July 22nd, 2007 06:34 EST
Wildfire situation is expected to get worse
A bad wildfire situation is expected to get worse as forecasters with NOAA’s National Weather Service predict extremely dangerous fire weather conditions in the West to continue into next week. The forecast for the next few days calls for hot, very dry and locally gusty winds driven by terrain, especially during the afternoon and evening hours.
Extreme Conditions Arrive Earlier-Than-Normal
Lightning from dry thunderstorms has started hundreds of wildfires in the past several weeks. Ongoing severe to extreme drought over much of the West, combined with record high temperatures have helped to produce extremely dry fuels across the West, explained Phillip Bothwell, senior development meteorologist at NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, in Norman, Okla.
“Some of the early season fires have already demonstrated how dangerous the conditions have become,” Bothwell explained. “These fires have occurred across many different parts of the West, as much as a month ahead of normal. These early season wildfires often spread extremely quickly through the plentiful, abnormally dry fuels, endangering lives and property.”
Because of the large number of wildfires, the National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho, went to Planning Level 5 — the highest resource planning level used by federal fire agencies. This move was prompted by large fire activity occurring in multiple geographic areas and a heavy commitment of crews, aircraft, and equipment to these incidents, along with a forecast for continued hot, dry, windy conditions.
Grim Outlook for Western U.S.
Dangerous fire conditions currently affect most of the West, covering the area from southern California northward through eastern Oregon and Washington, eastward across Idaho and western Montana, and southward across Nevada and Utah.
Although northwest Arizona may still experience some dry thunderstorms, the trend there is for increasing moisture to generate storms with wetting rains. A brief break from the dangerous fire conditions in parts of northern California, Oregon and Washington, in the form of lower temperatures, higher humidity and some rainfall has helped to temporarily lessen fire conditions, but a warming and drying trend is expected to build back across the area in the next few days.
The National Weather Service has deployed numerous experienced fire weather forecasters known as Incident Meteorologists (IMETs) to many of the large fire locations to provide tactical support.