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With Ponderosa fire, the West blazes -- and this is 'average'

August 20, 2012|By Amy Hubbard

The Ponderosa fire, which began Saturday, has spurred thousands of evacuations in Northern California even as firefighters battle wildfires elsewhere in California and the West.

Ponderosa had grown in acres and intensity overnight, as the Los Angeles Times reported Monday. The blaze jumped containment lines to threaten 3,000 homes. Seven houses had been destroyed and about 2,000 people had been ordered to evacuate.

Also in Northern California, the Rush fire has burned 270,683 acres; in Idaho, the Trinity Ridge fire has burned 90,664 acres; and in Oregon, the Barry Point fire has consumed 93,949.  And these are just a few of the fires that remain active.

Flames sprout in Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada and other Western states on the Esri wildfire map, which shows this season's "wildfire potential" by coloring vast swaths in nearly solid gold and red.

Sounds about right, says the National Interagency Fire Center.

"We're not quite at our 10-year averages for this time of year," Robin Broyles, spokeswoman for the center, told the Los Angeles Times in an interview Monday.  

The center's data show the fire season "is actually pretty average," she said, although "our fire potential is above normal because our fuel conditions are very dry."

That means plenty of fuel for fires, particularly in states in the Northern Rockies, including Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, and Great Basin states such as Utah, Nevada and Oregon.

In August, Broyles said, higher-elevation timber fires are a particular danger. This week, she noted, there's a greater chance for lightning-sparked fires in some regions. 

Isolated to widely scattered thunderstorms are expected across the interior northwestern U.S. from eastern Oregon and central Idaho into western Montana and Wyoming.

"This will bring critical fire weather conditions to the region," the fire center said Monday.

So far this year, Broyles said, the U.S. has had a total of 42,488 fires, which have burned almost 6.9 million acres.  The 10-year average is 54,000 fires for this time of year.  

According to the center on Monday, there were 35 large fires and fire complexes burning. Seven new large fires were reported and five were contained.  

When will it all let up?

Toward the end of summer, Broyles said, days become shorter and nights cooler, and lightning activity settles down. So, the fire danger ebbs.

But those higher-elevation fires may still be burning.

"With higher elevation fires they're longer duration," she said. "A lot of those fires aren't going to be put out overnight. ... We're looking at late September and early October."


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