Wildfire acres burned to date in United States (outside Alaska) is lower than average

Precipitation, 7 days
Precipitation, during the seven days ending at 11 a.m. MDT August 13, 2022.

It seemed to me that over the last few weeks the wildfire activity has been slower than typical for this time of the year, so I did a little digging. Using historical data from the National Interagency Fire Center and acres burned to date from the August 13 national Situation Report, it turns out that Alaska has burned nearly three times their 10-year to-date average while the other 49 states combined are running 12 percent below the to-date average.

Over the last 10 years Alaska’s average acres burned in a full year is 1.1 million. This year they are at 3.1 million, more than the other 49 states combined. There has been a major increase in Alaska acres burned after mid-August in only 2 of the last 18 years. And it has been fairly quiet there, fire wise, for the last four weeks.

So far this year, fires in the other 49 states have blackened about 2.8 million acres, 12 percent below the to-date 10-year average of 3.2 million. The 49 states typically burn 6.2 million in a full year, so if this year turns out like the average of the last 10, we’re about half done.

The Situation Report does not break out data for Alaska and the other 49 states, so just looking at their 50-state numbers a person would see that the 5.9 million acres burned to date is 27 percent higher than the average of 4.3 million, when actually the +27 percent figure is very wrong for both Alaska and the lower 49 states.

We usually separate Alaska stats because fires in that huge state are managed far differently from the other 49. Most of them are not fully suppressed since they are less likely to endanger people or private property than in the lower 49 states. The second reason is that the fire occurrence is extremely variable, with the acres burned since 1990 ranging, for example, from 43,965 acres in 1995 to 6,645,978 in 2004. Including the Alaska numbers in the total would skew the data for the other 49 states making it more difficult to spot trends.

Wildland fire potential for September, 2022
Wildland fire potential for September, 2022. NIFC.
Wildland fire potential for August, 2022
Wildland fire potential for August, 2022. NIFC.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

19 thoughts on “Wildfire acres burned to date in United States (outside Alaska) is lower than average”

  1. Been a strange 2022 fire season, from New Mexico blowing up in early May already being PL5 regionally and hearing how ERCs are at record lows usually not seen until August too a PL3 in August and major fire getting wrapped up.

    Curious if anyone knows the last year August didn’t get to a PL5 nationally.

  2. Yeah but….. the situation can change quickly. Like 1987, which was quiet until a storm on August 29th that started fires from central Cal into western Oregon. Remember “Hog” and “Silver” fires amoung others? All Type 1 teams committed in 48 hours. As Yogi said: it ain’t over till it’s over ….. on December 31st.

    1. I remember that year, Dick, and there was an earlier big lightning bust at the end of July that blackened the Oregon lightning map. Nearly all the R6 resources had already beeen sucked off to other areas, and Oregon found itself short-handed in a big way.

  3. Having been a helicopter fire contractor for years and extremely familiar with the situation report, it seems the wording is being manipulated, like alot of our media, to spread fear and panic in the name of “climate change”.
    Thank you for taking the time to do this research and write the article to clarify this. Of course our fire situation could change at any time. but I for one am enjoying the fairly smoke free summer we have had so far.

      1. We have not knowingly deleted comments solely because they call out climate change denial. But we checked and found one comment that mentioned climate that was inadvertently deleted, and we restored it. In fact we prohibit comments that deny climate change. If you see any that do, please report them. We are not going to provide a platform for climate deniers.

        And again, I refer our readers to our rules about comments.

  4. I remember 87 well. Lulled into the “piss&moan” phase for lack of activity?
    Soon, the Klamath NF had a bust….I did THREE 21 day stints.as a Div/grp. Worked for 3 Type 1 teams that made me question how the hell they ever graduated from Guard School!! And, they’re still out there folks. Beware! Retired for 17 years and THANKFUL!!

  5. Hi Bill and Commenters,

    I have no experience with Wildfires as you all do. But I am a scientist and know that Albert Einstein stated: “The only source of knowledge is experience.” And I do not know if Bill knows he has just reviewed actual historic data as too few scientists do today. Good work Bill

    However, the six scientists who studied the dry lighting which started so many Natural Wildfires during a rare thunderstorm event are rare natural scientists.

  6. Bill, you led with a 7-day precipitation map of the US and made no comment about it. And when I made the previous comment, I had not bothered to study it. Now I ask: What do I see that has to be very abnormal? I was a student and then a teacher, so I know from experience that most of us learn by have to answer questions. And I know science is (or should be) totally based upon observation. So I don’t answer my question for you all.

    1. Jerry, you’re right, I did not provide any analysis of the seven-day precipitation data. Primarily because at first glance I did not see anything that looked terribly unusual for the 11 western states.

      But I just checked the precipitation anomalies in those states for the last seven days and the last 30 days.

      Both of them mostly show little deviation from average except for heavier than average precip in large sections of Arizona and Nevada.

      The soil moisture is interesting in the western states. California is dry along with most of Montana and the plains east of the Rockies. Arizona and northwest Oregon are wet.

      And then there’s the Drought Monitor.

  7. Hi Bill,

    I had doubted 2 inches of precipitation during 7 days in Arizona was not normal. But after studying several RAWS (remote automated weather stations) data I see this appears to be normal during August at the higher plateau elevations. There appears to be a circulation of moist atmosphere from the south which produces thunderstorms.

      1. Hey Bill. Technically it is “monsoon”. We have the North American Monsoon which of course produces many individual monsoon events. LR

  8. Hi Bill,

    I’m old, forgetful, and slow. But I had noted the fact that the article about ‘dry lighting’ never mentioned the Jet Stream. There are two images in Matthew Little comment. One of which involves the Jet Stream And as I was searching for the monsoon imagine, there was an photo of multiple downward lighting strikes on the surface from a single cloud location. I will go back a try to find it. It is worth a thousand words also. Because it cannot be doubted.

    1. Hi Bill,

      Found it but it way down the list of comments. So use the Finder App for lee. Just checked and it worked for me.

  9. Hectares burned in Canada also appear to be significantly less than the 5 to 25 year averages.
    According to CIFFC, just over 1.1 million hectares have burned to date. The average is over 2 million. As with the USA totals, over half of this season’s hectares are from the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
    Way less smoke in the air this summer!

What do you think?