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U.S. Wildfire Season as of August 12th

By: Christopher C. Burt, 7:35 PM GMT on August 12, 2014

U.S. Wildfire Season as of August 12th

It has been one of the hottest summers on record for the Pacific Northwest and especially for central and western Washington State where the largest wildfire on record (for the state) has finally been almost 100% contained. However, in spite of the devastation in Washington, the U.S. fire season has (so far) burned ‘only’ 2,533,648 acres, which is just 51% of the 10-year running average for this time of the year.

The temperature reached a daily record 96° in Seattle, Washington yesterday (August 11th) as the blazing hot summer of 2014 in Washington continued. July was Spokane’s 2nd hottest month on record (any month) with an average monthly temperature of 75.7°, just shy of the all-time record of 75.9° set back in July 1906. Ironically, firefighters announced yesterday that they have now almost fully contained the Carlton Complex fire which was ignited by lightning on July 14th and burned 256,108 acres and 312 homes (with one fatality) in an area of central Washington about 200 miles east of Seattle. It was the largest wildfire in the state’s history.

The Carlton Fire Complex bears down on Brewster, Washington on July 18th. Twitter image, photographer not identified.

Pyrocumulus form above the Carlton Complex fire as seen in this aerial image during the early stages of the fire’s development in mid-July. Photo from AP.

All-told, wildfires have now burned 323,721 acres in Washington so far this summer with many still active as the map below illustrates.

Map of locations of active major wildfires burning as of August 12th. As can be seen, virtually all of them are occurring in the Pacific Northwest. The color coding is related to the priority and type of incidence teams each fire is being given by the respective agencies involved with each threat. Map from the National Interagency Fire Center based in Boise, Idaho.

As of August 12th here is a list of acres burned in each state:

OREGON: 140,249
IDAHO: 85,241
MONTANA: 1,655

What is surprising is that California has not yet had a truly catastrophic wildfire (so far) given the record dry conditions and extensive lightning activity. Just yesterday (August 11th) some 11,678 lightning strikes were recorded as monsoonal moisture edged into the eastern portion of the state.

Lightning strikes over California on August 11th. Although the source of the storms that produced all this activity were of seasonal monsoon origins, very little precipitation reached the ground making for extremely dangerous fire conditions. Map from BLM and NWS-Sacramento.

The largest active fire in California at the moment is the so-called Bald Fire Complex (#19 on the map) in the Lassen National Forest where 39,736 acres have so far burned. Of course, the worst of California’s fire season has yet to get under way since September through November is traditionally the most dangerous time of the year fire-wise. Despite, the sobering statistics, the year 2014 has, as of August 12th, seen the 2nd lowest amount of acreage burned nation-wide over the past 10 years. Since 2004, only 2010 saw fewer acres burned.

Table of annual number of fires and acres burned as of August 12th over the past 10 years. This year is running just 51% of average so far as acreage burned and 71% of average total number of fires. Given the drought situation in California it is unlikely that this pattern will continue into the fall. Table from National Interagency Fire Center. Statistics for acreage burned every full year going back to 1960 can found here on the NIFR web site.

The fire situation is much worse in Canada where some 8.5 million acres have burned this summer in the country’s Northwest Territories. Angela Frtiz reports this from the Capital Weather Gang at the Washington Post. Sweden is also suffering an extreme wild fire event as this report details.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Fire

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

California’s fire season has yet to get under way since September through November is traditionally the most dangerous time of the year fire-wise.

In my area of SW California at least the absence of traditional rain seasons has resulted in far less light fuels like short grass and light brush. I'm wondering how much of a reduction in the traditional fire season that might translate to. Of course another factor in September through November is the traditional frequency of hot, extremely dry Santa Ana wind events.
As the maps show, the central Rockies have been spared the big fires so far. Wyoming and Colorado had substantial winter snow packs going into the summer and have experienced monsoonal moisture in the southern half this past month. That said, with climate change, the fire season is longer in all of the West. There is still a lot of time to get the fuels dried and plenty of lightning spark to go.

Carlton Complex Burn Scar
NASA Earthobservatory, August 13, 2014

Northern California firefighters survive wildfire in personal fire shelters
Fires threaten hundreds as state issues mandatory evacuations and western US battles blazes in Oregon and Idaho
Associated Press in San Francisco, theguardian.com, Tuesday 12 August 2014 16.05 BST
Thank goodness for the cooler and wetter weather that we're now getting here in the Pacific Northwest. It was 101* in Eugene, OR on Monday, but only 81* today, with showers. We got more than .5 inch at my house this afternoon!

A friend a mine has family living very near to the big Carlton burn in WA. She said that, thanks to the more favorable weather, the fire is mostly out now.
Don't follow blind links leading to who knows what. Post #4 is highly questionable.
weatherhistorian has created a new entry.
Why stop at the U.S./Canada border?

It's clear that much of the Canadian west and arctic is on fire this summer. These fires have had a noticeable effect on the weather here in Michigan, creating skies shrouded in milky smoke where once clear Canadian high pressure systems brought crystal air into our summertime mix.

Environmental effects of climate change know no borders.