Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on May 1, 2017.

Hot Spring

Large, early season wildfires result in a dramatic spike in acres burned nationwide

BY ANGELO VERZONI

THE 2017 WILDFIRE SEASON is off to a fast start: From January 1 through April 21, over 2.2 million acres of land in the United States had been burned by wildfires, according to data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).

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 Acres Burned from 2008 to 2017

The total so far this year is roughly 10 times the average, according to a USA Today report in March citing NIFC figures, and also represents the most acres burned by this time since 2006.

About 1.4 million acres of land had burned over the same span last year. In 2015, it was slightly more than 300,000 acres.

The most notable blazes this spring occurred in early March in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. While the toll a wildfire takes on an area is typically measured in lives lost, structures destroyed, and acres of land burned, these fires made headlines because of a less-expected casualty: cattle. In early photos, herds can be seen grazing in burning fields, silhouetted by bright orange flames. In later images, their carcasses lay stiff and charcoal-black on the ground.

It’s hard to say how many head of cattle were lost in the fires, but it was enough to severely disrupt the ranching industry in the three states. “We lost our routine,” one rancher whose herd was decimated told The New York Times. Another called the wildfires “our Hurricane Katrina.” Seven people were also killed in the late-winter wildfires. Some of them were ranchers who reportedly died trying to save their cattle.

In late April, more than 160 people were evacuated from their homes as a wildfire swept through an Arizona community, local news sources reported. Florida also saw a spate of large brush fires in March and April. The Associated Press reported that over 126,000 acres had been burned in the state from January 1 through April 16. Officials predicted the conditions to deteriorate, according to AP, as Florida’s wildfire season typically peaks in April and May.

The wildfires underscore the importance of being ready for wildfires in any state, at any time of year. May 6 was National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. Visit the Firewise website to learn more about wildfire preparedness.

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal.