Category Archives: Wildfires

Wildfire Risk Increases With Record Drought Conditions

The worsening drought across the United States is the subject of numerous news reports. A couple of stories caught our eye:

CNN reports that as of last Tuesday, some 61 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing drought conditions – stretching from Nevada to South Carolina. Apparently, this
is the highest percentage in the 12-year record of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The Lede blog at the New York Times posts that more than 1,000 counties in 26 states across the
country have been named natural disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It cites government officials saying this is the single largest designation in the program’s history and the worst drought since 1988.

Higher temperatures and drier conditions increase the risk of wildfire activity. In just the past three weeks, total acres scorched by wildfires jumped from 1.1 million to 3.1 million.

Over at Wunderblog, Dr. Jeff Masters posts that it has been another severe year for wildfires in the U.S., with the National Interagency Fire Center reporting 4800 square miles of burned acreage so far in 2012, an area about 87 percent the size of Connecticut:

This is pretty close to the 10-year average for this point in the year, and ranks as the fourth highest of the past ten years. However, with summer not yet half over, and more than 2/3 of the Western U.S. experiencing moderate to extreme drought, the Western U.S. fire season still have plenty of time to add significant acreage to its burn total.†

So far, Colorado has been hardest hit by this year’s wildfires. In its 2012 Half Year Natural Catastrophe Review Munich Re noted that two major wildfires in Colorado in June (the “High Park” fire near Fort Collins, and the “Waldo Canyon” fire near Colorado Springs) caused record damage in the state. Insured losses from both fires are estimated at US$ 500m, Munich Re said.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on wildfires.

Wildfires Renew Calls for Forest Restoration

As wildfires continue to burn in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona, we read that U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell is renewing his call to restore forests to a more natural state in which fire was part of the landscape.

The Associated Press reports that the Forest Service’s plan is to set the clock back to zero, accelerating restoration programs – including prescribed fires and mechanical thinning – by 20 percent each year in key areas that are facing the greatest danger of a catastrophic fire.

According to AP, four million acres are being targeted this year with a $1 billion budget.

Meanwhile, a new report from scientists at the University of California at Berkeley and Texas Tech University says that climate change will cause more wildfires across North America and Europe in the next 30 years.

The study used 16 different climate models to generate its results. Risk Management Monitor has more on its findings.

And a new climate analysis from NOAA notes that the U.S. experienced its hottest spring (March-May) on record, with an average temperature of 57.1 °F, 5.2 °F above  the 1901-2000 long-term average, surpassing the previous warmest spring (1910) by 2.0 °F.

With the warmest March, third warmest April and second warmest May, Spring 2012 marked the largest temperature departure from average of any season on record for the contiguous United States, NOAA says.

In May, ongoing drought, combined with windy conditions, created ideal wildfire conditions across the Southwest.

NOAA notes that the Whitewater-Baldy Fire complex in the Gila National Forest of western New Mexico had charred over 210,000 acres by the beginning of June, surpassing 2011’s Las Conchas Fire as the largest wildfire on record for the state. The Whitewater-Baldy  fire is still burning.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on wildfires.

The Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association (RMIIA) is a good resource for information on the Colorado wildfires.