A state-by-state glance at Western fire season

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

A state-by-state look at 2012 fire season prospects for the West:

ALASKA — Ample snowpack and anticipated cooler temperatures in the south means fire season likely will not start until the end of May, later than normal, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. Snowpack is near to above normal in northern Alaska — and well above normal in south central Alaska. Longer-range forecasts suggest that colder than normal conditions will prevail across southern Alaska, while the Gulf of Alaska coast will be drier than normal, the center says.

ARIZONA — Arizona had its worst fire in history in 2011, the Wallow Fire that charred more than 840 square miles in the state and parts of New Mexico. State officials say the strong winds that fanned the fire will be less of a factor this year. But an abundance of grass in southern Arizona and drought, some of it severe, means an active season. "I'm anticipating a more normal fire season with the caveat that there's still residual fuel from years past and, of course, there is still drought," said Cliff Pearberg of the Arizona State Forestry Division.

CALIFORNIA — Another active wildfire season for a state that has received little moisture this year and that in recent years has seen huge fires which destroyed hundreds of homes, especially in Southern California. Above-normal fire threats for June and July in mountain areas, the central coast and inland Southern California, according to Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. While typical fire season runs from May through October, Southern California always is at risk. "Fire season is just about year-round now because we always have those Santa Ana winds that are always threatening," said Los Angeles County fire Inspector Quvondo Johnson.

COLORADO — Significant fire potential across eastern Colorado's plains, dry Rockies forests and the Western slope due to drought, low humidity and lack of precipitation. Snowpack is below normal and evaporating faster than usual. The National Weather Service has issued red flag fire warnings in many parts of the state on an almost routine basis since March 6. Multiple counties have enacted open-air fire bans.

IDAHO — Idaho expects a normal fire season — for now. The state's mountain ranges have normal snowpack, reservoirs are dumping water for snowmelt and early spring has brought more rain and snow, even in the desert-like south. Federal wildfire analyst Jeremy Sullens cautions early predictions can change with spring precipitation and the growth of grasses and plants that provide initial fuel for forest and rangeland fires.

HAWAII — Drought has produced an above-normal wildfire potential this season along the leeward, or western, sides of the Hawaiian islands, including the western third of the Big Island. Most of the Hawaii islands have received above normal precipitation this year, including the northern and western islands, the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center says.

MONTANA — State officials expect a normal 2012 after cool weather and spring floods all but eliminated the fire season last year. Mountain snowpack is at average levels and, barring a rapid warm-up, fire season is expected to run from July to September, said Bryan Henry, a meteorologist with the Northern Rockies Coordination Center. The state's plains are an exception. "A couple of dry, windy days, it will be ready to burn," Henry said.

NEW MEXICO — Fire officials are preparing for another rough year. Forecasters have been issuing fire weather watches as spring storms bring dry lightning and gusty winds to the state. More than 80 percent of the state is mired in drought, and Gov. Susana Martinez has warned 2012 could be a repeat of a destructive 2011. "What it boils right down to is the potential is still there," says Dan Ware of the State Forestry Division.

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