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Above normal wildfire season across West predicted

by Webmaster |

BOISE, Idaho -- Drought, warm temperatures and damaged vegetation have fire experts predicting a long and destructive fire season throughout much of the interior West this year.

But the national outlook is better, with the National Interagency Fire Center expecting near or below average fire seasons in Eastern states, the South and Alaska.

"One of the big factors that goes into the fire assessment is the ongoing drought in the West," said Rick Ochoa, national fire weather program manager for the Bureau of Land Management. "So far we've been relatively dry in portions of the Southwest and Southern California. The recent rains are helping, but overall we are still behind the rainfall curve in those areas."

The amount of vegetation damaged by drought and insects has been rising in the West, increasing the risk of wildfires.

Nationally, more than 63,000 fires burned 3.9 million acres of land in 2003, compared to 4.45 million acres burned in an average year.

This season is expected to meet that average, according to the National Wildland Fire Outlook report, though the Southwest could top the devastating fire season of 2002.

That year, more than 7.18 million acres burned throughout the United States, with more than 1.1 million of them in the Southwest.