It can be a fool’s errand to attempt to predict the severity of a wildfire season. Using past weather data to predict the nature and number of future fires often fails.
But an article written by Ben Boettger for the Peninsula Clarion is more intelligent than most about discussing what affects a fire season and what this one might look like.
Below are some excerpts from his article:
…[Meteorologist Sharon Alden of the Alaska Fire Service’s predictive office] said there is not a correlation between a warm winter and a busy fire season, nor a correlation between a less-snowy winter and a busy fire season.
“However, there is a correlation between snowpack and the early fire season—how fast things melt out, how soon fire season starts,” Alden said.
Alden said that the intensity of fire season is more tied to precipitation than temperature, leading Fire Services to begin early preparation during the critical months of spring.
“In early spring, before green-up, the forest fuels are dryer,” Alden said. “When you have green-up, when you have trees fleshing out and new green grass is growing, you have more moisture around and it becomes a little less receptive to getting a fire started.”
In addition to leaving less moisture on the ground, a lack of snow contributes to an early fire season through its effect on grass, since grass crushed down by snow burns less easily than standing grass. Kristi Bulock, fire management officer for the US Fish and Wildlife Service region that includes the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, said that the locally-abundant calamogrostis grass is a particularly good wildfire fuel.
“One of the concerns we have this year is that without the snowpack, the grass is still three feet tall,” Bulock said. “It’s up and it’s fluffy, and it’s available for burning, where generally, under a good snowpack, it would be matted down. And then as we start getting green-up we would start getting green shoots in between, and that would lessen the potential for that fuel to carry fire. But if you look out your window now you see these giant patches of cured grass… if we have any kind of ignition source — a cigarette, somebody dragging a chain on the road — the potential could be there for it to really move through that grass…”