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Wildfires Worst Ever in 2015


The 2015 Wildfire Season is Now Worst on Record

Recently released reports indicate that 2015 surpassed 2006 as the most acres ever burned by wildfires, at 10.12 million, beating the previous record of 9.87 million acres burned.  This also includes two California fires that are now ranked in the state's top ten most destructive fires ever, the Valley Fire and the Butte Fire.  Washington's Okanogan Fire was the largest ever recorded in that state.  Alaska has also seen the most acreage ever burned during its 2015 fire season.  The fire season is also becoming longer due to warmer temperatures, accompanied by the prolonged drought in California, which last winter, moved into the Northwest.

A few statistics regarding the fires:

The Valley Fire in California erupted on September 12, 2015:

  • 4 Civilian Fatalities, 4 FireFighters Injured
  • 1,955 Structures Destroyed or Damaged
  • 76,076 Acres Burned
  • 248 Fire Personnel

The Butte Fire in California erupted on September 9, 2015:

  • 2 Civilian Fatalities, 1 Inury
  • 863 Structures Destroyed or Damaged, Including 475 Residences
  • 70,868 Acres Burned
  • 298 Fire Personnel

The Okanogan Fire in Washington erupted on September 10, 2015:

  • 7 Injured
  • 120 Residences Destroyed or Damaged
  • 133,450 Acres Burned
  • 416 Fire Personnel

Causes Leading to Increased Fires and Intensities

Climate Central indicates that several factors appear to be contributing to the increased size and intensity of the wildfires:

  • Nearly 100 years of fire suppression means there is plenty of fuel available to burn;
  • Homes expanding into the wildland-urban interface;
  • Roads and infrastructure being built in what were once wildland areas;
  • Increased temperatures due to climate change;
  • Extended drought in California, and now the Northwest;
  • Shrinking snowpack.

Fire Monitoring Information Websites

Several websites monitor fires and are updated regularly with information regarding each incident, including InciWeb, CAL FIRE, and IDAHO FIRE INFO.  In addition, reports compiled regarding the fire, its overall damages, costs, personnel involved, injuries, and other pertinent information including investigations or causes, are usually posted on the sites.

The InciWeb website strictly deals with information regarding the emergency response to various natural and human caused incidents, including fires (both active and inactive), which is the most prevalent use of the site.  The CalFire and Idaho Fire Info sites provide information regarding fires and the emergency response, but also contain materials to help citizens become better prepared and more resilient to fires.

Websites Offering Resources for Mitigation Efforts and Prevention Information

Idaho Fire Info offers links to the Firewise.org site and its online courses, including one titled "The Firewise Landscaping" course which helps homeowners plan their landscaping with trees, shrubs, and other vegetation that is resistant to fire.  The website also has links to fire intel, fire restrictions, prescribed fires, and prevention and education materials and information.

CalFire offers an interactive website program that allows individuals to see what can be done to help protect their homes and families from a fire, including:

  • Creating defensible space around the home;
  • Installing fire resistant landscaping;
  • Covering vents, gutters, and chimney/stovepite outlets with metal mesh;
  • Roof or re-roof homes with metal or tile;
  • Have a clearly visible address and,
  • Have a ladder available at all times for immediate roof access.

One community has implemented these and many other strict building procedures to help mitigate wild fires that may impact their area.  The community of Rancho Santa Fe, located near San Diego, California and home to its share of fires, has five subdivisions that have undertaken these strategies.  Rancho Santa Fe was put to the test during such a fire in October of 2007.  Despite the surrounding areas being burned, houses in these subdivisions were not lost, or damaged by the fire, showing that mitigation often pays for itself at an average ratio of 4:1.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.