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: Montana and Idaho
The Underlying Cause: Lightning
The Devastation: 1,585,000 acres burned
What Is Noteworthy about This Fire: Yellowstone was experiencing the driest summer on record and was in the midst of a severe drought but the fire season started late and was seemingly mild until mid-July. At first, the National Parks Service attempted to manage some of the fires for the benefit of the ecosystem but they grew out of control. On the single worst day – August 20th – the winds pushed the fires across 150,000 acres.