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Heat wave pushes fire danger a notch higher

Ross Fork Fire burns on a hillside
InciWeb
As of Sept. 7, the Ross Fork fire in Idaho had burned nearly 29,000 acres and was utilizing 366 personnel, 7 hand crews, 23 engines and 10 helicopters.

News brief

The heat wave baking the West is contributing to a rare September increase in fire danger levels.

As of Wednesday morning, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise stated that there were 66 wildfires burning across the country, utilizing more than 15,000 personnel.

Because there are more large fires and increasing competition for wildland firefighting resources — like hot shot crews and air tankers — NIFC also increased its “National Preparedness Level” to 4, out of a possible 5.

It’s only the second time the organization has increased to a Level 4 in the month of September, according to NIFC spokesperson Jessica Gardetto.

“It’s largely because we’ve had a lot of hot, dry weather. We expect this weather to continue. And then we’ve also had some lightning and then some human-caused fire starts,” she said.

The last time it increased to Level 4 in September was in 2011, and it lasted for a week. Gardetto noted that this year hasn’t been quite as brutal as previous years, though.

“While we are seeing an increase (in) competition for wildland firefighting resources, this is not nearly as extreme as previous years where we went to preparedness Level 4 and 5 in June and July, and thus, by this point, we had several months of fire activity across the country,” she said.

Just last year, the U.S. was at Level 4 or 5 for a record-breaking 99 days, 68 of which were at the highest level.

Gardetto warns that people still need to be careful to make sure human-caused blazes aren’t contributing to firefighters' to-do lists.

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NIFC

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.