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U.S. Prepares for Another ‘Devastating’ Fire Season


From California to Wisconsin, U.S. policy-makers are putting dollars into pre-emptive action and more “boots on the ground” as a lower-than-normal snowpack portends a fierce fire season. 

Last year “was the largest wildfire season in California’s modern history,” writes EcoWatch, citing state agency Cal Fire. And many signs beyond low snowpack levels are pointing to 2021 being “just as devastating.” 

Determined to get ahead of the fire season, California’s legislators recently announced a US$536-million Wildfire Prevention and Resiliency package, which “earmarks $350 million for forest management, including vegetation thinning, as well as $25 million to help homeowners pay for prevention measures on their properties.” 

California Governor Gavin Newsom has also “touted the importance of adapting controlled burning techniques that were practiced for centuries by the state’s first inhabitants,” EcoWatch adds. Modern forestry management tends to allow dried vegetation to build up to tinderbox levels. 

Newsom’s funding package comes just a week after he pledged to hire an army of new firefighters in advance of this year’s season. Wildfire Today reports that the governor “has approved $80 million to hire or bring on earlier than usual a total of 1,399 additional firefighters to bolster Cal Fire’s fuels management and wildfire response efforts” by the end of June. 

“The funding will also create the opportunity to bring on 119 helitack firefighters earlier than usual this year to allow them time to train and be operationally ready by May 2021.”

Newsom has also proposed a number of measures to launch in the next fiscal year (starting July), including a $143-million general fund to support more fire crews. He has also floated the idea of spending $1 billion to support the state’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan, an initiative intended to help communities adapt to wildfire risk, expand the use of prescribed fire, support the economic management of rural forests, and “increase the pace and scale of forest and wildland management to meet the state’s target of completing projects on 500,000 acres annually by 2025.” 

Newsom’s wildfire response is timely. The Sacramento Bee reports that the state “has received about 50% of average precipitation for water year 2021, which currently ties for the third-driest year on record.” 

This is the second year of record low numbers for California, the Bee adds, “after the Department of Water Resources recorded a reading of 53% on April 1 a year ago.” 

As California prepares for yet another challenging wildfire season, Wisconsin has already declared a state of emergency “due to heightened wildfire risk,” EcoWatch writes in a separate report. “So far this year, more than 320 fires have scorched more than 600 hectares, nearly reaching the total of 659.9 hectares that were burned in all of 2020.”

A state of emergency will allow the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to “receive support from other state agencies, as well as the Wisconsin National Guard and their Black Hawk helicopters” in fighting fires in the state this summer.

North Dakota is likewise under a statewide fire emergency, EcoWatch notes, with its entire western portion facing drought levels ranging from “severe” to “extreme.” 

Meanwhile, a third report from Wildfire Today notes that Washington is the only one of 11 western states that is not experiencing severe drought this early in the season, adding to the wildfire potential. 

“Very large sections of exceptional drought, the highest category, are in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.” Florida, as well, may experience above normal wildfire activity from May to late June, Wildfire Today adds. 

Central and southeast Washington, as well as central Oregon, “are likely to have above normal significant fire potential beginning in June.”