Global warming linked to increase in wildfires?

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Some scientists in Arizona and California think so (via Think Progress):

The increase in the number of large western wildfires in recent years may be a result of global warming, researchers say.

An analysis of data going back to 1970 indicates the fires increased “suddenly and dramatically” in the 1980s and the wildfire season grew longer, according to scientists in Arizona and California.

“The increase in large wildfires appears to be another part of a chain of reactions to climate warming,” said Dan Cayan, a co-author of the paper and director of the climate research division at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

With global warming naysayers constantly harping on the cost of reduce greenhouse emmissions, perhaps we should point out the millions of dollars being spent to fight wildfires. Here in Grant County, the federal government is spent $17.8 million to fight three wildfires in June.

More from the article:

The researchers used the files of the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service to analyze 1,166 fires of more than about 1,000 acres. Their findings are published Thursday in the online edition of the journal Science.

Beginning about 1987, there was a change from infrequent fires averaging about one week in duration to more frequent ones that often burned five weeks or more, they reported. The length of the wildfire season was extended by 78 days.

Skates Fire containment?

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From a news release this afternoon:

Gila National Forest personnel are expected to resume supervision of the Skates Fire today. The Arizona Central West Zone Incident Management Team projects total containment of the fire tonight. Forest personnel will oversee any remaining mop-up and land rehabilitation operations. Many firefighters demobilized Saturday, some returning to their home units while others responded to other fires to assist with those suppression efforts. Heavy demobilization of these resources begins today.

So, the final tally is looking to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,500 acres burned. At one point, close to 600 firefighters were assigned to the fire, with hundreds of Grant County residents evacuated from their homes. Nonetheless, there were no structures lost, and the Lake Roberts area will be relatively safe from fire for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the Bear Fire is approaching 50,000 acres, though crews made excellent progress on the blaze during the weekend. In addition, it was determined that the fire was human-caused, by an illegal campfire. If you know anything about the start of the fire, the Forest Service is offering a $5,000 reward.

P-3 Slurry Bomber

I spent Friday at the Grant County Airport, site of the Southwest Fire Cache. The cache is a national system, and the one here in Grant County services all of New Mexico and parts of Arizona and Texas as well. In addition, the airport serves as a base for aerial firefighting operations. See tomorrow’s Daily Press for more info.

I’ll be back in the morning with some info on the training I attended last week, and we’ll be back to normal discussion tomorrow afternoon. Thanks for hanging with me through this fire mess.

Personal fire woes

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I know the site has been focused on fire issues lately, but, I haven’t had a chance to handle anything else. I’ve driven back and forth between the Lake Roberts area and Silver City so many times that I could do it blind. In the process, I’ve learned to take pictures out the side of my truck, donned NOMEX gear, interviewed residents, and talked to about 18 different public/fire information officers.

In short, the fire has consumed my time.

Burnout on NM 35
But, I’m leaving all that behind me. I’ll be in Albuquerque Wednesday and Thursday for the Associated Press Managing Editors Newstrain seminar. I haven’t had time to review the itinerary, so I’m not exactly positive what I’ll be doing, but it should help me be a better journalist, so I’m all for it.

As an added bonus, folks headed back to their homes in the Lake Roberts area today, so I don’t feel bad skirting my fire-reporting duties.

I’ll try and blog some politics here in the next two days, since my night in ABQ may be less than entertaining.

The season we’ve been dreading is here

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The smoke lingering over Silver City is not from the Skates Fire, but from a new blaze detected earlier today.
Bear Fire smoke cloud
Looks like all the predictions that the dry weather here in the Gila would increase the risk of fire were correct:

The Bear Fire, which started early this afternoon about 17 miles east of Alma, NM is now estimated to be approximately 7,000 acres in size. Private residences and campgrounds in the Willow Creek, Snow Lake, and N-Bar Ranch areas were evacuated during the afternoon hours as the fire advanced.

A Type III Incident Management organization has been established to manage fire suppression operations on the fire until a Type I Incident Management Team arrives to take over. Firefighting resources from the Gila National Forest have responded to the fire, and many additional resources have been ordered. Approximately 200 firefighters are being reassigned from the Skates Fire to provide assistance on the Bear Fire until the outstanding orders are filled and all ordered resources have arrived on the fire.
(emphasis mine)

The fire grew 7,000 acres in one day?!

Sunday Skates Update (w/ Maps)

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Skates Fire Smoke (June 18)
(Click for larger image)

If you check the larger version (oh, my bandwidth is going to be insane) you can see a large volume of smoke just below the ridge line (look right-of-center). That’s a burnout operation, according to Dawn Sleight, a spokesperson with the Type 1 Incident Management Team out of California. That team has taken over managment of the fire.

Skates evac order lifted Tuesday
Skates Fire Fact Sheet 6-18-06

  • The fire has now burned 10,000 acres
  • 479 personnel are now involved
  • 30% contained (no change since yesterday)
  • Firefighters reinforced a hand cut line with bull dozers — they’re attempting to keep the fire from spreading further northeast, and will tie the fireline into Skates Canyon, which Sleight said is a natural barrier
  • 150 homes remained threatened this morning, but the evacuation order will be lifted at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

Sunday Maps

Skates Fire 8-18-06 Activity
Activity Map (click for larger version)
Red shaded areas denote burnout operations, while the red pin points are “hot spots.” The solid red line is the “uncontrolled line,” while the black one is the “controlled line.”

Skates Fire 8-18-06 Progression
Progression Map (click for larger version)

Our photographer at the Daily Press, Stina Sieg, was out with fire personnel this morning, and she said she has some great photos. I’ll have an update in the newspaper tomorrow as well, so, be sure to pick up a copy for all the latest on the fire.