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Western U.S. | Wildfires

Unprecedented wildfire season poised to continue into fall

Rice Ridge Fire Perimeter and Evacuation Area Map for September 13. Source: InciWeb

Rice Ridge Fire Perimeter and Evacuation Area Map for September 13. Source: InciWeb


Wednesday, September 13, 2017, 5:34 - An unusually aggressive wildfire season across parts of the west may not be over anytime soon, despite rain and cooler temperatures in the forecast.

"For September, we’re starting the downward glide for the fire season, but we still have a lot of areas at risk, particularly across the northern Rockies, the Northwest and down the California coast," warns the US National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in a National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook. "That will continue for at least the first half of September until we get a significant precipitation event with fronts as they start becoming for frequent across the region."

Click play to watch below: Wildfire outlook for the months of September, October and November


FALL IS HERE: After a summer that varied from coast to coast, what can Americans expect from fall? Find out with The Weather Network’s 2017 Fall Forecast | FORECAST & MAPS HERE


We could begin seeing that shift in the atmosphere as early as this week. An upper low is forecast to push into parts of the west later this week, bringing scattered rain, high elevation snow and cooler temperatures to the region.

Click play to watch below: Rain could help aid firefighters, but system may also invigorate the wildfires choking beneath the cloud

Despite the pattern change, officials say, fire weather could linger into fall.

"Even moving into October, we'll still have some lingering fire risks across parts of Montana, particularly central and eastern Montana, and into the Dakotas as very dry conditions have left very dry fuel on the landscape -- and typically fall months become windy and dry and any fire start are likely to spread,” adds the NIFC.

Click play to watch below: California National Guard Gives Cockpit View of Aerial Firefighting A video posted by the National Guard shows a C-130J crew deliver aerial fire fighting aid over California’s Pier Fire in Sequoia National Forest on September 1. In the video, a US Forest Service lead plane flies ahead of the 146th Airlift Wing team, dropping a puff of smoke to indicate where retardant should be dropped. Credit: YouTube/National Guard via Storyful.

Across California – where over 6, 000 fires have burned 731,260 acres as of September 13, according to CALFIRE & US Forest Service – the threat for new and fast-spreading wildfires will remain a reality for the next few months.

"We'll continue to see fire activity across California as we move into the fall, that's their typical fire season – their peak of their fire season – especially in southern California where they can get Santa Ana conditions that could drive a lot of fire in that region," further adds the NIFC.


STUDY: 'The Big One' puts California at risk of significant sinking


Moving into late-fall and winter, fire potential will decrease across California, except for the mountains in the far south along the coast. Another area to watch is the central and southern Plains.

"We’ll see a potential for some fire threats developing across Oklahoma and Texas," says the NIFC. "Areas that did not get the heavy rainfall from Hurricane Harvey remain dry, and fall is a typically a dry part of the year for them and they are likely to have some fire there and could spread if conditions remain dry [through the fall/winter months]." 

The smoke is clearly visible by satellite, shown by the NASA WorldView image - Sept 10 update

So far this year, fires nationwide have consumed 8,036,858 acres — about 12,550 square miles, larger than the size of Maryland. The average at this point in the year should typically be around 5,516,000, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center, which oversees the state and federal response.

"Fuel moisture levels and fire danger indices in these areas are at near-record to record levels for severity," warns the NIFC. 

In August, rainfall was 25 per cent below average in western states – and temperatures were 3 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

Officials also note that an unusually wet winter and early spring might have done more harm than good for this fire season.

“We went from waterlogged to wilted,” said John Abatzoglou, a climate scientist at the University of Idaho who studies how humans have made wildfire more severe in an interview with the Washington Post. Additionally, a stubborn ridge of high pressure hovered over the region all summer, he said, making it very hot and mostly rain-free. These conditions helped grasses to sprout up in arid regions, providing fuel for future fires. 

As of September 13, more than 21,000 firefighters were assigned to wildfires in 10 western states. There were a total of 62 large wildfires burning across the west, with close to 1.6 million acres burning.

Thousands of residents remain evacuated. For updates on evacuations and road closures, click here.

Air Quality – 'Don’t breathe it in'

The smoke from these fires is having a clear affect on particulate matter concentration, according to the U.S. Air Quality (USAQ). The AirNow AQI image, shown below, shows unhealthy (red) levels of particulate matter in the areas with heavy smoke.

Source: AirNow - Sept 13, 2017


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Officials warn that microscopic particles found in wildfire smoke can cause a series of health risks ranging from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution has even linked to premature death. 

State and local health officials recommend that people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children should avoid prolonged exertion, while everyone else should limit prolonged exertion in areas where air quality is poor. 

AirNow provides the following tips to help keep you and your family safe:

Use common sense. If it looks smoky outside, it's probably not a good time to mow the lawn or go for a run. And it's probably not a good time for your children to play outdoors. 

Pay attention to local air quality reports. Stay alert to smoke-related news coverage or health warnings. 

Visit AirNow to find out the Air Quality Index in your area. As smoke gets worse, the amount of particles in the air changes - and so do the steps you should take to protect yourself. AirNow recommends precautions you can take to protect your health when air pollution gets bad. 

If you are advised to stay indoors, take steps to keep indoor air as clean as possible. When smoke levels are high, try to avoid using anything that burns, such as wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves - and even candles! Don't vacuum. That stirs up particles already inside your home. And don't smoke. That puts even more pollution in your lungs, and in the lungs of people around you. If you have asthma or other lung disease, make sure you follow your doctor's directions about taking your medicines and following your asthma management plan. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.

Run your air conditioner if you have one. Keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside. Note: If you don't have an air conditioner, staying inside with the windows closed may be dangerous in extremely hot weather. In these cases, seek alternative shelter. 

If you have heart or lung disease, if you are an older adult, or if you have children, talk with your doctor about whether and when you should leave the area. When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors, even though you may not be able to see them.

For more information on what the upcoming season has in store, watch The Weather Network's official U.S. Fall Forecast, below. 

Sources: InciWeb | AirNow | U.S. Air Quality | CALFIRE | NIFC | Storyful

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