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.
The Place: Wisconsin and Michigan
Credit: Getty Images
The Underlying Cause: Outdoor fires left to smolder
The Devastation: Approximately 3,780,000 acres burned and 1,500 lives lost in Wisconsin
What Is Noteworthy about This Fire: Extremely dry conditions and an unexpected change in weather likely fanned the flames of human-made embers into a firestorm. While dry weather and high winds are always high-risk conditions for fire, if there were no human-made fires left smoldering to begin with, this event may have been avoided entirely.