Each year, millions of acres across the U.S. are burned in wildfires. Dry conditions, fierce winds, and human activity are often factors in the most dangerous blazes but fire season is also simply a part of nature's cycle. "Fire's not the enemy. We have to take care of fire, we have to manage fire, we have to be aware of wildfire but we don't want to demonize it," says Ken Frederick, former firefighter and public affairs specialist at the National Interagency Fire Center.
Even though California and eastern Oregon are currently in severe droughts, this year has been surprisingly tame. Only about one-third of the expected acreage has burned and 30 percent fewer fires have started than predicted by trends from the last decade. Still, this is no reason to ignore potential danger – the past has proven that late fire seasons can be just as deadly. A rule of thumb from Frederick: if pencil-sized sticks are cracking underfoot, conditions are primed for fiery destruction.
Credit: Donald Miralle / Getty Images
The Place: California
The Underlying Cause: Human activity
The Devastation: 275,000 acres burned, 2,400 structures destroyed, 15 lives lost
What Is Noteworthy about This Fire: Critically dry vegetation, humidity was less than 10 percent, and strong, persistent Santa Ana winds fed this human-made fire. These all contributed to its enormity but experts also blame human effects on the environment, including high-density development, flammable landscaping – such as invasive eucalyptus trees – and years of fire suppression.