With peak wildfire activity predicted in the coming months, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has been working hard to limit the size and scope of wildfires, treat current wildfires already underway, and protect wildfire-prone areas to best safeguard people and their communities.
This year, the BLM began analyzing a significant 11,000-mile stretch of strategic fuel breaks to combat wildfires in the Great Basin which includes portions of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, and Utah.
As DOI continues to evaluate innovative ways to best limit the destruction of wildfires, it is nearing completion of more than 2,500 wildfire risk-reduction projects on more than 1.2 million acres of DOI and tribal-administered lands in some of the most fire-prone areas of the country.
California: The BLM California Bishop Field Office made improvements to existing fuelbreaks adjacent to residential areas. Wildland fire crews cut and removed downed trees and limbs on BLM-managed lands, reducing the available fuel load. The project was undertaken in partnership with residents of the community of Wilkerson, Inyo National Forest, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Nevada: More than 85,000 acres of land will be treated. One project already completed includes: The BLM Nevada Battle Mountain District has recently completed over 2,115 acres of treatments along roadsides including thinning, masticating, herbicide application, mowing, drill seeding, and broadcast seeding to create fuel breaks to limit the wildfire growth potential of roadside ignitions. In 2018, this fuel break allowed the district to successfully suppress a fire, keeping it from becoming a larger, more destructive disaster.
As wildfire activity likely increases, DOI, in collaboration with local, state, and federal partners, is moving wildfire suppression resources to the most susceptible areas around the country. At the center of this coordination is the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), which coordinates eight different agencies and organizations’ emergency management responses. The NIFC produces a monthly “National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook,” which provides wildland fire potential forecasts for the country. The most recent outlook forecasts potential for above normal fire activity in western Oregon and Washington, parts of California and Nevada, and the interior of Alaska.
“Most of the western states experienced a wet spring, which allowed vegetation to grow thickly and quickly,” said Fire Weather Program Manager Bryan Henry. “The wet, cool spring delayed fire season, though now, we are seeing hot and dry weather throughout most of the western states, which is rapidly drying the abundant vegetation and creating fuel for wildfires.”
Due to a cool, wet spring season, wildfire activity has been below normal this year with 27,191 wildfires burning 3,325,456 acres. This is much lower than previous years as around 39,700 wildfires burned over 4.1 million acres at this point in the season last year and 5.8 million acres in 2017.
Last year was one of the most tragic years on record with more than 58,000 wildfires burning over 8.8 million acres. Additionally, nearly 26,000 structures were destroyed, more than double the previous annual record.
The DOI is currently managing wildfire incidents in Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Washington, and has deployed personnel, aircraft, and equipment throughout the country to work with interagency firefighting partners.