Above-average potential still likely
BOISE – Rain and cooler temperatures mean the wildfire season in Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Montana will start later than initially predicted, officials with the National Interagency Fire Center said Saturday.
But wildfire analyst Jeremy Sullens said the wet weather hasn’t been enough to change what is expected to be a challenging fire season.
“Recent precipitation across much of the West has delayed fire season by only a couple of weeks,” he said in a statement. “However, the rain has not been enough to alleviate drought conditions or moisten the heavier fuels to a point of removing them as a concern.”
That means an above-normal fire potential is likely to develop in those states as summer advances.
“Dryness across the West will remain a concern as we move into the mid-summer months, and above normal significant fire potential will develop in many areas by July,” he said.
Fire experts at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, the government’s wildfire nerve center, say the long-term prediction is for above-normal potential for significant fire activity spreading north through California to all of Oregon, much of central Idaho, and southern Washington by July. That level of potential will include Montana by August.
The center typically deploys firefighters and resources depending on where they’re needed. However, automatic budget cuts mandated by Congress will mean fewer firefighting capabilities. The U.S. Forest Service alone will hire 500 fewer firefighters and deploy 50 fewer engines this season.
Congress cut the current budgets for the Forest Service and Agriculture Department 5 percent under the mandated spending reductions, then added another 2.5 percent cut for fiscal 2013.