Where there’s smoke there’s fire!

The 2012 wildfire season begins with unusually mild, windy, and dry weather. Precipitation expectancies across the U.S. are equally alarming with bleak moisture conditions expected through June.  A possible repeat of 2002’s fire conditions is feared.

In an interview with 9 News last week, I shared how the 90-day NOAA forecast looks more than a little daunting. Click here to watch the interview.

wildfire drought image

So far, 2012 is presenting some stark contrasts to the 2011 wildfire season. The first two months of 2012 brought a typical start to the wildfire season in the southeast portion of the U.S., particularly in Florida and Georgia. While Texas and Oklahoma were experiencing record amounts of drought and wildfire at this time in 2011; now they have flooding conditions in many portions of their areas. In 2011, the Dakotas and Iowa were experiencing flooding; currently they are experiencing EXTREME wildfire conditions. Forecasts for the next 3-month period show the pattern from 2011 shifting to the north and west from Texas/Oklahoma to CO, SD, ND, WY, NV, UT and MT.

One thing in our advantage as wildfire investigators is that despite the severity and duration of wildfires, we’ve learned that even after several weather events and several months after the wildfires, there still exists reliable patterns in the area to assist with wildfire origin and cause investigations. While getting to the scene of a wildfire for investigation purposes as soon as possible is preferred, in many cases evidence remains for many months after the fire.

In addition to the terrain, homes, and business that wildfires threaten, the long-term, second-hand public health consequences from wildfire smoke can just as threatening.

“Smoke from burning forests and grasslands kills on average 339,000 people a year world-wide, an international research team said in the first systematic global health study of air pollution from wildfires. Every year, accidental and deliberate wildfires burn an area that, taken together, is larger than India. The dense plumes of fine particles and compounds released in the complex chemistry of combustion typically stay aloft for weeks and can travel hundreds of miles downwind. Smoke from fires in Central Siberia during 2003, for example, caused air pollution in the U.S,” – Wall Street Journal Feb. 19, 2012 By Robert Lee Hotz.

Many portions of the U.S. are located within what is commonly referred to as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). These areas, which are growing exponentially, define structures that are located within or adjacent to flammable vegetation. For many years, a WUI threat was believed to exist only in the western portions of the U.S.

Historical and recent data alike, suggest WUI threats exists in all 50 states. Maintaining proper defensible space around structures and reducing structural ignitibility are critical criteria in enabling structures to survive a wildfire. Outstanding information on what to do in the event of a wildfire and key steps on how to defend against a wildfire can be found from the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA)  “Firewise” program and the International Fire Chiefs Association in their “Ready, Set, Go” program.

Find out more about Pie’s experience with wildfires at: http://wildfireinvestigator.com/

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