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Increased Wildfire Risk Expected in California, Hawaii as Summer Progresses

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NIFC: Wildfire danger will shift west this summer

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) recently predicted increased fire danger in the West as summer progresses and also a slowdown of recent wildfire activity in the East.

The NIFC published its National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for the U.S. yesterday, which predicted wildfire risk in different U.S. regions for May, June, July and through the end of August. Conditions across the U.S. are expected to change as spring ends and summer begins, with danger shifting from the East to the West.

Wildfire danger should lessen in May in the East

According to this most recent outlook, soil moisture and precipitation levels were below normal in many Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states at the end of April. But the unusually dry conditions in the mid-Atlantic and Appalachian regions that caused increased fire activity in April -- most notably in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia -- are expected to dissipate as greenup occurs and precipitation increases in those regions in May. By the time July and August come around, the NIFC expects normal wildfire risk in all of these regions.

Alaska

South Central Alaska has higher than normal wildfire risk in May due to poor seasonal snowpack and early snowmelt. But the NIFC expects conditions to return to normal as soon as May, and conditions should then remain normal for the remainder of the time period analyzed -- through the end of August.

Hawaii

Hawaii is the only region that has above normal significant wildland fire potential through the entire duration of the report, May 1 through August 31. Rainfall was below normal across the entirety of Hawaii in April, and now the island state is entering its typical dry phase of the calendar year. According to the NIFC, drought conditions intensified across the islands in the month of April, and the drought will likely peak in early fall.

California

Despite some progress made in some parts of the state, drought in California is about to enter its fifth consecutive year. Wildfire potential in Southern California is currently at normal levels and may stay that way through June, but the NIFC expects a shift in significant wildland fire potential to above normal at lower elevations in July and August. In southern parts of the state, only the highest terrain experienced above normal precipitation in recent months, and the NIFC is particularly concerned about a massive die off of heavy timber in the Sierra Foothills that will be at risk in July and August.

In Northern California, normal significant wildland fire potential is expected through the end of June. But wildfire potential will begin to move to above normal in the region in July, and remain above normal in August, as the region typically received very little rainfall in those months.

Other regions

In the category of "no news is good news," the vast majority of other regions in the U.S. are expected to have normal wildfire potential through the end of August. There are a few exceptions, though.

The Southwest will have elevated danger in May and June but should return to normal in July and remain that way in August. In some parts of the South -- part of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama -- heavy rainfall will push wildfire danger to below normal in May through June, but then conditions are expected to return to normal in July and August.

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Matt Mills Matt Mills has been involved in various aspects of online media, both on the editorial side and on the technology side, for more than 16 years. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, and is currently involved in multiple projects focused on innovation journalism.