Wildfire Season Could Be Costly

Fire experts will issue their annual national wildfire forecast next week, and they're expected to warn it could be another above-average season. Potential hot spots include southern California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and parts of the southeast.

In one California community, the watchword is "pre-emption", as CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports.

Even before the fire forecast was released, Captain Tim Walsh of the Marin County Fire Department has been hard at work trying to make sure fires don't start in the first place.

His job is to protect homes in the hills and canyons north of San Francisco. It's an area of expensive real estate and plenty of fuel for wildfires.

"Very volatile vegetation, very steep topography, homes with a high component of wood construction – it's a check list for a very large fire," Walsh said.

In most places, the conditions that made last year the worst fire season in half a century are on the rise.

"We have so much dry, decayed vegetation that it just becomes very explosive when it burns," said Bill Peters of the California Department for Forestry.

In much of the west the bark beetle has been killing off trees, leaving plenty of kindling in the forests. Match that with warmer winter temperatures and an early melting of mountain snow this year and you get conditions that may make wildfires burn faster and hotter.

"They are becoming much more dynamic," Peters said.

The damage is not just to the land left scorched. Fire fighting has its own costs, both economic and environmental.

"It means that we're looking at a whole lot more cost – a drain on the economy," Peters said. "An overall huge effect on the economy and what's being put up into the air. It's estimated that for every acre of wild land and forest that burns we're putting 25-80 tons of CO2 contaminant up into the air."

In northern California the rainy season is pretty much over. It is likely to remain mostly dry until late October, a long and dangerous fire season.