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.
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The Place: Arizona and New Mexico
The Underlying Cause: Human activity
The Devastation: 538,000 acres burned
What Is Noteworthy about This Fire: This was the largest fire to ever occur in the lower 48, burning more area in five weeks than planned and unplanned burns in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests from the previous 25 years. No one was ever arrested in connection with starting this fire but human activity was officially blamed. According to Frederick, most fires are started by either lightning or people.