Severe wildfires across the West have prompted the nation’s top fire agency to increase its preparedness level to the highest and most critical stage. This is the earliest the agency has done so in a decade.
“It’s an all hands on deck approach,” said Stanton Florea, a spokesperson with the National Interagency Fire Center. “We’re a full month ahead of where we were last year.”
The National Interagency Fire Center set its preparedness level to five on Wednesday. This means at least 80% of the federal government’s fire personnel are currently on the job helping contain wildfires.
There are almost 60 large blazes burning across the country right now. The fires are being driven by excessive heat, high winds and deepening drought exacerbated by climate change.
Last year, despite an historically devastating wildfire season, only about 2,500 fire personnel were actively working on fires in mid-July. This year there are more than 17,000 personnel on active duty.
The last time the national preparedness level reached 5 this early in the wildfire season was in 2011. That year, more than 40,000 fires burned across nearly 6 million acres – an area roughly the size of Vermont.
There is a sliver of good news for our region. A heavy monsoon season is currently helping tamp down wildfires across much of the southwest.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Nevada Public Radio and KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.