What In The Blazes?

image AP

In America's war against wildfires, today's frontline is not only at the Sequoia National Park, but in Oregon where an army of firefighters is overwhelmed.

Statewide, fifteen different wildfires are burning right into the record books. With 3.8 million acres already blackened nationwide — more than double the average for this time of year — this is one of the country's worst fire years in a half century.

Firefighters and victims alike are left helpless at the uncontrollable blazes.

In the Northern Rockies wildfires have shot up almost 1,000 percent.

"We're just completely outside of what we expect is the norm," says Dave Dalrymple the Utah Fire Management Coordinator.

America's worsening drought is only exacerbating the situation. In more than one third of the country, the drought condition is now labeled severe to extreme. Moreover, half of America is now in at least a moderate drought.

And these are droughts that lead to dread about wildfires. Fire experts say that danger has shifted recently – starting from the charred Southwest and traveling to the Pacific Northwest through California, Nevada, Wyoming and Idaho.

In Boise, Idaho at the National Interagency Fire Center, fire analyst Tom Wordell watches and worries.

"These are fire danger predictive service areas," he says. "The fires are burning more intensely.

"And the people are going to have to take real diligent care to take care of themselves."

In Salt Lake City, Utah a fire expert warns homeowner Les Marzec that he's courting disaster.

"Keep these things trimmed," explains the expert. "You don't want them growing into the rafters."

Trees and shrubs run up to Marzec's house — all fuel for flames.

"A tree like that I would try to keep for shade, but trim it up a little," the expert advises.

Ideally, Marzec should be clearing any growth thirty feet away from his house.

"Don't depend on the fire department," warns Jeff Tunnel of the National Wildland Fire Prevention Team. "We can't always show up if there's enough fires going on."

By late summer, America's regional fire worry may shift again to other places like the drought-stricken Southeast, Virginia, the Carolinas or Georgia. But after four years of drought, much of the southeast is bone-dry.

Come late September, dry leaves will fall to the ground and drought-stricken forests will have a carpet of kindling. And in the southeast, the fire season will have begun.

For Les Marzec, like so many Americans, living in the fire zone now cuts into his comfort zone.

"I thought we had a reasonably safe home. But now all I realize is we have a candle," Marzec says as he revs up his chainsaw taking the fire expert's advice.

And it's a candle that could be lit for months to come.
  • Sue Chan

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