing continued drying. We’re seeing heavy fuels in the higher country — a lot of grass and dry brush in the lower country,” Bosson said.

“And we expect that we are going to be seeing a lot more lightning over the next few weeks so we are very, very concerned about the situation. … We are just now entering what would now be considered the traditional fire season.”

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