Wildfires Heat Up Across the West

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Homes evacuated. Buildings destroyed. Thousands of acres scorched. The peak of the fire season is yet to come, and it’s only being made worse by climate change.

The wildfires blazing in California, Alaska and across the Southwest are threatening communities and natural resources. In Alaska, the first wildfire this season started in late February, yet the season typically begins in April or May. 

Already, more than 29,000 wildfires have burned over 2.6 million acres in 2016, increasing concerns that we could see yet another busy, dangerous and costly fire season. Last year was the most severe on record, with more than 10 million acres burned. That’s more than twice the size of the state of Massachusetts. It was also the costliest at $2.1 billion.

The thing that these wildfires have in common: They’re exhibiting an all-too-familiar pattern. They’re starting earlier and burning longer at greater intensity because of persistent drought, record high temperatures and the spread of invasive weeds.

Stopping the spread of wildfires not only requires using effective suppression strategies to put out fires but also dedicating the resources to prevent wildfires from happening in the first place. Recognizing that fire knows no boundaries, our top priority will continue to be the safety of the wildland firefighters and the public -- however we need to do a lot more to improve the health of our landscapes as well.

In the last 15 years, Interior has exceeded its wildfire suppression budget six times. That’s because catastrophic wildfires, which account for only 2 percent of fires, consume 30 percent of suppression costs. This in turn is forcing us to use funds slated for resiliency projects to suppress wildfires.

We urgently need to address the runaway growth of fire suppression costs, and continue funding other critical programs that protect communities and infrastructure, and increase the ability of our lands to recover from wildfire.

Read more on the U.S. Department of the Interior's blog > >